Wild Horse, Wild Ride (Screen Media Films, PG)

wildhorses sqThe beauty of the land and the horses themselves, and the varied personalities of the trainers, more than carry the film.


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Every year, the Bureau of Land Management removes thousands of mustangs, feral descendants of the domesticated horses imported by the Spanish conquistadors, from public lands in the United States. It’s a controversial program, but not the central subject of Wild Horse, Wild Ride; instead, the film focuses on a program to encourage more people to adopt some of these horses.

That program is the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, which sounds like a cheesy reality show but is actually a program in which 100 people each are assigned one of the mustangs, which they then try to tame over a three-month period. The culmination of the program is a competition in Fort Worth, Texas, after which time the horses will be offered at auction.

The trainers are a varied lot: they’re old and young, male and female, professionals and amateurs, White, Hispanic, and Native American. They each have their own methods of communicating with their mustang (assigned by lottery, so they really have to deal with what they get), but thankfully, the concept of “breaking” a horse is long since passé, and gentleness and understanding are the order of the day. Anyone who’s spent any time around horses will tell you that each one has its own personality, and failing to recognize a horse’s individuality is a good recipe for disaster. You and the horse have to be a team, and trying to impose yourself on the other party works about as well as it does in any other kind of relationship.

Although the Fort Worth competition provides the narrative spine of this documentary, Directors Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus are at least as interested in the process as the goal, and in the lives of the trainers as in the progress of the horses. It’s a real pleasure to watch the progress of the trainers and the horses, as completely wild animals (it’s not hyperbole to say that they had never felt the touch of a person before being rounded up the BLM helicopters) become domesticated and trusting of their human trainers.

 Wild Horse, Wild Ride is a calm and peaceful film, reflecting the patient, careful methods of the horse trainers. There’s nothing fancy about the technical package—the soundtrack is appropriate but unobtrusive, the cinematography straightforward—but the beauty of the land and the horses themselves, and the varied personalities of the trainers, more than carry the film. It’s a must-see for animal lovers, especially teenage girls going through their horse phase, but also interesting enough to hold the attention of anyone interested in Western culture and in the relationship between man and animal. | Sarah Boslaugh

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