The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses is a beautifully shot documentary that provides a somewhat rose-colored glasses view on the dilemma that America’s wild horses find themselves in today: namely, a fast-growing population that is competing for limited resources and under siege by ranchers, the Bureau of Land Management and unscrupulous dealers who ship the horses to slaughter.
There’s no doubt the problem is real. Exploding populations coupled with diminishing habitat (the BLM has reduced designated wild horse habitats by more than 15 million acres since 1971) has created a crisis. There are too many horses for the ecosystem to maintain and very few humane solutions available to protect and control the herds that still exist.
If you are looking for a feel-good documentary that focuses the beauty of the wild mustangs, The Mustangs is a must-see movie. The cinematography is superb. There are lots of feel good stories and you come away from the experience with an appreciation of the horses’ beauty and with hope that we will be able to protect their heritage. For people who might not even be aware that wild horses still roam free in many Western states, this is a great introduction. For those of us who have been following the mustangs’ plight, there isn’t enough call to action.
I loved the scenes that feature the Extreme Mustang Makeover, a competition where trainers are given 120 days to take an untouched wild horse and get them competition ready. I was truly impressed. I’ve always loved what the Retired Racehorse Project’s Thoroughbred Makeover has been able to do for retired racehorses — namely, demonstrate the versatility and adaptability of the horses for non-racing careers. But the Mustang Makeover is truly amazing as these horses started out wild. What the trainers accomplish is amazing. At the end of the competition, the horses are auctioned off, with the top horses fetching over $20,000.
Another highlight of the movie for me were the scenes that show mustangs being used by Operation Wild Horse, a therapeutic riding centers that treats veterans with PTSD. The ability of these horses to help humans overcome there personal trauma is amazing. They are therapists on four legs.
I had never heard of “Wild Horse Annie,” Velma Bronn Johnston, an animal welfare activist who led a campaign to stop the eradication of mustangs and free-roaming burros from public lands in 1952. She was instrumental in passing legislation to stop using aircraft and land vehicles from inhumanely capturing wild horses and burros. She’s so interesting that she deserves her own blog post.
What the documentary fails to deliver is the sense of urgency surrounding the fate of these horses. I’m sure they were under pressure not to call out the BLM for their inhumane practices — rounding up mustangs with helicopters, where horses break legs in their panicked run, or the most recent BLM debacle, where the agency offered $1000 to people who adopted a mustang or burro. The “bounty” is less money than the $24,000/animal cost of maintaining the mustangs at BLM holding centers, but it should come as no surprise that first, some people adopted the maximum number of horses allowed and second, many of the adopted horses were sold for slaughter.
I hope that people who watch and enjoy this film, find it in their hearts to take action. Maybe not feet on the ground like the women who are helping reduce the fertility of the mares by shooting them with darts, but by opening their checkbooks, signing petitions and remaining aware of how this symbol of America’s wild west is sustained.