Horse and Rider

NATURE explores the fascinating partnership between animal and human in Horse and Rider.

“Bet Yer Blue Boons” is one of the most agile and intelligent cutting horses in the world, a true champion.

“Rio,” a spectacular polo pony, is a gifted athlete able to sprint at 30 miles per hour, then stop suddenly and turn on a dime.

“Chamont” has the natural talent and physique of a great dressage horse, but also at times a timorous personality that puts a question mark on his future success.

Each of these remarkable animals shares an astonishing trait: the ability to implicitly trust, and perform complex tasks in tandem with, a human partner working toward a common goal. This teaming of horse and rider is arguably the most sophisticated and intriguing example of human-animal cooperation. NATURE explores and illuminates this absorbing phenomenon in Horse and Rider.

To order a copy of Horse and Rider, visit the NATURE Shop.

Online content for Horse and Rider was originally posted October 2002.

  • Glenn Showalter

    End horse slaughter in America (Humane Society).

  • Serafina

    CALL to Action: Reject U.S. Government Proposal to Shoot Horses
    July 23, 2008 |

    JULY 2008, DARIEN, CONN. — Following the latest obnoxious proposal this month from the U.S. government to kill thousands of horses, the international animal advocacy organization Friends of Animals again calls for a full moratorium on the government-sanctioned round-ups, sales and slaughter of free-living horses.1

    The federal Bureau of Land Management set out in helicopters and harassed and chased roughly half the western herd of mustangs — a group numbering 30,000 — into a corral. And now, the officials are proposing to start killing them.

    Environmentalists, The New York Times tells us, will go along with this violence because they see the mustangs as “top-of-the-food-chain bullies whose hooves and teeth disturb the habitats of endangered tortoises and desert birds.”2

    We at Friends of Animals are also environmentalists. We aren’t calling these horses “icons” or “part of the imagery” of the west. We are calling for respect, and our government should deliver.

    If horses are at the top of the so-called food chain, it’s our government’s fault. Where are the carnivore animals? We could put the blame for their absence squarely at the feet of the U.S. government and its predator-control schemes.

    Conflict of Interest?

    The Bureau of Land Management is charged with protecting wild horses and burros on the western rangelands. Yet it routinely rounds them up and passes them to private ownership. The bureau is poised to shoot several thousand of them (it plans to decide on the matter after a Congressional audit that’s due to be completed in September). To justify this proposal, officials are complaining about expenses. Yet the bureau allows ranchers to enjoy leases to the rangelands for a pittance. Ranchers who claim mustang “overpopulation” degrades the environment. Balderdash.

    At the beginning of the 20th century, there were about 2 million mustangs in the wilderness.3 Today, there’s a total of 60,000 (if that many). This community of horses is degrading the environment, but the owners of 3 million cattle are not?

    “We must stop supporting the profits of ranches,” said Friends of Animals president Priscilla Feral. “For those who respect free-living animals, it’s simply not enough to express outrage at the proposed shooting of horses. We need to end the cycle of violence. It’s high time we acknowledge the connection between horsemeat and hamburgers.”

    Priscilla Feral points out the unavoidable root of the problem: addiction to animal products.

    Just two years ago, the Bureau of Land Management relaxed the rules and regulations governing ranchers on public land, cutting back on conservation provisions, and allowing ranchers significantly more control. The opposite pressure should be occurring. Ranchers do not merit the support of the government while they siphon land and resources and push free animals to the brink of extinction — and then blame horses for the mess.

    Then we have Jay Kirkpatrick, an experimenter who directs the Science and Conservation Center in Billings, Montana, quoted in The New York Times as saying insufficient weight is being given to birth control for horses. But animals in nature don’t need to be controlled by a species that has such difficulty in controlling itself.

    For three decades, the Bureau of Land Management has backed costly experiments with contraception as a way to continue aggressive management practices. Jay Kirkpatrick, together with the Humane Society of the United States, have promoted the invasive and disturbing tests of hormones and the immunocontraceptive porcine zona pellucida, or PZP, in free-roaming horses.

    Terms like “overabundant” and “overpopulation” are liberally applied wherever free-living animals are deemed inconvenient. The underlying message is that, if not controlled, free-living animals will take over. This both reflects and supports the systematic acceptance of control, and treats all of nature as a zoo.

    Recommendations for Action from Friends of Animals:

    Go to the root. This is a question of who gets the land: free-living animals, or cattle ranchers. The key step each of us can take in support of horses is to adopt a plant-based diet.

    Oppose the BLM’s proposal. If you’ve seen more than enough debates about whether the land can support horses and burros while all along the government supports the real environmental threat — animal agribusiness — tell the BLM now, using the link you see here. Or call the BLM toll-free: 1-800-710-7597 . Let them know these mustangs should never have been corralled in the first place. Let the horses go, and let them be. Allow them the dignity of freedom.

    Then find your representative in Congress, ring them up at 202.224.3121 , and explain that real environmental awareness means questioning the influence of corporate profit-seekers over laws and agencies. Say “no” to horse-killing. And tell them you oppose roundups too.

