Tag Archives: Wild at Heart

A DOCUMENTARY ABOUT THE PRISONER TRAINED MUSTANG PROGRAM…: Introducing “WILD AT HEART”! (Plus an interview with the Producer/Director!)

THIS documentary needed to happen!

As you know, I’ve been a huge fan of the Prisoner Trained Mustang Program in Carson City, Nevada.  Actually, I’d probably be a fan of any program like this anywhere, but the program in Carson City is intimate for me since that is where I adopted my wonderful Poco Rojo.

(In case you missed that post, here is a link to the Red Horse Diaries which is a page of links to all of my adventures with Rojo thus far including his adoption day.)

POSTER for the documentary, WILD AT HEART



As I have said before in a few posts regarding this program, I wasn’t a fan of the Prisoner Trained Mustang Program when I first heard about it… I thought, “Wow, those guys are going to be brutal to these poor horses…”.

But, after watching, going and learning, I realized that I was wrong.

First of all, only the most honorable prisoners (I know…) are invited into this very coveted program.  After all, these guys get to be outside all day long, all the time – so this horse training gig is a good one.  Much better than a cell or a yard.

From what I’ve heard via Hank Curry, the wrangler who heads the program, most of these guys tow the line because they don’t want to lose this great job.  So, generally, the guys do what they are told.

When I interviewed Hank, he said that he hand picks the men who will be the trainers.  Hank tries to find men with little or no experience in horses because it is easier to “teach” than “unlearn” according to Hank.

Now you might be asking how this works if the men really only want the outside job and aren’t really into horses at all…  Good question.  I thought the same thing.  But, what I found was that the experience is transforming – like all of those other experiences we all didn’t want to do, but eventually did – or were made to – and afterwards we all admitted how life-changing and renewed we were.

You know what I mean.

OK, back to what I was saying…

After the initial selection process, Hank matches the mustang with the inmate…  this job is not taken lightly.  (Honestly, I think this process may be the most important…)

Then, the inmates spend 8 hours a day, 5 days a week for 3-4 months with these horses.

Well… spending that much time with anyone or anything would be quite an influence, eh?

You end up with a buddy horse and a buddy man.


The crew alongside the still wild horses.



So, if a horse has to be captured, he may as well become a better citizen to fit into his new world… and interestingly enough, the same applies to the man.

As they say, the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.

Never were more true words spoken for the trainer inmates of the Nevada State Prison, Carson City…

Besides… the other mustangs who are not chosen are far less likely to ever be adopted and get out of the hell of the pipe corrals of the BLM holding facilities.  At least if a horse is chosen for this program, they are adopted as gentlemen horses.  This is so worthwhile since many Mustang adopters have trouble with the wild horses, especially if they don’t take some human/wild horse courses themselves.

I’m so happy that someone has documented this life changing process (for the horse and the man) at the Nevada State Prison in Carson City, Nevada in this documentary:

The title:  WILD AT HEART

Release date:  Summer 2012

It is an Acorn2Oak Production: www.acorn2oakfilms.com

Written/produced/directed by: Tracee Beebe
Assistant Producer: Maya Ruttledge
Executive Producer: Dick Ghilotti
Cinematography: Neil Soiland

(If you’d like to distribute it or have a special preview in your local theaters, please contact me and I’ll put you in touch.)

These young horses will have a chance at a life other than the pipe corrals of BLM holding pens...



Here is a link to the trailer on You Tube as well as the Facebook page to watch the progress and keep in contact with the Producers.

Click the image to view the trailer!



Lucky me!  I got to put on my interview cap and ask a few questions for some BEHIND THE SCENES information (love that!) with the Producer/Director, Tracee Beebe…

Y’know, being a commercial producer and having had my own series, HORSE AND MAN, I’m totally into this kind of thing and wish I could have produced this!  ;)  But, they thought of it and did it so CONGRATS to them and I hope they have huge success – for them and for the program.

So, without further ado, here is the email interview without any edits.  I promise.

