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We all have to take a loss in life, but we don’t have to let that loss define us.

THE RIDER is a stunning new film from director Chloé Zhao about rodeo rider and horse trainer Brady Blackburn (played by real-life rider and trainer, Brady Jandreau). After suffering a severe head trauma, Brady is anxious to get back on the horse – both figuratively and literally. Riding in rodeos is what he knows and what he loves, and he deeply wants to get back to it as soon as possible. While he heals though, reality seems to be whispering in his ear. He struggles with tensions in his family, and the tight financial realities of their situation. What’s more, he has his injured best friend Lane as a constant reminder of what can happen to him if a horse bucks too hard.

This is a very spiritual film. It’s about the connection between humanity and nature, and how that connection can dig into the very marrow of a person’s bones. Watching Riley ride about the countryside and train horses, one experiences profound feelings of grace. Whenever this movie is indoors, life feels cramped, cold, and sterile. When it steps outside though…it’s as if the possibilities are endless, and redemption is right over the horizon.

The film hangs on Brady (since no scene happens without him). Watching this non-actor work through this difficult moment in his life is deeply affecting. Sometimes we can see in his eyes a mild anxiety about the hand life has dealt him. Now and then, he seems this close to lashing out, or this close to crying. In his spine and his shoulders though, we see a young man rising above those feeling, and tapping into reserves of determination and pride.

He’s not so proud as to let what is happening around him not get to him, but he doesn’t want to become a cautionary tale or a sob story. Perhaps it’s that blend of strength and fragility that makes him such a good horse trainer. His work with the animals requires both a firm hand, and a deep respect. Not enough of the former and the horse won’t change its nature; not enough of the latter and the horse could kill him.

Perhaps that’s the lesson of the film: find the sweet spot between strength and fragility and stay in that sweet spot for as long as life lets you.

THE RIDER is an elegy for broken dreams and shattered purpose. It wants to comfort the many who go so much of their lives chasing a singular calling and suddenly find themselves facing harsh truths. Anyone who has ever been in this position will know just how bitter a pill it is to swallow, so THE RIDER has come to hold us close and help the medicine go down.