    Support Friends of Animals’ new radio and television announcements. We’re buying 30-second and one-minute announcement spots, asking the public to call the BLM and oppose the horse-killing proposal. You can sustain our public announcement throughout the audit period leading up to the BLM’s decision. Let’s make the most of the window of time these horses have. Invest in our public education effort; donate here.

    Thank you for teaching respect for the autonomous animals of our Earth. Thank you for telling our government no to killing horses.


    [1] We have previously called for a repeal of the (2005) Burns Amendment, which reversed a 34-year prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses by enabling the BLM to sell off horses over 10 years of age.

    [2] Felicity Barringer, “On Mustang Range, a Battle on Thinning the Herd” – New York Times (20 Jul. 2008).

    [3] Deanne Stillman, “Wild Horses Aren’t Free” – Los Angeles Times (2 Jun. 2008).

    Friends of Animals, founded in 1957, advocates for the right of animals to live free according to their own terms.

  • david spencer


  • Megntally

    I thought this was a very interesting show. Loved the cutting horses!

  • Kathy Frostman

    Thank you for having it on channel 8. My mom and dad and I watched it. I have been into horses for five years now. My teacher called and see if we were watching it. I am into Dressage now and doing it. But still learning the different things. I pictured me on the horse and my teacher telling me how to go about it. And I do just that. I love being around horses so much.I also watched the Sulkey races on the digital channel 8, that was interesting. Then they advertise Horse and Rider, had to watch that. So thank you again.

  • Maddy

    Don’t know what “David” is talking about. The yahoos? National caliber horsemen and women? Give me a break. It was a great show!

  • dorothy

    Is it possible to purchase a copy of this program?

  • Margaret

    @dorothy In the written introduction above, it says: “To order a copy of Horse and Rider, visit the NATURE Shop.” Just click on the link, which goes to, where you can buy the DVD of this show.

  • laurie

    unfortunately I missed this program but heard people talking about it – I am hoping it will be aired again, is there anyway of knowing when?

  • Mary D.

    Very disappointed in the program. Just people with $$ showing off. A training film. Not really about the trust, respect, and belief in each other between horse and rider.

  • shannon beller

    my horse is the best

  • lahnii

    stop killing horses they are going extinct

  • Enrique Equine

    Without the horse, Genghis Khan’s genes wouldn’t be splashed out all over Asia Minor.

  • Karen

    The government needs to rethink their approach to the plight of the wild mustangs; but we as American horse owners also need to be more responsible for the domesticated horses. I have heard too many stories of people just abadoning, or simply just turning unwated horses loose. We need to be more selective when breeding and selling them.

  • sarah

    they have no right to do that they should let them run free i love horses i want to adopt one but i cant cuz it costs to much LET THEM RUN FREE HORSE KILLERS

  • Luis Pine

    horses suffer from being ridden, so, to make that the central aspect of the relationship with man and glorify it, is almost like saying that slavery is OK because slaves don’t mind since they’re not 100% human

  • william

    there are so many horses in the u.s. today that some are unwanted. i’ve been to sales where some horses could’nt even be given away. people would just tie them to the fence outside and leave them. i blame high fuel prices for the increase of hay and feed prices. a lot of people can’t afford to feed them anymore. i’ve seen on numerous internet sites advertising free horses and the number keeps growing with the economy getting worse and people losing their jobs. my question is whats going to happen to all of the unwanted horses? i think we all know the answer.

  • tammy

    what r u talking about luis my horse loves to be ridden and i can tell because he always has his ears forward. He gets sad if i dont ride him.

  • Pam

    Luis, horses do not suffer from PROPER riding. Horses can easily carry up to 20% of their own weight, and the rider’s weight on average is waaay below that mark. For example, if the horse’s weight is 1200 pounds (very average weight), the riders weight should be 300 at the most. You can read this:

  • Heidi H Christensen

    The BLM is planning to round up the Pryor Mountain Mustangs. They even plan to take CLOUD – Wild Stallion of the Rockies. They will reduce the herd so much the herd will not be able to survive.

    PLEASE help! Go to and see what YOU can do to stop the BLM from destroying this herd!

  • Jennifer Canfield

    I am so grateful to PBS for putting this topic forth so that many people can learn more about the “nature” of horses in today’s world. For horses to become the subject of a NATURE segment signifies that the collective conscious is rising to the vibration of the energy at which these creatures function. They have waited a long time for this.

  • Mary Kathryn

    I’m delighted to share with my non-equestrian friends your program explaining, in part, why I risk life and limb jumping hunters, at my… let’s say… “mature” age, over fifty. Thank you!

  • Dori Scharbor

    Did any one get the name of the place in Los Angeles that workes w/ abused horses and children? What a wonderful program. I’d like to volunteer at one in my area. Horses can really help a child’s confidence. They can also help rehabilitate people with all kinds of mental and physical problems. Like soldiers coming back from war.

  • Susan Deakin

    It’s too bad that Ruth Poulsen and Jane Savoie didn’t show off their mechanical training horse! That machine would save countless horses many agonizing hours teaching beginner riders! I liked the show! (Wish I could have a chance with Ruth’s gorgeous horse!)