1)  How did you hear about this program and what peaked your interest?

I first heard about the program while attending the Wild Horse and Burro Expo in Sparks about 6 years ago. I was there competing with my mustang mare, Tara and was very impressed with the level of training the prison horses get. Two years later, at the Expo, one of my riding students (I was a horse trainer/instructor for 25 years) and I adopted one of the prison horses and I have seen what an amazing horse he is so have followed the program. When I became a filmmaker 2 years ago, this project was something I knew people would want to see.

2)  When I went to the prison, I was taken aback and very uncomfortable.  Did you have those feelings and if so, how did you get over them?

Not at all, and I am very surprised to hear you say that. Im usually pretty sensitive to those kind of bad situations but I felt nothing but total respect from everyone there. I even had a very pretty young woman on my crew and she never had a bit of trouble.

3)  What was the most surprising revelation you took home with you from this experience?

I was both surprised and humbled by the way the inmates were willing to open up to us. They really trusted me and and shared not only their pasts, but how much working with the horses has impacted their lives. Also, I had gone in their with this preconceived ideas about who and what these men would be, but they are decent human beings who made bad choices and are now owning up to them. I really respected them for that. Another thing, being a horse-lover, I thought that the men would be much more heartbroken over saying goodbye to their horses on adoption day, but they were so excited for them to go to good homes and so proud of the fact that their efforts as trainers helped them to get those homes. I think they saw the horses being at the prison as a reflection of their own incarceration and saw a piece of themselves getting to leave the prison with their horses.

The beginning for the wild duo. (Note all the horses behind them in the holding pens.)


4)  Did you watch Hank pick the horses that would go into the program?  If so, what did you learn from that?

Yes, what an amazing man and horseman! I think the biggest thing I took away from that process was how stillness can bring knowledge. (He would probably razz me for saying that!) He would step into the pen with a horse and just observe the horse’s reaction to his presence. He wouldn’t try to control or change the horse in anyway. So many of us, even those that practice natural horsemanship, tend to want to take control of the situation right off the bat and we miss out on those quiet moments in which the horse can convey so much to us.

5)  How did the picked horses differ from each other?  How did Hank match the horse with the trainer?

As you know, every horse has a different personality and it’s own strengths and weaknesses. Hank seemed to be able to grasp very quickly which horses were going to be extra sensitive, stand offish , or “stubborn.” Every horse has it’s own lesson to teach and, While Hank might deny it, I think he knew which life lesson each man needed to work on and gave him the horse that would help him learn it. For example, the horse that was going to need the most patience was going to go to the guy who was most impatient. The men talk about the individual lesson their horse had to teach them in the film.

6)  I saw a lot of rearing in the trailer… how did you feel during the early stages of the training?

Some of it was a little “rougher” than I personally like. Theres no abuse, don;t get me wrong, but I always like to do things the gentlest, softest way myself, so to see a horse reacting like that in the trailer, or feeling like it needed to bronc when it was first saddled, was a little tough to watch. But, I think a big part of Hank’s success is in letting the men make mistakes and learn from them. I think the same goes for the horses. While it may seem dramatic at the time for a horse to react like that in the trailer or under saddle for he first time, in the long run, no damage is done and the men and their horses work through it together and are stronger for it in the end.

Partners. Imagine the confidence for both after making this friendship...

7)  Did you like any horses more than others?  (which set of horses did you film?  what was their adoption date? – I’ll look them up)

Haha, what a great question! Only another horse lover would ask it ;) They were adopted on Feb 11. I’ve always been a sucker for big bays and I was in love with a getnle giant named Debo. He was 16.3 hands out of the Sands Basin. He was adopted to a really nice older gentleman who had just lost his horse and they seemed like a great match. His adoption fee was $300…I couldn’t believe it… I almost came home with another mustang! LOL

8)  Did you ultimately trust the trainers and their motives?

