Reviewing documentary films can be a chore as the topics are not always exactly cheerful and uplifting. Decimation of aboriginal populations, destruction of the environment, drug abuse, discrimination etc.
So when I was offered the chance to review “The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses” I took a deep breath expecting to see a sad extinction tale. This is not the case with this documentary.
It offers hope and provides evidence that the Mustang in the United States isn’t quite done yet. What may set the Mustang apart is its symbolism of American freedom and fighting spirit that almost all Americans hold dear.
I really tuned in when one of the individuals in the film said that she was of the view, in the past, that it is best to leave these magnificent animals alone. I had the same view initially but the reality is there is only so much land and forage for the Mustangs to survive if they breed uncontrollably. And there are the cattle ranchers that would rather see no Mustangs so their cattle can graze. So what is the answer?
In the past before 1971 when there was no legislation in place protecting the Mustangs they were heading toward extinction being used as fertilizer and dog food. Remember Alpo dog food! In 1971 after a brilliant campaign led by “Wild Horse Annie” and thousands of children legislation was finally passed in the United States to protect the Mustang.
By the late 1960’s there were some 10,000 Mustangs left and today that number is around 80,000 in the wild and 50,000 in government corrals.
The key is controlling their breeding through “darting” which is the shooting of a dart loaded with drugs that prevent conception. This is run by volunteers who only get the darts provided by the federal government. They contribute everything else.
Then there are certain adoption organizations that train Mustangs like “Extreme Mustang Makeovers” then auction them off to the public that appreciate these magnificent animals.
Then there is “Operation Wild Horses” for United States veterans suffering from PTSD. While drugs and talk therapy have often failed there is something that inspires veterans dealing and caring for Mustangs. The horses can pick up when the veterans are having a good or a bad day. Is the healing because Mustangs are outcasts like veterans? Is the healing because the veterans must respect the Mustang so the Mustangs can return that respect?
So the documentary is one of inspiration and hope that Mustangs are resilient, proud and very useful to Americans. They are not out of the woods quite yet but the documentary gives hope that through the grit and determination of many Americans the Mustangs are going to be fine.
A great historical explanation about Mustangs is an essential part of understanding the Mustangs of today and is thoughtfully provided in the documentary.
The film was produced by Robert Redford, Patti Sciafa Springsteen and USA Olympic Equestrian Silver medalist Jessica Springsteen. There are songs by Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Bruce Springsteen and Blanco Brown on the soundtrack.
The film opened up in mid-October in the United States and was seen in October at the Newport Beach Film Festival, the Heartland International Film Festival and the Edmonton International Film Festival.
You can see the trailer here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SSWEC0buBq0
With so much divisiveness and hostility in American society the Mustangs offer something beyond meanness and nasty politics. They remind you of what America once was and as one veteran says, “Mustangs can look into your soul.”