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S40 Ep10

American Horses

Premiere: 2/23/2022 | 00:00:30 | Closed Captioning Icon

American horses are icons. Mustang. Appaloosa. Morgan. Quarter Horse. Follow the history of the uniquely American horse breeds that helped shape our nation and meet the people who are continuing in the long tradition of caring for them.

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About the Episode

Discover the origin story of American horses, which can be traced all the way back to the 50-million-year-old fossil beds of Polecat Bench, Wyoming. From these ancient beginnings, Equus spread around the globe, but mysteriously went extinct in North America. Arriving aboard ships of Spanish explorers, horses reclaimed the continent after a 10,000-year absence. With their return, the stage was set for a new generation of American breeds and a lifelong partnership with humans.

“Horses helped shape the landscape of our nation,” said Fred Kaufman, executive producer for Nature. “Their stories are a fascinating look at how their history and our history are inseparable.”

A combination of natural selection, selective breeding, and chance created the wide spectrum of more than 100 American horse breeds we know today. Emerging from regional patterns of work, culture, tradition and geography, these signature breeds each made their mark on the nation. Meet the Appaloosa, bred and revered by the Nez Perce tribe; the American Quarter Horse, perfectly trained to work the open range; the Morgan Horse, whose underdog story is legendary; and the wild Mustang, whose close bonds within their community shed insight into their relationships with humans. Witness vivid scenes of incredible horsepower, whether they are cutting cows in a sagebrush sea, galloping through autumn foliage in New England or racing across the Pony Express Trail.

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PRODUCTION CREDITS

AMERICAN HORSES

NARRATED BY
BILL PULLMAN

WRITTEN AND PRODUCED BY
ERIC BENDICK

DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY
JEFF REED
DANNY SCHMIDT

PRODUCER
THOMAS WINSTON

ASSOCIATE PRODUCERS
ASHLEY SIANA
AVELA GRENIER

EDITED BY
JEFF REED

CINEMATOGRAPHY BY
JEFF REED
DANNY SCHMIDT
ANDY MITCHELL
JOHN SWEENEY
ERIC BENDICK
ASHLEY SIANA

ASSISTANT CAMERA
ASHLEY SIANA

ORIGINAL SCORE BY
CLEOD9 MUSIC

MUSIC PERFORMED BY
IAN MCLEOD
EVAN HULEHAN
SUVO SUR
MATT SEDIVY

ADDITIONAL MUSIC
EXTREME MUSIC

LOCATION SOUND
BRIAN WHITLOCK
DAN MAZUR
WILL SPRINGSTEAD
NOAH WALDRON
SOUND EDITOR
BRIAN EIMER
ONLINE EDITORS
JEFF REED
SCOTT STERLING

RE-RECORDING MIXER
BRIAN EIMER
COLORIST
SCOTT STERLING

ASSISTANT EDITOR
ASHLEY SIANA

GRAPHICS
JEFF REED

STOCK FOOTAGE
POND5
SHUTTERSTOCK

ARCHIVAL
ROSA YEAROUT
WASHINGTON STATE UNIVERSITY
KIM DEMARS
TARA MILLER
KAELYNN CLARK

RESEARCH ASSISTANCE
JEFF REED
ERIC BENDICK
AVELA GRENIER
ASHLEY SIANA
SHASTA WINSTON

RECCE TEAM
GEORGE POTTER
AVELA GRENIER
JEFF REED
ERIC BENDICK

BUSINESS MANAGER
SAVENNA HANLEY

FEATURING
KAELYNN CLARK
LINDA CLARK
TARA MILLER
MICHAEL MILLER
WES MILLER
JON YEAROUT
ROSA YEAROUT
ABIGAIL WHITMAN
DAVI JO WHITMAN
TAYA YEAROUT
FAITH SOBOTTA
PAYTON SOBOTTA
JACK YEAROUT
KIMBERLY DEMARS
DYLAN BURGUARD
PHYLLIS WRAY
HOWARD SCHULZ
DON SAYWARD
CHRIS MORRIS

SPECIAL THANKS
ANGEL SOBOTTA
JOYCE MCFARLAND
MARGOT SMITHSON
PETER STANTON
KAMERON KELSEY
CHRISTINE SUTTON
LINDSEY MULCARE
KAREN LASSEL
JANET MORRIS
MARTHA COOK
WILDER HOMESTEAD
WENDY WILLIAMS
UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT MORGAN HORSE FARM
MILLER LAND & LIVESTOCK
M-Y SWEETWATER APPALOOSA RANCH
NINE QUARTER CIRCLE RANCH
PRYOR MOUNTAIN WILD MUSTANG CENTER

