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S37 Ep9

Equus "Story of the Horse" | Episode 2: Chasing the Wind

Premiere: 1/23/2019 | 00:00:35 | Closed Captioning Icon

Discover how humans have partnered with the horse throughout the centuries, creating more than 350 breeds found all around the world.



About the Episode

Discover how humans have partnered with the horse throughout the centuries, creating more than 400 breeds, from the Yakutian Horse to the Arab Horse, found all around the world.

Noteworthy Facts:

  • Horses are the stars of Ice Age art; our ancestors drew them more than any other animal. The first piece of art to depict a living thing was a tiny figurine of a wild horse living somewhere in Europe more than 35,000 years ago.
  • Humans began to domesticate the wild horse about 6,000 years ago.
  • There is only one species of domestic horse, but around 400 different breeds that range dramatically in shape and size.
  • Horses have evolved to be able to survive the most extreme climates on earth, from the bitter cold of the Siberian Arctic to the scorching heat of the Arabian Desert.
  • All thoroughbreds are a descendant of one of three stallions who lived 200 years ago. The thoroughbred has been a closed Stud Book since the early 1800s, when it was determined that no further input from exotic gene pools would improve the breed.

Buzzworthy Moments:

  • The coldest place humans live is the Verkhoyansk Mountains of northeastern Siberia. Most of the population is comprised of ethnic Yakuts, and they wouldn’t survive without their Yakutian horses, who can survive winter temperatures that fall to -58 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks at a time. Apart from their extremely thick coat of hair and their stocky build, Yakutian horses have developed a form of “standing hibernation” by lowering their metabolism during the coldest weather and entering a form of semi-hibernation.
  • Irish geneticist Emmeline Hill discovered a genetic code in thoroughbreds that reveals their racing potential. Horse breeders now have access to a genetic test that predicts at birth whether a thoroughbred will be a distance, sprint or mixed-distance runner. Hill’s “speed gene” test is now used at top horse training centers to select the most promising thoroughbreds for training, and to determine which races are best suited to their genetic profile.
  • The world’s only truly wild horses live on Canada’s Sable Island, where a population of 500 horses has been living for at least 40 horse generations. Although descended from domesticated horses abandoned or shipwrecked in the 19th century, these horses receive no care from humans today. Population biologist Philip McLoughlin has discovered how the horses are changing in response to their environment. With no natural predators, they do not startle and run like typical wild horses. They live in partnership with the seals, who provide natural fertilizer to the barren dunes every winter when they gather to give birth on the island, ensuring a healthy grass diet for the horses.

Niobe Thompson

Caroline Underwood

Niobe Thompson

Nurbol Baimukhanov

Brenda Terning
Krystal Moss

Daron Donahue
Aaron Munson

Darren Fung

Sandra Tober

Tamarra Canu

Philip Dransfeld

Charles Taylor
Gabrielle Nadeau

Luke Campbell

Sergio Olivares
Niobe Thompson
Tamarra Canu
Sergei Shauchenka
Christina Ienna

Terry Sims (Head)
Mel Geary

Larry Kelly (Key)
Anthony Goertz
Nevin Merrells

Johnny Blerot

Iain Pattison
James Murdoch

Chris Szott
Isael Huard

April Banigan

Vincent L. Pratte

Jeremy Tusz

Stephanie Urquhart
Christopher Hawn
James Slainmann

Members of the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, Pro Coro Canada, and Booming Tree Taiko at the Francis Winspear Centre for Music

For the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and the Francis Winspear Centre for Music:
Annemarie Petrov

Rob McAlear

Diana de Sousa

Eric Filpula

For Pro Coro Canada:
Michael Zaugg

Mireille Riiavec

April Tucker CAS
James Clemens-Seely

Alex Bohn
Kseniya Degtyareva
Lilita Dunska
Esther Gadd
Joaquin Gomez
Mariana Hutten
Jonathan Kaspy
Aleksandra Landsmann
Matthew Manifould
Luisa Pinzon

Derek Syverud

Score mixed at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity

Zhannat Baimukhanova, Kazakhstan
Kari-Lynn Kleinwachter, Canada
Liza Xenzova, Canada

