Although the filmmakers are happy to spell out a mission statement, they’re less forthcoming with hard facts. For instance, there’s little explanation for why, at the film’s beginning, wild mustangs are being rounded up and removed from public range land. (In brief: It’s because the population outpaces what the land can sustain.) Dawson and Gricus rush through the scene’s context to get to its conclusion, wherein amateur and professional trainers take home the mustangs. They have 100 days to tame the animals’ wildness and then compete in something called the Extreme Mustang Makeover; at the end of the competition, held in Fort Worth, the mustangs will be auctioned off to new owners.
The filmmakers trail nine trainers in Texas, New Hampshire, and Arizona, as their horses transition – some faster than others – from bucking, biting wild things to trusting companions (one mustang even submits to riding blindfolded through the rough, so devoted is he to his teenaged trainer). The filmmakers, hopscotching between states, whiz through the training process, imparting little about the nuts and bolts of breaking a horse. Nor do they bother much familiarizing the viewer with the particulars of the Extreme Mustang Makeover – its history, the rules and regulations, or what precisely the criteria for judging entails. Finally, the sense of passing time is undercut when one realizes some of the supporting interviewees wear the same outfit throughout – meaning, one day and one interview, diced throughout a whole film in which the concept of a ticking clock is crucial.
Frustrations abound with this limited film, but Wild Horse, Wild Ride does one thing exceptionally well, and that is convey the emotional bond between trainer and horse. Many of the trainers, who range in age from late teens to seniorsomething, start the process emotionally detached and end the 100-day stretch powerfully attached. As for the 18-year-old horse whisperer, trying to be cowboy-stoic but still leaking tears knowing he can’t afford to buy the mustang he now counts as his best friend? Well, that leak filled a bucket from my eyes.