FOR NATURE

SERIES EDITOR
JANET HESS

SENIOR PRODUCER
LAURA METZGER LYNCH

COORDINATING PRODUCER
JAYNE JUN

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER
JAMES F. BURKE

LEGAL COUNSEL
BLANCHE ROBERTSON

DIGITAL LEAD
DANIELLE BROZA

ASSOCIATE PRODUCER – DIGITAL
AMANDA SCHMIDT

SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR
KAREN HO

AUDIENCE ENGAGEMENT
CHELSEY SAATKAMP

BUDGET CONTROLLER
JAYNE LISI

ONLINE EDITOR
STACEY DOUGLASS MOVERLEY

RE-RECORDING MIXER
JON BERMAN

ORIGINAL EPISODE PRODUCTION FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY
KITTY HAWKS AND LARRY LEDERMAN
THE HITE FOUNDATION
THE SUN HILL FAMILY FOUNDATION

ORIGINAL SERIES PRODUCTION FUNDING PROVIDED IN PART BY
CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING
ARNHOLD FOUNDATION
THE FAIRWEATHER FOUNDATION
KATE W. CASSIDY FOUNDATION
SUE AND EDGAR WACHENHEIM III
KATHY CHIAO AND KEN HAO
CHARLES ROSENBLUM
FILOMEN M. D’AGOSTINO FOUNDATION
LILLIAN GOLDMAN CHARITABLE TRUST
LEONARD AND NORMA KLORFINE
SANDRA ATLAS BASS
COLIN S. EDWARDS
GREGG PETERS MONSEES FOUNDATION
KOO AND PATRICIA YUEN

SERIES PRODUCER
BILL MURPHY

EXECUTIVE PRODUCER
FRED KAUFMAN

A PRODUCTION OF GRIZZLY CREEK FILMS AND THE WNET GROUP IN CO-PRODUCTION WITH TERRA MATER FACTUAL STUDIOS

THIS PROGRAM WAS PRODUCED BY THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC, WHICH IS SOLELY RESPONSIBLE FOR ITS CONTENT.

© 2022 THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

FUNDING

Support for Nature: American Horses was provided by Kitty Hawks and Larry Lederman, The Hite Foundation, and The Sun Hill Family Foundation in memory of Susan and Edwin Malloy. Series funding for Nature is also made possible in part by the Arnhold Family in memory of Henry and Clarisse Arnhold, The Fairweather Foundation, Kate W. Cassidy Foundation, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao, Charles Rosenblum, Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation, Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust, Leonard and Norma Klorfine, Sandra Atlas Bass, Colin S. Edwards, Gregg Peters Monsees Foundation, Koo and Patricia Yuen, by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and by public television viewers.

TRANSCRIPT

♪♪♪ NARRATOR: Here, in America, horses helped forge a new world.

In return, this new world, created unique horses.

♪♪♪ Each breed has its own story and legacy.

MIKE: The quarter horse and the cowboy have come a long way through the years.

And it took both of them to get there.

[ Horses whinnying ] YEAROUT: In my family, we've always had horses as far back as I can remember with my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.

And that love of Appaloosa is shared by people all over the world.

NARRATOR: Shaped by land... and work... but sustained by their connection to us.

These are American horses.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ NARRATOR: America is the birthplace of legends.

Some live right among us.

They come in a profusion of color, proportion, personality.

Spirited, gentle.

willing, wild.

With names like mustang, Morgan, Appaloosa, quarter.

And that's only the beginning.

In the five centuries since horses returned to North America, they've taken this continent by storm.

With over a hundred registered breeds, the United States has the most variety of equidae on Earth.

♪♪♪ It began with the mustang that swept across the continent.

Soon, the Morgan horse had tamed the American frontier... ♪♪♪ [ Thunder crashes ] ...while first people also created one of the original American breeds -- the Appaloosa.

A next chapter gave rise to the American quarter horse, molded by cowboys on the open range.

These signature American horses forged in the old alchemy of horse-human connection.

Enough horsepower to fuel a new nation.

And it all started from zero.

Their stories begin here, in the middle of nowhere, with a horse unlike any other -- the mustang.

In the desert foothills of the Pryor Mountains, spring is often the harshest season.

All winter, these horses rely on snow as their only water source.

Despite being one of the most adaptable mammals on Earth, these conditions push them to the brink.

But change is in the air.

As a wave of green travels up the mountainside, the migration has begun.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Horse whinnies ] For hundreds of years, horses have gathered here, near the summit of East Pryor Mountain.

