Review of Wild Horse, Wild Ride

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In this stunning documentary, a handful of unforgettable characters set out on a 100-day quest to tame a totally wild mustang for a Texas competition.
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Movie Review: "Wild Horse, Wild Ride"

-- Rating: PG (for some language)
Length: 106 minutes
Release Date: August 24, 2012
Directed by: Alex Dawson, Greg Gricus
Genre: Documentary/Western

Thousands of wild horses run free on federal lands each year, but this freedom to roam comes at a price. Food can be scarce, especially in areas hit hard by droughts. The horses are constantly at risk of starving or not finding enough water to survive. "Wild Horse, Wild Ride" shows how an annual competition takes 100 of these horses and tames them, so they can then be placed in a good home.

The competition is called the Extreme Mustang Makeover Challenge. Experienced and novice horse trainers alike are each given one wild mustang and 100 days to tame the horse before a competition in Fort Worth, Texas. This competition is the chance for the trainers to show that their methods worked and to earn bragging rights. It also gives those attending the show an opportunity to see the horse and decide if they want to bid on it at auction.

With only 106 minutes of screen time, the film couldn't possibly feature all 100 trainers and horses. Instead, directors Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus selected a few of the more colorful personalities to give some insight as to how they plan to tame horses that have run free since birth. George and Evelyn Gregory, an elderly married couple, claim the competition is what they look forward to all year. They bring a somewhat stoic tone to the proceedings, patiently trying to break in their horse, which has a personality as distinct as any human's.

One of the best things about "Wild Horse, Wild Ride" is that the filmmakers are careful to show the personality of the animals. The obvious fear and confusion in their eyes when they are first captured slowly gives way to suspicion and eventual submission. Each horse goes at its own pace because all of the horses' personalities are so unique. Some take a few weeks to settle down, while others go down to the wire, with the trainers unsure whether they will make the 100 day deadline or not.

Some of the horses that are harder to tame may have a more stubborn nature than the ones that easily submit to their trainers. The longer taming time could also be a function of the trainer's patience or methods. Jesus Jaurregui has a swagger about him and has plenty of self-confidence, but that does not necessarily make him a good horse tamer. Meanwhile, mechanical engineer and college professor Melissa Kanzelberger could possibly be out of her league outside of the hallowed halls of academia.

The film portrays each of the trainers as someone who has a genuine affection for the horses. A whip is only used once in the entire movie, but it is done for show. No whips or other instruments of pain are ever used on any of the mustangs. This is not some old western movie where the macho cowboys whip or rope their horses into submission. For the Extreme Mustang Makeover Competition, patience is a virtue, even as the deadline clock is ticking.

The movie makes no judgments about what the horse tamers are trying to accomplish. Though some people may object to the captivity of wild animals, the trainers point out that these mustangs would likely die in the wild. Here, after some fairly gentle coaxing and training, the horses begin to bond with humans. They are then auctioned off, but only to an owner who can take care of the horse at whatever stage of training they have accomplished. For example, the tamest horses can go to a home where they will be ridden by children. Ones that are still a little reticent will go to a ranch where the owners can continue to train them.

The winner of the competition gets to take home a prize purse of $5,000. This is a lot of money to most people, but when you consider the time and effort put into the training, it seems like a pittance. There is no way that the cost of feeding and boarding the mustang can be recouped with that prize money; rather, these trainers do it for the love of horses and the thrill of competition. There really is no profit to be had, which makes their dedication even more amazing.

The only real quibble about "Wild Horse, Wild Ride" is that it isn't longer. This could easily be a yearly reality show that could be spread out over several episodes. It is a fascinating look at a group of people who try to bring humans and animals together; you'll just wish it was slightly longer.

Rating: 2 out of 5