A hundred wild mustangs are paired with trainers, both amateur and professional, who have just more than three months to train them. Then the horses are entered in a competition, and adopted into new homes. These trainers are acting sort of as foster parents, taking horses that have never been touched by human hands, building a close bond with them and then letting them go.
If that doesn’t put a lump in your throat, then the documentary “Wild Horse, Wild Ride” will leave you stone-faced. I found it a little corny at first, but quickly warmed up to the film by Alex Dawson and Greg Gricus. They understand the cardinal rule of competition documentaries like this, set by “Spellbound,” “Wordplay,” and so many others: It isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s about who plays the game.
The camera follows a wide range of individuals, from seasoned trainers like septuagenarian George and the dashing, larger-than-life cowgirl Wylene, to newbies like Melissa, who has her doctorate in engineering but seems better suited to be out in the pole barn, working with her horse.
There also is Jesus Jaruegui of Bishop’s Harbor, Wis., a trainer in the “horse whisperer” tradition whose bond with his horse El Compadre is almost supernatural.
The movie builds slowly, giving us time to get to know the trainers and their horses, watching the different techniques employed, and the human-animal communication lines start to strengthen. (One trainer even takes his horse into the basement to play pool although, to be fair, the horse is more of an observer than a player.)
The competition in the film’s third act is quite riveting, although I correctly predicted who would win.
And undercutting the suspense is an added poignancy, because these riders all know that, win or lose, those horses will be going to someone else. (Well, that might not be entirely true, but I’ll let you watch the movie to find out.)
“They say never fall in love with a horse,” says Charlie, an elderly Navajo training a horse with his son. “But I think I’m falling in love with this one.”
Horse lovers will be right there with him while watching “Wild Horse, Wild Ride,” but people lovers will be just as touched. ‘WILD HORSE, WILD RIDE’
H H H 1/2 I
Cast: George Gregory, Randy Chance, Evelyn Gregory, Jesus Jauregui, Melissa Kanzelberger, Nik Kokal, Kris Kokal
Directors: Alex Dawson, Greg Gricus
Rated: PG; language