And not just any horses.

Pryor mustangs are noted for their distinct conformation -- V-shaped face, thick neck, sloped croup, deep body.

[ Horse whinnies ] And, each spring, when the reunion is in full swing, a familiar guest arrives.

Naturalist Phyllis Wray studies individual horses to gain a deeper understanding of mustang behavior.

Today, she's meeting several for the first time.

WRAY: This band just made it to the top of the mountain today.

We've got a couple of new fillies.

The one on the top is little Victoria.

And her sister, who's a little bit lower, is Venus.

She's the life of the party and starts the little fights and tussles with her sister.

[ Horse whinnies ] All of the horses, together, are a herd and then they divide up into individual bands, and it's comprised primarily of a band stallion, like Naolin, the lead mare, who is not always the oldest mare.

But she's very intuitive and has experience.

And then, there's also kind of a hierarchy within the mares.

They're like families.

NARRATOR: Mustangs have been coming here for centuries, but to understand how they got here, you have travel back in time -- deep -- into the fossil record.

On this very ground, the 'dawn horse' emerged 56 million years ago.

These ancient horses continued to evolve here in North America until, finally, the contemporary horse, became so successful that it spread -- across the globe.

But in the blink of an eye, horses disappeared from the American landscape.

The root cause of this widespread extinction is still unknown.

But one thing is clear -- for 10,000 years, the horse was gone.

Until, one day, with a little help, they returned.

Spanish conquistadors brought European horses to North America, back to the cradle from where they had evolved long ago.

As these Spanish horses flourished in the wilds of the American West, they became known, simply, as mustangs.

Pryor mustangs still display zebra stripes on their legs, dorsal lines running down the spine, and barring across the shoulders, all genetic markers of Spanish blood.

These primitive physical markings unlock the story of the mustangs' arrival, but it's their behavior that reveals how these complex animals have survived for so long.

[ Horse whinnies ] At the height of breeding season, a band stallion fends off bachelor stallions eager to claim mares of their own.

For Phyllis, it's an opportunity to see how strong these bands truly are.

WRAY: The grullo is Jupiter.

The gray.

And he is tormenting the band stallion, Knight, who's a roan.

And he's keeping the bachelor away from his mares.

He's positioning himself in between them.

[ Horses neigh ] This is getting a little more serious.

I can tell you Knight will not back down.

He will fight to the end for that palomino.

When the stallions confront each other, you almost know what's going to happen just by watching their eyes, watching their ears.

And here we go.

[ Horse neighs ] ♪♪♪ [ Camera shutter clicking ] Oh. Ouch.

Got another band stallion getting in the mix.

[ Horse whinnies ] Other bands are getting drawn into it.

♪♪♪ The band stallions don't know where to go because they are being challenged from all different directions.

Wow!

My goodness!

It's very, very intense.

NARRATOR: Wild horses, doing what they've done here for ages.

Their return set the stage for an epic comeback -- the first equids on American soil in 10,000 years.

♪♪♪ As mustangs ran wild out West, on the other side of the continent, a new icon was born, a breed whose power would shape the settlement of the New England frontier.

The Morgan horse -- pound-for-pound, one of the strongest horses in the world.

Bright eyes, small, foxy ears, compact, muscular frame, high head, arched neck -- regal posture.

On the University of Vermont's Morgan horse farm, the legacy of this dynamo continues.

Kim Demars sees today's Morgans as living proof.

DEMARS: So, the mother is UVM Whisper.

We like this mare a lot.

And she's turned out to be a great mom.

This is her first baby, so she's really taken to it, which is great.

NARRATOR: But to Kim, Whisper is much more than just a successful broodmare.

DEMARS: You know, she's got a lot of presence, and she's very curious.

This mare is about as pretty as you can get.

She's kind of that quintessential Morgan size, and she's just really graceful and strong and athletic and feminine all at the same time.

NARRATOR: Whisper has 'presence.'

A posture born out of conformation with the ideal traits of the Morgan breed -- balance, athleticism, and typiness -- all rolled into one.

Then, there are the intangible factors, like spirit.

DEMARS: I want a horse that's into itself, that's proud, that's ready to go to work, that wants to show off.

So having that attitude sort of ingrained in them, we take a lot of pride with that as well as with the breed.

And her bloodlines go back to the government era and then eventually Justin Morgan.

NARRATOR: It's a pedigree that traces back over two centuries, 16 generations, to the year 1789, when a small, unassuming colt named Figure was born.

But, as he grew, so did the legend of the Morgan horse.

