From the power of racing thoroughbreds, to a gentle nudge from a therapy horse, to the open runs of wild horses on the range, to the muscle and skill of working ranch horses, KUED takes viewers on an emotional journey on horseback through the American West.
John Howe's latest documentary for KUED, Horses of the West: America's Love Story, airing August 10 at 7:00 p.m. on KUED, celebrates the remarkable relationship of horses and the humans who love them. Narrated by actress Ali MacGraw, the film offers a broad overview of the many different roles of horses in the American West.
In Gunnison, Utah, state prison inmates work to gentle and train wild horses, which will be offered for adoption as part of a Bureau of Land Management program. Kerry Despain, who runs the prison's wild horse program, says the relationship is as beneficial for the men as for the horses they train. For inmate Richard Evans, the horses provide a sense of freedom "kind of akin to flying. I just love galloping and feeling the wind... I feel like being around the horses has calmed me down as a person, has taken an edge off me."
Not surprisingly, the inmates become so attached to the horses they train that it can be hard on them when the animals are actually adopted. "It's your best bud and it just kind of hurts your feelings when he leaves and you're kind of a little heart broke," says inmate Waylon Riddle. "You gain a relationship, a bond with that horse and he's gone."
Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab, Utah rescues horses whose owners no longer considered "useful." Jake, one thoroughbred the sanctuary rescued, went on to become a ranch horse and later a dressage horse. But some thoroughbreds end up going to auction, where they're purchased by "kill buyers" for slaughter.
While the prison's wild horse program and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary rescue horses, Horses of the West shows how horses can rescue and heal humans. The film tells the story of two special wild horses at the National Ability Center in Park City. Shelby was a two-year old Cedar Mountain Mustang the center adopted as a colt. Fly, another mustang, was rescued at the same time as a friend for Shelby. Both are ideally suited for their role as therapy animals. "If their participant has a disability, they're able to pick up on that and understand what kind of needs that person might have, "says the center's Abby Ferrin. For a six-year-old named Sarah, who was diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy, the therapy horses have meant a chance at walking. Hippotherapy, which uses the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy, improves muscle tone, balance, coordination, motor development and emotional well being. "I say in a lot of ways he (the horse) rescued her," says Sarah's mother.
Other segments of the film look at the world of barrel racing; visits the domain of jockeys who get paid to ride thoroughbreds; examines Arabians, a breed considered the royalty of the horse world; observes the discipline of working horses on a cattle ranch; and honors the versatile American Appaloosa, with lineage dating back to the historic Nez Perce horses. Howe calls the film an emotional journey "about horses and the people who love them."