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Horses Of The West: America’s Love Story

Airs Monday, March 5, 2012 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: A young girl rides her horse as featured in "Horses Of The West: America's Love Story."

From the sensitive beauty of elegant Arabians to a gentle nudge from a therapy horse, from the open runs of wild horses on the range to the muscle and skill of working ranch horses, "Horses Of The West: America's Love Story" takes viewers on an emotional journey on horseback through the American West. Narrated by actress Ali MacGraw, this new PBS special celebrates the remarkable relationship of horses and the humans who love them, while offering a broad overview of the many different roles horses play.

In Gunnison, Utah, state prison inmates work to train wild horses so they can be offered for adoption.
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Above: In Gunnison, Utah, state prison inmates work to train wild horses so they can be offered for adoption.

"Horses Of The West" visits the Utah state prison farm in Gunnison, Utah, where inmates work to gentle and train wild horses so they can be offered for adoption. Kerry Despain, who runs the prison’s wild horse program, says the relationship is as beneficial for the men as for the horses they train.

For inmate Richard Evans, the horses provide a sense of freedom “akin to flying. I just love galloping and feeling the wind. I feel like being around the horses has calmed me down as a person, has taken an edge off me.”

Not surprisingly, the inmates become so attached to the horses that it can be emotionally hard on them when the animals are actually adopted. “It’s your best bud and it just kind of hurts your feelings when he leaves and you’re kind of a little heart broke,” says inmate Waylon Riddle. “You gain a relationship, a bond with that horse and he’s gone.”

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab, Utah, rescues horses whose owners no longer consider them “useful.”
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Above: Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab, Utah, rescues horses whose owners no longer consider them “useful.”

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary near Kanab, Utah, featured in another segment, rescues horses whose owners no longer consider them “useful.” Jake, a thoroughbred the sanctuary rescued, went on to have a career as a ranch horse. “Lady” was rescued from a grim fate in a slaughterhouse.

While the prison’s wild horse program and the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary rescue horses, "Horses Of The West" also shows how horses can rescue and heal humans. The film tells the story of two special wild horses at the National Ability Center in Park City, Utah. Shelby, a two-year old Cedar Mountain mustang, was adopted as a colt. Fly, another mustang, was rescued at the same time as a friend for Shelby. Both are ideally suited for their role as therapy animals.

This journey on horseback through the American West features elegant Arabians and other equine breeds.
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Above: This journey on horseback through the American West features elegant Arabians and other equine breeds.

“If their participant has a disability, they’re able to pick up on that and understand what kind of needs that person might have,” says the center’s Abby Ferrin. Hippotherapy, which uses the movement of the horse as a treatment strategy, improves muscle tone, balance, coordination, motor development and emotional well-being. “I say in a lot of ways he (the horse) rescued her,” says Jenifer, the mother of Sarah Barber, one of the children profiled.

Rounding out the program are the exquisite grace of Arabians, who may be the royalty of the horse world; working quarter horses on the ranch of famed author Thomas McGuane; and the striking beauty of spotted Appaloosas and their Nez Perce heritage.

This program is part of our TV Membership Campaign. Support quality programming you depend on from KPBS. Join or renew today! Give at the $60 level and receive a "Horses Of The West: America's Love Story" DVD.

Video

Preview: Horses Of The West: America's Love Story

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Above: Take a vivid journey through the American West on horseback, celebrating the remarkable relationship of humans and their horses.