BY TYLER BUI
Executive producers Jessica Springsteen, Patti Scialfa Springsteen and Robert Redford illustrate the beauty, struggle, and passion in “The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses”
The Mustang is often considered America’s symbol of freedom—an icon of strength and resilience that is tied to the history and culture of our country. But beneath their powerful exterior lies a history of neglect, underappreciation, and a battle to survive. Throughout the past century, mustangs have gone from overpopulated to almost extinct. Today we face the issue of a rapidly increasing mustang population and a lack of resources to care for them.
The film looks into the history of the American Mustang—what went wrong, and how people are fighting to bring them justice. Watching this documentary encourages the viewer to feel all the emotions, moving from moments of pure joy to grief as you watch what these mustangs had to endure during the early to mid-1900s.
David Phillips, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “Wild Horse Country,” narrates portions of the documentary providing information on the history of mustangs as things shifted throughout the decades. He illustrates the ongoing crisis and the lack of a safe way to limit populations today. Phillips takes the audience through a general timeline of the mustang throughout American history, where they first began as working horses, providing transportation for citizens in civilian life and during war. Once cars began to emerge, the purpose of the horse began to shift. Philip Chappel became a well-known name as he began slaughtering wild mustangs to use as dog food. Killing and abusing wild mustangs became common practice, until Velma Johnston, more commonly known as “Wild Horse Annie,” came along.
Johnston is considered the catalyst for change during the 1960s and 1970s where she brought awareness to the terrible abuse and slaughter of mustangs. Originally working as a secretary, Wild Horse Annie found herself in front of the White House with thousands of supporters, many young children. With her activism and support, President Nixon passed the 1971 Wild Horse and Burro Protection Act that made killing wild horses a crime. Johnston was personally recognized for her dedication and hard work and remains a key part of the American mustang’s history.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover, created by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, is highlighted throughout the film. Professional horse trainers are given a wild mustang and approximately 100 days to train it and showcase their performance. Following the competition, the mustangs are auctioned off. Two horses in particular—Remington and Pearl Snap—are followed throughout the film and the audience is able to emotionally connect with the two animals and watch their journey to success.
Towards the end of the film, Operation Wild Horse is introduced through the Wild Mustang Makeover competition. It is a program run through Veterans R&R, a nonprofit organization that works to provide support for veterans and their families. Operation Wild Horse allows mustangs and veterans to bond. The horses are able to provide therapy and comfort to the men and women who have served or currently serve our country. The bonds between these veterans and the mustangs are life-changing—many feel that being on a horse is the only place they are able to truly feel at peace.
The film does an outstanding job showing the good and the bad regarding the reality of mustangs today. While bringing awareness to the need for more sustainable ways to regulate the population, it also highlights the passion and love that people have for these wild horses. The audience is able to emotionally connect to not only the animals but the individuals who have dedicated their lives to saving them.
The Mustangs: America’s Wild Horses is available on Apple TV and Amazon Prime Video.