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Growing season: Rambunctious filly tames a young boy
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Growing season: Rambunctious filly tames a young boy

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My Friend Flicka (1943)

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Grade: A-

Dad, Mom and 11-year-old son Ken sit down for breakfast. Dad has retrieved the mail, and he shakes his head as he reads.

“Good heavens. I suppose it won’t surprise you, but you haven’t been promoted,” scolds Dad. “You got a 40 in history and a 17 in arithmetic and a zero on your writing exam. Just out of curiosity, Ken, how do you go about getting a zero on an examination?”

“I thought I had time. And then the school bell rang. I do try, Dad,” says Ken, his eyes staring down, embarrassed.

That same day Ken goes riding, drives his heels into a horse and is thrown off, ripping the blanket he used as his saddle. Later, he scares his dad’s herd and nearly starts a stampede.

“Doggone it, kid,” scolds Dad. “All you’re ever doing is forgetting, busting and losing things.”

It’s not the best day to ask dad for a favor, but Ken tries anyway.

“Dad, give me a colt, won’t you? I want a colt to be friends with me.

Dad says, no, of course.

“You’ll get a colt when you learn how to treat one. You’re going to have to buck up, young man. And you’ll spend an hour a day making up your school work.”

After Ken leaves, Mom intervenes.

“I want you to give Ken a colt,” she says, while patiently repairing the ripped blanket. “He needs something of his own. Responsibility. To help him grow up.”

Mom prevails, and dad gives Ken the right to choose any horse in the herd.

Ken picks a colt whose dad is a hellion – hard to train, impossible to break.

“Pick any other colt,” pleads dad.

“I want this one. I’ll call her Flicka.”

And so, Harold D. Schuster’s “My Friend Flicka” begins. A boy full of mistakes starts taming a proudly untamable colt. They will grow up together, make more mistakes together. And, eventually, both will accept a saddle.

“My Friend Flicka” is an old fashioned family film set near Cheyenne, Wyoming, based on Mary O’Hara’s popular 1941 novel. It was filmed in southwest Utah, near Aspen Mirror Lake.

The story will resonate with Montanans as a young boy raised on a ranch grows up by taking care of his young colt. The spirited filly will injure herself one day, trying to jump a fence. She can barely walk.

This leads to the culminating moment when Dad decides to shoot Flicka, to keep her from suffering.

Dad tells his ranch hand to “do it when Ken’s not around.” But the hired hand hasn’t the heart to kill Flicka. So, Dad grabs the gun, and heads out. Seeing a mountain lion, dad fires. At home, Ken hears the shot.

But Dad is also unable to kill Flicka, who is showing signs of healing.

When Dad gets home, Ken is asleep, thinking Flicka is gone.

“How did he take it when he heard the shot?” asks Dad.

“He didn’t question it. He did well,” says Mom.

The boy has grown up – and, as a reward, Flicka will trot over to Ken the next morning.

“Flicka” does not have the depth of “National Velvet,” but its country values are strong, and the portrayal of growing up on a ranch isn’t romanticized. Money is short, times are hard.

Roddy McDowall’s shy portrayal of a young boy carries the story. Rita Johnson captures both the strength and the love of a country mom.

Mom was right. Giving children responsibility can help them grow up. A filly that comes over and nuzzles a lonely kid can heal wounds parents can’t reach.

One reason I enjoy living in Montana is the opportunity to teach country kids, whose values have been forged through daily chores and life with animals. More often than not, those barrel racers are more responsible and less entitled than their big-city peers.

So, a story of a boy that tames a horse, while the horse tames the boy, touches me. The boy’s inner compass is well calibrated, as we see when he accepts his dad’s decision to put down his ailing horse.

Dad admits that he’s done some growing up, too.

“Sometimes when things are hard,” says Dad to his son. “We need a little more love, a little more patience and a little more faith.”

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