"Extreme Wylene" Wilson and her mustang. Photo courtesy of Screen Media Films
Like most good horse stories, Wild Horse Wild Ride is as much a people story as a horse story. Released in theaters in September, this documentary follows participants in the Mustang Heritage Foundation's Extreme Mustang Makeover in 2009. The cast of characters reflects the diversity of us horse crazy types and illustrates the ways in which our interactions with our horses reveal our real character.
The film opens with participants waiting to see what Mustang will come down the corral chute with their drawn number on it. Begun in 2007, the Makeover gives participants 100 days to gentle a wild Mustang before showing it off before
judges and prospective adopters at the Finals in
Ft. Worth, Texas.
Human participants have no idea what kind of Mustang they'll get. One of the film's stars is a self-described "old, fat cowboy" George Gregory, a lifelong Texas horseman, who hopes for a big, sturdy steed and gets a scrawny and squirly one instead. In addition to a totally new domestic world, the horses have no idea what kind of people they'll get. They might end up with a PhD in biomedical engineering or an American Indian and his son living on a Navajo reservation.
The Makeover has facilitated the adoption of 3,300 wild Mustangs off public lands since its inception in 2007 and is familiar to most in the horse industry. (For the latest on the Extreme Mustang Makeover, see story, page 30.) For the many of us who have only read about the competition, the film is a real treat unto itself and a great glimpse of what really happens between horse and human in those 100 days.
At day 25, for example, George and his little horse, Waylon, were among those struggling. Waylon was still bucking the saddle off and George was nowhere near getting on as his part-amused/part-worried wife Evelyn watches their antics in the roundpen. Conversely, "Extreme Wylene" Wilson got her horse on Saturday and was riding him by Monday.
Training tactics varied widely. Round penning and desensitizing techniques familiar to natural horsemanship followers were a common denominator but not universal. One contestant spoke of needing to control the horse's feet to control the horse, a familiar theme, then proceeded to tie up one of his horse's legs and get it to hop towards him, then eventually lie down on the ground. From a horsemanship standpoint, I didn't understand that, which may well be my failing. Another contestant appeared to have very minimal horse handling and riding experience and I was worried she would fall off at every turn, though she didn't. The filmmaker's choice to leave in a few moments that might raise objections with both informed and uninformed horse enthusiasts was admirable, in my opinion, as it makes for an honest film that encourages open mindedness.
Don't be afraid to bring your non-horsey friends or spouses to Wild Horse Wild Ride. My husband Dave is in that category and he found the movie enjoyable and inspirational. "I liked the people stories and especially of those who you could tell really, really loved their horse," he says.
We were in agreement on our favorite characters: Compadre and Jesus, a Mexican emigrant living in Wisconsin. He drew a gorgeous horse in Compadre and that was augmented by an obvious bond built through patient, gentle horsemanship. Master roping skills demonstrated as a top 10 finalist in the Makeover Final were icing on the cake.
Heartstrings are tugged when the film arrives at the Finals in Fort Worth, in September of 2009. That's when the trainers have to be ready to part with their horses to the highest bidder after the competition is all over. Jesus stoically showed off his handsome Compadre as his modest budget was instantly outbid on the way to an eventual $9,000 offer. That bid came over the phone from longtime wild horse advocate Madeline Pickens, who, along with her husband T. Boone Pickens, wound up donating Compadre to Southern Methodist University as a mascot. A shot of Jesus astride Compadre when the horse debuts at the school's full football stadium is a moving finale on that story line.
Directed by the husband and wife team of Alex Dawson and Greg Cricus, Wild Horse Wild Ride has won several film festival and documentary awards. I highly recommend this movie to everybody and I am happy about its ability to celebrate and help sustain a program, the Makeover, that has taken a very positive and constructive approach to the tough problem of managing America's Wild Horse population.
For more information and a list of
theaters showing the movie, visit