Figure was owned by a schoolmaster, Justin Morgan.

A little horse, received as payment for a debt.

But despite his diminutive size, Figure was a bundle of energy.

♪♪♪ He could ride forever and never falter.

Work day and night and never tire.

No matter the conditions, Figure was unstoppable.

The living embodiment of the frontier spirit -- no excuses.

Pure grit.

But he wanted to show the world who he was.

Figure was more than just brawn and stamina.

He was versatile, charismatic, and his reputation continued to grow.

In time, he became 'The Justin Morgan Horse,' named after his owner.

And when he was bred, it was discovered that he possessed another special quality.

The Morgan horse had genetic pre-potency -- all of his offspring looked exactly like him.

Each mare was different, but they would reproduce this phenotype over and over again.

A 'perfect' workhorse meant survival on the frontier.

And word of this horse spread like wildfire.

From these humble beginnings, the Morgan breed took off, and today, a new generation is on the way.

DEMARS: It's always fun to say, 'If the weather drops or changes, she's going to foal tonight.'

But these mares really serve you up a piece of humble pie.

I think the more scientific you seem to get about things, Mother Nature just kind of slaps you around a little bit more and is like, 'Oh, no.

You don't have this figured out.'

DYLAN: Well, we're at milk almost!

Already darker than this morning.

NARRATOR: 'Foal watch' is a season of tremendous risk and reward.

For Kim, it's also a labor of love.

DEMARS: I had my first Morgan horse when I was 7 years old.

Her name was Tanner.

She was 4, unbroke.

NARRATOR: Her commitment to Morgans has only grown stronger with age.

But even after a lifetime of experience, there's always more to learn, especially during foaling season.

DEMARS: If we can have six healthy alive mares and foals at the end of a season, that's all I really want.

NARRATOR: Most foals are born at night, an instinct that can be traced back to wild horses.

Stealth keeps them safe from predators.

But first-time moms like Xena are notoriously unpredictable.

The team checks each mare in 30-minute intervals around the clock.

But even under tight surveillance, it's impossible to know when labor will begin.

Only time will tell.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Horse grunts ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ DEMARS: Mom's pretty tired.

In that moment, it's so natural.

Like, she just laid down, she pushed, she did her job.

The whole act of pushing that baby out only took 16 minutes.

This is about as perfect as it can go.

It's not something you get tired of.

The first thing I'm worried about is obviously if it's healthy, and then what the gender is.

If this is a female, she could be the next replacement for her mother, and, like, your brain just goes crazy.

It's really cool.

And it just kind of brings it all back of, like, 'This is why we're here, this is why we're doing this.'

I'm not your mom.

You know that, right?

I'm not your mom.

I want you to go see your mama.

Once we know that this filly can nurse by herself and stand by herself, we'll let them just bond and be alone.

Best case scenario is the foal just gets up, is hungry, wants to nurse.

The mare will stand quietly, and then the baby just kind of latches on.

You are a big baby.

No wonder your mom was tired.

Hopefully, the stars align and she'll kind of latch on.

Good girl.

This is huge.

This is a great success story. [ Chuckles ] This is awesome.

The more you get to be around them, you learn more about them.

They all have their own personalities, which will develop, and we'll learn more about.

Even in a few days or a week, she'll be full of it.

You're curious. Hi.

NARRATOR: As horses repopulated the new world, they were increasingly sought after in every corner of the continent... including by people who had lived here for thousands of years.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ABBY: Poppy, don't scare my horse.

FAITH: Here, horses.

ABBY: I'll go tie Poppy up.

NARRATOR: On the M-Y Sweetwater Appaloosa Ranch, horses are like family -- the legacy of a close kinship with these animals since long before the time of Lewis and Clark.

So my Nez Perce name is Wi'Cesa, and Wi'Cesa means born and reborn.

We're always told, 'Who are you?

Where do you come from?'

And that is so important.

This is our home base right here, these 50 acres.

We are located down here in the valley, pretty much, and on top is what they call the Palouse.

At one time, a particular Nez Perce man was the owner of these horses.

And they started calling them 'A Palouse Horse.'

And then that gradually became 'Appaloosa.'

He's a gelding, and we named him 'See-uk-its,' which is 'beautiful.'

He's just put together really nice.

Yeah, you're pretty -- you're a pretty handsome guy.

NARRATOR: The hallmark of the Appaloosa is unmistakable -- spots. lots of them.

Controlled by a single gene known as the 'leopard complex,' or 'LP,' spotted horses may have been selected for camouflage, useful during hunts or in battle.

