Wild Horse, Wild Ride

By August 30, 2012
Man attempts to stroke a wild black Mustang.

"Wild Horse, Wild Ride" documents the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge, where 100 people have 100 days to turn a wild Mustang into a riding horse.
(Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Making their feature debut, the husband and wife team of Alexandra Dawson and Greg Gricus have created a modestly-scaled independent film that succeeds where many larger-budget Hollywood projects fail, creating a documentary that will leave viewers stunned by the power of the equine/human connection.

Choosing as their subject the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) “Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge,” the couple explores the bond between wild mustangs and the people who help foster them into homes as part of a rescue mission after the BLM removes them from their native land.

The wranglers then have 100 days to train the previously untouched horses. At the end of that period, there is a contest to see who did the best job. The winner gets $5,000 and the horses are then auctioned off.

After reading a blurb about the federal program in 2008, the couple – which had spent 15 years working in television, producing for The History Channel, The Discovery Channel, The Travel Channel and PBS – “knew instantly that was the story we’d been waiting for,” Dawson recalled. Speaking from her Wyoming home, Dawson explained that “Greg and I have long been captivated by the almost magical bond between human and horse.”

The movie follows the drama that unfolds during the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. The film begins when 100 lucky (although at the beginning one has reason to doubt their luck!) individuals adopt a mustang fresh from the BLM roundup.

Dawson and Gricus allow the viewers an honest glimpse into the lives of seemingly ordinary folk who share one genetic mutation: the love of horses. Recording emotions that are honest, simple and ultimately somewhat mysterious, the camera follows a variety of characters and charts progress with their new horses.

Paint Mustangs peer over a fence.

Mustangs fresh off the range are put into a BLM holding pen.
(Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films)

As the drama in the first part of the movie hones in on some moments of horses crashing into panels, kicking and biting at some less than spry trainers and generally behaving uncooperatively, the questions arise: “Will they live to see the finals in Fort Worth?” and “I wonder how much of this train wreck they’re actually going to show?”

Other trainers, young and lithe, with nerves of steel, elicit a completely different set of questions. “How did they do that in six days?” or “Was that a backflip?”

The visually powerfully cinematography weaves shots of American life from New Hampshire to Texas to the stark beauty of a Navajo Reservation. The shots of hay will remind any horse owner of the literal cost of ownership. Interspersed with the landscape are honest portraits of the people and the horses indigenous to the land. The horses look like horses, and the camera captures their eyes and their souls as they try to comprehend the change in their world. The fear in the horses’ eyes parallels the fear expressed both verbally and visually in some of the trainers, too. The skill and bravery to show this fear is powerful and pays off when the film brings viewers to the Fort Worth competition.

Seeing the transformation of all the horses involved is simply stunning. A less delicate handed pair of filmmakers could have easily turned preachy here on hot topic issues like horse slaughter, BLM wild horse policy or animal rights in general, but they wisely and beautifully just let the camera roll and tell a story, revealing what can happen in 100 days. With layer upon layer of examples, the filmmakers show just how forgiving a horse can be and how much one species can learn from another.

There is something about horses that makes a person want to bet.  Be warned:  it is very hard to bet which horse will win the competition because the final grand freestyle competition goes down in a way completely unforeseen.  Eat your heart out, Ann Romney. Wild Horse Wild Ride may not be the Olympics, but it’s a medal winner, for sure.

Wild Horse, Wild Ride opened in New York on Aug. 24 and expands nationally through September. In Los Angeles it’s playing at the Laemmle Theaters beginning Sept. 7. For more information including national playdates and theaters visit www.wildhorsewildride.com.


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