  • ann lewis

    I would like to know more about the Prior Mt. Herd, in Mt. When do they have these beautiful animals for sale? I would love to own one.

  • ruth bergeron

    I now have the chance to ride a “cutting” horse who is retired and needs the exercise. I managed to catch only 2/3 of the program but saw the cutting horse in action. Amazing!! I am not foolish enough to just get on him and start riding because I don’t know what signals he is used to. Anyone have any ideas of how I should start working with him so that we will both speak the same language?

  • Lynn

    As a veterinarian, I know the plight of unwanted horses, the neglect and starvation we see, particularly in the late winter. At present, the only slaughter plants are in Canada and Mexico so horse must endure a long, frightening ride many miles to then be killed with less oversight than we can provide in this country. I love horses, have several, and I feel we must take care of them during all phases of their life, including end of life, providing a humane and low stress death. Horse prices have fallen to all time lows, horses are being abandoned or set free to starve or be injured, this is in part due to the lack of horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. I agree that, like our pet dogs and cats, breeders of horses need to be more responsible and not breed horses that will add to this problem. As one girl posted, it IS VERY expensive to properly care for horses and to hope that we can take care of all unwanted horses is unrealistic, similar to the problem with unwanted house pets. As far as mustangs, they are wonderful additions to some areas but without prey animals to keep them in balance with their environment, horses will damage range to the point that they too will starve. It is indeed terrible to see starvation, whether in the back field of someone with an unwanted pony or out West. In light of these ideas, I support well supervised and monitered slaughter of horses, and in my eyes, the meat can be sent overseas to be consumed rather than just burying carcases of unwanted animals. As far as the BLM, I have personally worked with these folks, they are an extemely caring group of people that want the best for the animals. They are doing what they can to help maintain the herds at levels the range can support.

  • richard roe

    Notice most entries are “save the horses” and written by people who do nothing to support the feed bill or even own animals T.V. is a fine appliance, BUT it is just that…T.V. come out to the real world and see starving horses, deer, antelope and all other wildlife.Range that is decimated can’t support a jack-rabbit, let alone a herd.

  • Keeley

    Richard, I cannot agree with you one bit I own a filly she is 3 years old and I rescued her, now many many of these women own horses and do much to protect them and what do we show to these majestic creatures that let us use them for thousands of years. we give them slaughter bound homes and when they are free what do we do gather them and slaughter them. The horse is a creature that deserves partnership and respect and love and we fail to give them that. It makes me very sad to think of this and I cannot believe why this must happen.

  • Joyce Damore

    I cought the end of this program a while back, and have been waiting for it to be on again. haven’t found it yet. Hope it will be on again soon. Thank You JD

  • Terry Dugas

    Many stations will be airing a rebroadcast of “Horse and Rider” on June 13, 2010.

  • Cathy

    My husband’s horse Leroy is an adopted rescue horse, a little Arabian gelding about 14 years old. He went through the worst kind of livestock auction, but he was so thin that even the killer buyers weren’t interested in him. He turned out to have perfect ground manners, and is very well-trained. He’s so good that although we know nothing about his background, I am sure that he has registration papers somewhere, and may even have been a show horse before he fell into bad hands. We are glad every day that we adopted him, but we live out in the country and keep Leroy in our backyard. It’s a trade-off, because even though we live in the snowy Northeast and are both over 50, we both commute 60 miles one-way to work. Because we keep Leroy in our backyard, having a horse is not as expensive as you might imagine. But you have to make caring for the horse your priority. Instead of renovating our house, which it badly needs, we pay horse expenses. Having a horse does get expensive when you keep her or him with a trainer, as we do with my mare Luna. But to me it is worth it because of the personal fulfillment I get out of learning to communicate with her in a way that enables both of us to perform at our best. It is a wonderful experience, worth everything I have given up to have it.

  • kelly

    i just wanted to know if someone knows the name of the lady that was the cutter trainer,and possibly how to get ahold of her,,thanks

  • Amanda Wilson

    In reference to the dressage. There may be good intentions here but they are not helping the animal. It unfortunately to me is just another common example of the advanced riding today, it lacks understanding of the horse and the movements lack soul. Its a shame that there is not more public examples of what is truly harmonious with the horse. It is not surprising to me to not see it here either. For the people that really seek a partnership with their horse in dressage keep looking we are out there, and know that this is not it.

  • Rhonda

    To Kelly, I think the cutter trainer was in Weatherford, TX, but I’m not sure. I would like more info on her too, if I find any.

  • lexie

    horse slaughter is wrong. and i believe it should be illegal in all parts of the world. i am doing a school persusave paper to tell people to end horse slaughter. if anyone has any useful information would you please let me use it?! thanks! L

  • John

    I love horses, but slaughter isn’t bad. What makes them different than cattle? It is often more humane than alternatives. Besides, why is that discussed here instead of the discussion of the video? Perplexed.

  • Trisha

    I always wanted to own my own horse best I can do is hace one on my site My Site

  • Rachel

    I’d love to see this full episode… Sadly, it doesn’t seem like this site gets much update action…

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