Zaure Aitbai
Zere Makhambet
Zhan Aldekov

Aliya Shmanova
Albina Rodygina
Luiza Amanbayeva

Seken Nurgaliev
Asylbek Tortkara
Daniyar Baidaralin

Alexey Shindin

Kairat Tasov
Eszhan Baltabai
Bolat Ertaev
Zeba Etaeva
Nurasyl Tasov
Arman Nurzhan
Beksultan Moldabekov
Erszhan Baltabaev
Daulet Nurmakhan
Ulan Sisenbaev

Professor Viktor Zaibert
Nurbol Baimukhanov
Gabit Baimbetov
Emma Usmanova
Professor Mayke Wagner
Professor Pavel Tarasov

Aldabergen Shalipov, Kazakhstan
Baltabai Ibraev, Kazakhstan
John Scott, Canada

Nurbol Baimukhanov

Janat Daley
Aidynbek Beisenuly
Aigerim Beissembayeva
Zaure Aitbai
Zere Makhambet
Almas Ulan

Yurii Matvienko
Timur Janyshev
Alla Stassyuk
Ilgizar Mavlyanov
Oksana Olenik
Milana Simonenko
Alexandra Belova
Kira Belova
Dariya Markina
Denis Markin
Artem Markin
Tatyana Laukert
Marina Burko
Nadezhda Chepenko
Tatyana Sklyar
Ruslan Aldazharov
Evdokim Artyushenko
Viktor Egozov
Evgenii Ostrovsky
Marina Egozova
Sergei Safiulin
Nikolay Simonenko
Andrei Mayer

Edii Moldaliev
Toichubek Serkebaev
Sultan Dikambaev
Temirkhan Tursungaliev
Aidos Iskakov
Ilchibek Nuraev
Nurbek Bolotov

Zhaidarbek Kunguzhinov, Kazakhstan
Timur Janyshev, Kazakhstan
Ruslan Podaruyev, Kazakhstan
Mike Loades, United Kingdom

Glenn Sakatch

Greg Marshall

Ryder McLean
Karl “Nekosei” Reichert

Gina Cali

Candice Kent

Linda Callaghan

University College Dublin Research & Innovation
Getty Images
National Geographic
The Calgary Stampede
Zatzworks Inc.
United Church Archives

Sable Island National Park Reserve, Parks Canada
Whitemud Equine Learning Centre Association
HRH Princess Alia bint Al Hussein
The Calgary Stampede
Glebe House in Coolcullen, County Kilkenny
Ministry of Information and Communications of the Republic of Kazakhstan
Shejire DNA
State National Nature Park Burabay
State Historical-Cultural Reserve Museum Issyk
The British Museum
Musee departemental de Prehistoire de Solutré
Caverne du Pont D’Arc (Chauvet), Ardeche
Siksika First Nation
The horse community of Edmonton, Alberta

Produced with the assistance of the Government of Alberta, Alberta Media Fund

Produced with the participation of
The Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credit

Produced with the cooperation of the
Canadian Federation of Musicians

Produced in association with
the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Executive in Charge of Production for CBC
Sue Dando



Series Editor

Senior Producer

Coordinating Producer

Associate Producer

Legal Counsel

Digital Producer

Social Media Editor

Audience Engagement

Budget Controller

Online Editor

Re-Recording Mixer

Original Funding Provided in Part by
Canada Media Fund
Rogers Documentary Fund
The Arnhold Family In Memory Of Clarisse Arnhold
Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III
Kate W. Cassidy Foundation
Lillian Goldman Charitable Trust
Kathy Chiao and Ken Hao
Anderson Family Fund
Filomen M. D’Agostino Foundation
Rosalind P. Walter
The Halmi Family in memory of Robert Halmi, Sr.
Sandra Atlas Bass
The Hite Foundation
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Series Producer

Executive Producer

A production of HANDFUL OF FILMS in association with THIRTEEN Productions LLC and WNET

This program was produced by THIRTEEN Productions LLC, which is solely responsible for its content

© Handful of Films 2018
Additional material ©2019 THIRTEEN PRODUCTIONS LLC
All Rights Reserved


♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ THOMPSON: Horses and humans have traveled through time... as partners.

But the wild animal we tamed long ago... ♪♪♪ ...has now become over 400 breeds.

♪♪♪ And they couldn't be more different.

♪♪♪ My name is Niobe Thompson.

I'm an anthropologist.

I'm amazed at the incredible diversity of horses.

♪♪♪ [ Neighing ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Join me on a journey into our history... together.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Discover how we've shaped horses.