Or perhaps, simply for their beauty.

YEAROUT: They call it a raindrop.

It kind of filters out and turns gray.

NARRATOR: But these 'raindrop horses' are characterized by several distinctive features -- striped hooves, mottled skin, light and sturdy frame, and white sclera around the eye.

Hundreds of years ago, Rosa's ancestors innovated their own form of selective breeding.

These were trail horses, prized and bred for endurance.

In time, their fitness brought wealth and power to the Nez Perce, allowing them to trade and travel far and wide.

It also nurtured a reverence for horses that passed through the generations.

FAITH: These saddles are kind of heavy.

YEAROUT: In my family, we've always had horses as far back as I can remember with my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother.

Our story of the native people is so complicated.

People have talked about the generations ahead what legacy do we as a people want to see.

And so every family seems to have certain things that they specialize in, and so our heart is with the horses, carrying on the tradition of the horses.

That family, that's the center of our lives, and it always comes back to family.

♪♪♪ That does bring a warm feeling to my heart.

♪♪♪ NARRATOR: But this traditional horse culture was nearly lost.

In 1877, after being forced from their homeland and refusing to settle on the reservation, a group of Nez Perce fled over a thousand miles across the northern Rockies.

They took their greatest possession -- their horses.

Months later, only miles from Canada, they were surrounded.

Following the conflict, the great herds of spotted horses were rounded up and destroyed.

But, in secret, a few bands survived.

YEAROUT: The Nez Perce tribe received a call from ranchers.

They had these horses that had been in their family for generations.

And they said that these horses were descended from the herds that Chief Ollokot had.

NARRATOR: Ollokot was a warrior -- the younger brother of legendary Chief Joseph.

Following the Nez Perce war, Joseph's leadership helped his exiled people return to the northwest.

♪♪♪ YEAROUT: His Indian name is 'Thunder Rolling Over the Mountains,' and people conjure up that image of Joseph's spirit being with us.

NARRATOR: But Chief Joseph's brother, Ollokot, never returned.

But long after his death during the final battle of the Nez Perce war, Ollokot's lost band of horses was about to return home.

YEAROUT: And so Ollokot asked a rancher to keep his horses, expecting to come back.

So then the family decided they'd like to find out, 'Is there a descendant of Ollokot?'

and some of our family is connected.

We ended up with a lot of those horses in our herd.

They gave us a lot of good horses.

They really were strong.

And some of our horses from that particular line have ended up all over, all over the United States.

NARRATOR: Today, a new generation is becoming caretakers of this tradition -- and doing it in their own style.

YEAROUT: To have the horse as our common thing in our family, that's been amazing to watch over the years.

But it's these younger girls who have really taken an interest in learning about training horses.

And it's fun to see them have fun.

They want to learn how to stand on their horse and sit on it backwards and do all of these things.

Fun things like that.

You really take time to become close to the horse and connected with it, you know, and you can control the horse with your body.

My great-grandmother was doing things like that you know, a long time ago.

Yeah, I guess after a while, you do call it wisdom.

[ Laughs ] FAITH: Oh, my gosh.

Okay. Whoo!

NARRATOR: As American settlers drifted into the wild West, new cultures and new livelihoods arrived on the open range.

Destiny brought another breed to these oceans of grass, mountains, and sage: the American quarter horse.

MIKE: Should we score one, rope one?

He looks like a runner.

Wooahhh.

MIKE: We roped him pretty quick, but I got out really quick.

She's got a little speed.

[ Whistles] Yeah, buddy!

[ Chuckles ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The quarter horse and the cowboy have come a long way through the years.

And it took both of them to get there.

♪♪♪ Horses are our life.

We just love them and always have.

Always looking for how we can make a better one, by either breeding or training.

Seems horses are on our mind most of the time.

NARRATOR: For Mike and Tara Miller, ranch life has been a calling.

TARA: You told me since you was this high, you knew you always wanted to be a cowboy.

MIKE: Well, I did and still do.

Started out, you know, I rodeo'd.

You know, I'd been on the ranch all my life, and I was dumbfounded by what a person could do with a horse.

Made the right choice. It's been a good life.

We enjoy it together, and we're partners in this ranch.

TARA: I had a crush on him for a long time.

You thought I was kind of ornery, though.

I'd flirt with him, he couldn't even tell it was flirting.

MIKE: Yeah, it didn't seem like flirting.

[ Laughs ] NARRATOR: For the Millers, partnership is the bedrock that supports a working cattle ranch.