100% I went in their expecting the worst, but really believed that all they wanted was what was best for their horses. While the horses might buck and fuss a bit when they first get saddled or introduced to the trailer, they aren’t “breaking” the horses. They are using pressure and release to earn the horses’ trust. A man who has little or no experience with horses, who can spend days earning his trust in order to accept that first touch is someone with only the best intentions.

9)  What did you learn about the men?

I think I pretty much answered this one already, but let me know if there is something more that you want…

10)  I’m sure they are not ALL ‘changed’ men… but what kind of man seemed the most changed? – what did that man need that the horses provided?

I think they were all changed to one degree or another. The ones who aren’t open to what the horses have offer, don’t last in the program. it’s so hard, to pick just one! The men that we focused on were all so awesome! Nate, who was incarcerated for armed car theft, seemed to have learned a lot more respect for both man and animal; I think Justin, who had killed someone in a drunk driving accident, regained his self-confidence; but my favorite is Harry, who learned how to be the kind of father he could be proud of when he gets out – the things he learned from the horses (gentleness, leadership, patience, etc) are all skills he wants utilize with his children when he gets out.



11)  Tell me about the horses… pick a few and give me your impressions and intuitions.

That horse Debo I mentioned, was such a gentle soul. I think he could have made a great dressage horse – a very pretty mover and willing to please. Little Leo was kind of shy but tried so hard! His trainer, Hairy, had never worked with a horse before and they just took such great care of each other. Aplpe Jax is your typical Appy, lol – nothing bothers him but motivating him little tricky.

12)  Would you adopt one?

In a heartbeat! I think these horses have a great start that will help them have a great future. Where else can you get a healthy, sound horse that is worked with for almost 8 hours a day every day for 3+ months for that kind of price? Not to mention that every  mustang that is adopted is one less mustang that has to sit in a holding pen.

13)  Some of the trainers have no former experience with horses.  Isn’t this a bad thing?  Aren’t they rough on the horses?

My short answer is  “you can’t argue with the results” I mean, look… Would I take a totally green rider and turn him loose with a completely wild horse? Not on your life! Just thinking about it gives me heart palpitations, but somehow it works for these guys. Some of the men have been in the program for years and the newbies learn from them and then they in turn teach the next batch of new guys. Do they make mistakes? absolutely. But even the most seasoned pro does. But, when one of the inmates makes a mistake, he has to fix it and unlike a lot of pros on the outside, they don’t blame the horse when something goes wrong. They take responsibility and they takes steps to fix it. I wish I could say the same thing for all the other men I’ve known in my life!

14)  Tell me what you’ve observed about the mustang that is different than the domestic horse.

It might take some time to earn their trust, but once you do there is no horse more loyal or willing to please. They have a great sense of self preservation which translates to fewer vet bills and safer trail rides! they are really easy keepers; most mustangs I know are healthy on about half the feed bill of most domestic breeds. The mustangs I know develop bonds with their humans which far exceed those of most domestics; they really see that person as a part of their herd and the herd is everything to the wild horse.

Sadly, this black wild filly set against the backdrop of development is a very telling photo.


15)  How has this experience changed your life?

You ask such great questions! Had you asked me this when we first finished filming,  I probably would have had a better answer; it was such a profound and humbling experience… but it’s been a few months now and I’m not sure I have the words for it. I would say the biggest thing is that, while a very open-minded person I always had a very black-and-white perspective of people who end up in prison. I assumed that if you ended up in jail you were a certain kind of person – a criminal with no morals – but meeting these men and following their journey has changed that. There but for the grace of god go I…or any of us.

Thank you, Tracee!  How can my readers contact you or stay in touch about this?

People can email me at wildatheartmovie@gmail.com or follow us on facebook at  https://www.facebook.com/wildatheartmovie or check out our website and our other projects at www.acorn2oakfilms.com and the official trailer can be viewed at http://youtu.be/DVsHFSTzzps



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IN CHAMP'S HONOR, the Bucket Fund for April will benefit his herdmates, especially his best girl, Connie. click here.





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HORSE AND MAN is a blog in growth... if you like this, please pass it around!