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Are you addicted to Netflix horsey show Free Rein? Is it the modern Black Beauty?

PUBLISHED: 14:49 06 September 2018 | UPDATED: 14:49 06 September 2018

The cast of the second series of Free Rein, including Jaylen Barron (who plays Zoe) with the horse that portrays Raven. Free Rein series 2 available now on Netflix        Picture: MATT SQUIRE/LIME PICTURES

The cast of the second series of Free Rein, including Jaylen Barron (who plays Zoe) with the horse that portrays Raven. Free Rein series 2 available now on Netflix Picture: MATT SQUIRE/LIME PICTURES

Archant

Pony Club members tell us why they love the Netflix coming-of-age drama

Jaylen Barron (who plays Zoe) on 'Raven'. Free Rein series 2 available now on Netflix        Picture: MATT SQUIRE/LIME PICTURESJaylen Barron (who plays Zoe) on 'Raven'. Free Rein series 2 available now on Netflix Picture: MATT SQUIRE/LIME PICTURES

The first whispers came two years ago. Netflix, the big California-based entertainment streaming service, was planning its first British-made children’s series. It was part of the wrestling with Sky and Amazon for the loyalties of youngsters and their families. Then, it went under the name of Untitled Horse Mystery Project. Today, thousands of children know and love the coming-of-age drama as Free Rein.

The first 10 episodes were released en bloc in the summer of 2017, with the second series following at the start of July just gone.

It’s a long way from Black Beauty and Follyfoot, though the essence is the same: stories about the relationship between young people and horses.

Free Rein is a definite hit with viewers and critics. In the spring it won two Daytime Emmy awards in the States: for outstanding children’s or family viewing series; and outstanding directing in a children’s, preschool children’s or family viewing programme.

The cover of a first edition of Black Beauty, from 1877    Picture: ARCHIVEThe cover of a first edition of Black Beauty, from 1877 Picture: ARCHIVE

It’s written by two ex-Hollyoaks writers and produced by Lime Pictures, maker of school-based drama Grange Hill. It’s made over here on Anglesey and in Cheshire.

The first series opened with 15-year-old American Zoe and little sister Rosie moving to a quiet island off the UK mainland for the summer – the place their British mother came from. Mum is played by ex-Coronation Street actress and 2013 Strictly Come Dancing runner-up Natalie Gumede.

Zoe might be a teenager from Los Angeles but proved to be the only person who during her stay at Bright Field Stables could tame a temperamental horse called Raven. She ended up on the trail of a horse thief.

Free Rein has developed a firm following, with series two bringing fresh adventures – as well as lots of cantering through the British countryside and along beaches.

Anna Sewell. Sadly, she didn't live long enough to see quite how popular her Black Beauty novel would become     Picture: Archant archiveAnna Sewell. Sadly, she didn't live long enough to see quite how popular her Black Beauty novel would become Picture: Archant archive

To mark the second season, Lime Pictures and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts held a screening in London, hosted by Blue Peter presenter Lindsey Russell, Along with cast and media, fans and families could attend.

There was a question-and-answer session with the show’s creators and writers, and actress Jaylen Barron (Zoe). Fans met the cast to take pictures and get autographs.

So what’s the secret of Free Rein? Well, Netflix hits the nail on the head, explaining that Zoe’s “deep friendship [with Raven] gave her the strength to face certain rites of passage head on whilst exploring new relationships.

“Zoe’s inspirational journey showed audiences that life is all about falling off – and learning to pick yourself up again. With a thrilling mystery that unravelled around her, the complex relationship Zoe developed with Raven gave her the grit and determination to master her riding skills and ultimately discover a passion for horses and strength to face the rest of life’s challenges.”

And the best news for fans? Free Rein will be back for a third season.

Do you watch Free Rein? What do you think of it? Write to Steven Russell, features desk, Archant, Portman House, 150 Princes Street, Ipswich, IP1 1RS or email steve.russell@archant.co.uk

Stables and stories

Lots of Waveney Harriers Pony Club members are fans of the series.

“I love watching Free Rein because it’s about real horse dilemmas and teenage romance.”

Ruby Armstrong, 11

“They ride properly and they show real life issues.”

Isabel Armstrong, 13

“I love all the horses, especially Raven. And I like Zoe because she did the right thing when Pin [a stable boy, with a secret, who encourages Zoe to ride] got into trouble.”

Poppy Howes, six

“I love Free Rein. I love all the horses, especially ‘naughty’ Bob! And I also admire Zoe’s courage.”

Jasmine Briggs, 10

“I like the fact it is something we can sit and enjoy together.”

Lorna Briggs, Jasmine’s mum

Famous fictional horses

Black Beauty: Anna Sewell, born in Great Yarmouth in 1820, is best known for novel Black Beauty. She wrote it between 1871 and 1877, while living in Old Catton, a couple of miles north-east of the centre of Norwich.

Anna died only five months after it came out. Her story has gone on to sell about 50million copies.

This tale of a colt’s journey from a joyful rural life to one pulling cabs in London, cruelty and kindness along the way, has been brought to the screen many times. There was The Adventures of Black Beauty on ITV in the early to mid 1970s, and a 1994 film adaptation starring Sean Bean.

Follyfoot: Monica Dickens’s 1963 book Cobbler’s Dream inspired children’s TV series Follyfoot. It ran initially in the UK from 1971 to 1973 and was set in an equine “rest home”. The underlying philosophy was to give another chance to horses and people rejected by society.

In the later 1970s, Monica Dickens wrote Follyfoot, Dora at Follyfoot, The Horses of Follyfoot, and Stranger at Follyfoot.

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