Together, they know how to breed for success, one quarter horse at a time.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The American quarter horse was first celebrated for quick bursts of speed -- up to 55 miles per hour -- consistently the fastest horse in the world in the quarter mile.

All that speed comes from the quarter horses' unique conformation.

TARA: This is Chicken Hawk, he's 5.

I'll just point out some of the reasons that I would like him even if I didn't know him.

He's well-balanced, overall.

That's nice.

He's got a nice thick girth for his respiratory system.

He has a -- His neck comes out of his body real nice.

NARRATOR: A quarter horse's neck joins its sloping shoulders at a 45-degree angle to allow it to work head-down.

Resting stance is balanced.

Supported by straight, powerful legs.

Body is well-muscled, especially in the hindquarters.

TARA: He has what you want to call saddle bags.

That's more muscling in the hip to hold those stops and turns and helps him use his hind end.

NARRATOR: A quarter horse generates incredible power from these haunches -- not only speed but the ability to stop and spin on a dime.

But for all it's physical power, it's the trainability of the quarter horse that sets it apart.

TARA: One of the wonderful things about quarter horses, they're so trainable.

And they want to please you.

You know, that's one of the things that made quarter horses great.

They have great heart and try.

Yeah.

I've had perfect horses.

They might not even look perfect, but who cares when they're great?

NARRATOR: The great ones fuse strength, trainability, and heart into a horse built to perform, out on the range or under the lights.

ANNOUNCER: Now entering the arena, number 146, Mike Miller and Playboy's Buck Fever.

♪♪♪ NARRATOR: For Mike and Tara, no horse did it better than Playboy's Buck Fever.

MIKE: He was just, from day one, so trainable and easy to be around and athletic and plenty of speed.

Made the finals at the World's Greatest Horseman on him.

NARRATOR: But to become a champion requires something deeper -- a conversation with no words.

♪♪♪ MIKE: When I'm reining, it's total communication with the horse.

You're controlling every movement.

Your legs, your hands.

That's how you talk.

It's a total communication without using your mouth, but they understand, and you understand.

You know to do it right, to get along with your horse, you need to kind of think like one.

It's basic, basic stuff.

But it is amazing.

NARRATOR: Once the communication develops, it's easy to pursue any target.

But nothing focuses a quarter horse quite like a cow.

MIKE: My great-grandfather came to this country to Wyoming in 1875.

They ran cattle from Western Wyoming to Eastern Wyoming.

They'd start out on the desert in the Spring, work their way up through the summer, and in the fall, they'd come down this Wyoming range.

NARRATOR: This landscape brought cowboy, quarter horse, and cattle together.

And as all three evolved, they became more and more specialized for the job.

TARA: We spend more time on a horse working than anything else and what horse you're on determines how much you enjoy your work.

Definitely some horses have a lot more cow sense than others.

NARRATOR: A horse with 'cow sense' has a natural instinct to anticipate, track, and direct a cow's movement.

Horses claim space and control movement to assert dominance, normally with other horses.

A quarter horse is wired with one key difference -- it will show a cow who's boss.

MIKE: Quarter horses seem to excel in it.

That's their forte.

We go into the herd, see the cow we want.

Cow goes this way, steer them over there, then the cow goes that way.

Just loose reins.

NARRATOR: It's no accident that 'cow sense' has become one of the single most desirable traits of the breed.

MIKE: They started the quarter horse for that kind of work.

It's been a part of us for a long time.

Horses are our life.

We've spent a lot of our life around them and have enjoyed it all.

Just glad we could do it.

NARRATOR: As the quarter horse became the most popular horse in America, an old star was quietly fading out of view -- the mustang.

But sooner or later, everything old is new again.

And for Kaelynn Clark, adopting and training mustangs has been her lifelong passion.

She remembers every milestone, every breakthrough, every inch of forward progress along the way.

But the journey has also led her back -- to discover the mustang's special place in history.

Today, she'll experience that heritage firsthand with her mustang, Spartan, on one of the oldest proving grounds in the American West -- the Pony Express Trail.

CLARK: Gopher holes, washouts, gullies, badger holes -- these are just some sketchy spots that you can get caught up in.

We're out here in the middle of nowhere, and it does take a minute to get out here, and if anything did happen it would take a minute to get out of here, too.

Yeah.

He could just decide he's wild again and be gone.

NARRATOR: But the road that led them here began many years ago.

CLARK: It was just surreal.

You're like, 'Oh, I'm really going to do this.

I'm really getting a wild horse that's going to come and live at my place.'

When I first met Spartan, I was 14 years old.

he was the very first mustang I did through the 4-H BLM gentling project.

NARRATOR: For hundreds of years, American mustangs have been adopted from the wild, their genes infusing countless other breeds along the way.

But doing so requires a leap of faith.

CLARK: You get the butterflies, and you look at him, and you're like, 'What's the next step?'

Throughout the ages, people have built relationships with animals.

That's kind of our human heritage, in a way.

You are carrying on a tradition that many, many people have done before you.

NARRATOR: A lone mustang is a prey animal, ruled by instinct, adrenaline, fight or flight.

But inside the herd, they develop close and long-lasting social bonds -- relationships.

A special quality that horses share - with humans.

CLARK: After they come home, one of the first things is building trust.

They're looking at you, they're respecting you.

They're looking to you for leadership.

In the wild, most of the time, you have your lead mare that's taking care of the herd.

And so I need to make myself a leader, and by doing that, I gain their respect, I gain their trust.

NARRATOR: Once a leader emerges, trust begins.

And with it comes opportunity: a horse known only as number 1512 now becomes Spartan.

CLARK: That's that point where they're no longer wild.

Now we can dive into the deep stuff -- the leading, the pressure and release, the rope work.

NARRATOR: Spartan will always be the first, but for Kaelynn, the list of names is growing longer every year.

Each mustang has its own personality.

And each training program is designed to test individual strengths and weaknesses.

CLARK: Lots of people use the term breaking the horse.

I like to think of it as the horse is always learning something new.

You're going to work on things that might scare them a little bit, and you're going to build that trust.

That's why our tack shed is full of such weird things.

Pool noodles with tissue paper on the top of them.

Kiddie pool for water to lead them through.

We've got hula hoops.

Just anything to keep them engaged and to keep their mind thinking.

♪♪♪ NARRATOR: After countless hours of overcoming fear and doubt together, it's time to take the biggest step of all.

CLARK: It's a good feeling to know that I have prepared this horse for this step, I've done all the work, and I can get on, and he'll still be connected to me when I'm under saddle.

Yeah, you can break them, but it implies that you're breaking their spirit, and Spartan still has very much of that spirit.

NARRATOR: Trust opens the door to a world of possibility.

But, eventually, you have to ride through it.

On the Pony Express Trail, the mission for Kaelynn and Spartan is the same as it was in 1860.

Expert riders wanted.

Willing to risk death daily.

Mail from St. Joseph, Missouri, to California in 10 days or less.

Kaelynn is one of over 700 riders who will re-create this 2,000-mile journey, to experience a vision of America connected only by horseback -- vast, untamed, the way it was before the telegraph or the railroad.

For 10 days straight, 24 hours a day, a single replica mail-bag, called the mochila, is relayed across the continent -- and 'The Pony' rides again.

CLARK: When I saw the rider coming, my heart started to race a little bit, and I was like, 'Oh, here we go.

We're about to do this.'

HOWARD: Got it. Get on the other side, and then I'll flip it over.

CLARK: Realizing that he was ready to go, he knew what his job was, that helps relax me down a lot.

NARRATOR: The time is now -- get the mail to the next post, and ride like the wind.

CLARK: Thank you.

♪♪♪ [ Horse whinnies ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ That moment when you just get on, you just feel so alive.

Running at full speed, you get to feel the power that animal has.

Knowing that I'm on a mustang and I'm in their natural habitat, on a horse that I trust -- I know he's sure-footed.

This is where he's from.

This is his heritage.

NARRATOR: Then and now, mustangs are uniquely adapted for this harsh terrain -- they were born for this.

Hard hooves, keen senses, heat tolerance, endurance for days.

CLARK: You're re-enacting something that's such an important part of human history along with the horse.

That partnership of being together, it's just an amazing feeling.

NARRATOR: A partnership that reveals horses still connect America, one horse, one rider, one ritual at a time.

CLARK: At the end, I kept telling him that I knew he could give me a little bit more because I know he has that extra gear.

And he did give it to me there a couple of times, so I'm really proud of him.

NARRATOR: While mustangs were preferred stock for pony riders out West, another breed was favored by riders in the east -- the Morgan.

It's easy to understand why, during the biggest showcase of the year at the Morgan horse farm, when all the sleepless nights, early mornings, and endless training, could finally pay off.

DEMARS: Since the beginning of the Morgan breed, they've been known for their incredible work ethic, their tractability, their demeanor, and their prettiness, and I think Vermont Day is a great example of that.

NARRATOR: It's an exhibition of versatility that shows off the true range of the Morgan -- and the attitude to match.

DEMARS: They like a crowd. They like to be out there.

They like to flip their tails up, and they like to be expressive.

This mare is very special to us.

She's an exceptional mare.

Very tractable, extremely athletic and beautiful.

Just sort of the essence of a Morgan mare for us.

Her foal was born in April.

It was a cold, wet, rainy day.

All of a sudden, the mare's laying down.

It was an amazing feeling and just an amazing thing to be a part of.

We just could not be more excited for the future of this little foal.

So I wanted to take a moment today to present to you UVM Denali.

[ Cheers and applause ] She is sassy.

She is just happy to be there.

You know, she just sort of embodies exactly what we hope to have here -- pretty little Morgan with a fiery attitude and really just wants to be in front of people.

[ Horse whinnies ] ♪♪♪ She's doing well. She's wearing a halter.

She's learning how to lead, and she's learning some patience, which is good.

No matter what breed you have, if you're a horse person, you're a horse person, right?

The Morgan people, or the thoroughbred people, or the quarter horse people.

Horse people are their own unique kind of group.

And there's a lot of pride that goes in with that, and their horses are part of their families.

Their horses are part of them.

They're pretty cool.

NARRATOR: After so much time and tradition, the lines between a people and their horses begin to blur.

For the McFarland-Yearout family, gathering with the Appaloosa herd is an opportunity to honor something timeless.

YEAROUT: We come together today for a short prayer on this land where we keep our horses, our sik'him, and just so grateful that we are able to use our horses, to dress up and parade, to bring out our things that some have been handed down and some are brand-new.

FAITH: This is my mom's hat.

DAVI JO: I think this dress is from my great-grandmother.

It makes me feel cool.

I don't know why, but it just does.

Like, I feel cool in it.

YEAROUT: Everything that's put together, it has a story.

When you're doing this, you're doing honor not only to the Sik'him, the Appaloosa, the Maa'min, and remembering our ancestors who raised horses and taught us of horse way but everybody who contributed to what you're wearing and to who you are.

It brings to mind so many memories of my childhood, taking those journeys with my grandmother and my mother on horseback.

These trails have been used for centuries by our ancestors.

We're just a part of the big creation's puzzle.

We have something to share, something important to continue.

We have that language in common, and we have our homeland.

But the horses are always a part of that effort to really bring us together.

And, of course, for us, it's been the Appaloosa that's been the binding.

And that love of the Appaloosa is shared by people all over the world.

MIKE: Sagebrush, badger holes, it's really wild and western.

It's not arena.

Anything can happen.

NARRATOR: For a certain breed of cowboy, pasture roping is the ultimate test.

For the Millers and their top quarter horses, it's the culmination of another year of hard work.

MIKE: I'm roping with my son, Wes, and I'm riding Texas Red.

I think he'll rise to the occasion.

It's super-ranchy team roping is what it is.

Some guy horseback brings that cow at a run up that chute.

And then when he blasts by you -- [ Whistles ] -- off you go.

You chase a cow down, rope it.

You're seeing why the quarter horse was invented.

NARRATOR: Once the quarter horse was invented, competition added fuel to the fire.

The winning horses were bred, and, over time, the breed itself was refined.

FEMALE ANNOUNCER: This is going to be team 15, Mike Miller, Wes Miller.

You guys are up.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ MIKE: Well, shucks.

We tried. [ Chuckles ] Times are changing, for sure.

I think there will always be horses.

Whether there's going to be cowboying like I do, I don't know.

You know, very proud that our kids want to do what we want to do, and our grandkids.

Kinda makes you smile.

The quarter horses, which we raise, they're friends, you know?

I hope that my family continues to have an interest in horses and love them like we do, and, you know, just keep the deal going.

NARRATOR: For millions of years, American horses developed in tandem with this continent.

An evolution that flows, in modern times, through human hands.

But deep in the Pryor Mountains, horses continue to flourish, as they have for countless generations -- in the wild.

After a season of plenty on the mountaintop, another long winter is bearing down.

For Phyllis, the transition is bittersweet.

WRAY: It's the very beginning of a really long, tough winter for them.

Hundreds of years of living up here, they've adapted, and they're survivors.

♪♪♪ Their strength, their ability to survive against all odds in an environment that pushes them to the limits, and they're still here.

These are truly a different type of horse, a very valuable horse.

Their genetics need to be carried forward, because if we lose what we have here on this mountain, we won't ever get it back.

NARRATOR: Since the return of American horses, we've become a country moved by horsepower.

Breeds will come and go.

Times will always change.

But the horse is here to stay.

♪♪♪ O0 C1♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪

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