♪♪♪ And they've shaped us.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ [ Theme plays ] ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ THOMPSON: In the last episode, I traveled back in time to the dawn of horses.


I've never seen such a well-preserved fossil from this era.

I learnt how a tiny creature of the tropical forest... evolved to become the great grassland runner we know today.

♪♪♪ I got to know some very fast horses... ♪♪♪ ...and discovered how this huge animal... practically flies.

LAMBERT: It reaches a point where it's beyond control.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: It turns out, horses can read our emotions.

McCOMB: Horses are eavesdropping on the human world all the time.

THOMPSON: In the wild, their social nature helps them survive.

And I was amazed to see how trusting a horse can be... when you find a common language.

ANDERSON: I wanna be hooked up to these not through a rope.

Through their mind.

THOMPSON: From their incredible power and speed... to their remarkable intelligence... to their gentle, social nature.

It's no surprise we built our world with horsepower.

♪♪♪ The bond we formed with this aristocrat of animals... is a perfect match.

But how did it all begin?

How did we harness the gifts of the horse?

♪♪♪ For millions of years, wild horses thrived on endless grasslands around the planet.

♪♪♪ They lived in a world without humans.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ We came much later.

♪♪♪ As we entered new lands, we met new animals.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ But no animal made a bigger impression... than these.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ With time, horses and humans became best friends.

♪♪♪ But it's that first meeting that fascinates me.

When our ancestors left their African home, and met horses for the first time, well, it was love at first sight.

We were obsessed with horses.

In fact, the first piece of art to depict a living thing, the first figurative art, was this -- a tiny, beautiful figurine of a wild horse living somewhere in Europe 35,000 years ago.

[ Birds chirping ] ♪♪♪ Our ancestors studied every living thing in their world.

It was a matter of survival.

To hunt we had to understand our prey.

But horses were different.

♪♪♪ These majestic animals sparked something new in us.

A spark of inspiration.

♪♪♪ The Ardeche Gorge in Southern France.

Where Chauvet Cave has been called the 'Sistine Chapel of the Stone Age'. The original drawings are too sensitive to visit, but here we can see a perfect replica of the earliest art humans ever created.

♪♪♪ When you look at this marvelous wall, you see all of the major animals of the Stone Age world depicted.

You've got reindeer and mammoths, big cats.

But the horse seems to play the most prominent role.

Now, I thought that was in my imagination, but then I saw something just down there that convinced me.

There it is.

They've saved this alcove like an altar for a single animal.

And it's a horse.

Horses are the stars of Ice Age art.

Our ancestors drew them perfectly.

And more than any other animal.

DR. FLOSS: This will be the first horses in the cave.

They depicted this horse with their fingers.


German archaeologist Harold Floss has studied Chauvet since its discovery in the 1990s.

DR. FLOSS: Horses were important for the nutrition of these people.

They hunted horses and they knew horses very well.

But I am sure that nutrition is not all.

These guys had a spiritual connection with these animals.

THOMPSON: It must have been the case with these people that everything has a spirit.

The features of the landscape, the creeks and rivers, everything carries a spirit.

DR. FLOSS: Exactly. And animals too.


DR. FLOSS: But you are killing these animals... ♪♪♪ ...and there may rise a problem, which you have to resolve.

♪♪♪ And this is, in my point of view, one of the main reasons Palaeolithic art is existing.

THOMPSON: Once, we hunted horses.

♪♪♪ But what we left on the wall of this cave hinted at a new future.

A time when our bond with this sacred animal would be transformed.

♪♪♪ At the end of the Ice Age, grasslands became forests.

♪♪♪ Horses evolved in the Americas.

But there, they disappeared completely.

Only a handful survived on the grassland steppes of Central Asia.

And that is where humans domesticated the wild horse 6000 years ago.

We know this because we've discovered their ancient home.

A place called Botai, in Kazakhstan.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ On the fragments of pottery they left behind, scientists discovered the remains of milk.

Horse milk.

And you can't milk a wild horse.

[ Neighing ] ♪♪♪ We had harnessed horsepower.

♪♪♪ For humans who traveled by foot, riding changed everything.

We discovered speed and conquered distance.

Now, the horse shaped our world.

And with time, we shaped the horse for our needs.

New breeds helped humans survive in new environments.

And eventually, horses took us to some truly extreme places.

♪♪♪ Places like this.

♪♪♪ Yakutia, in Russia's Arctic.

♪♪♪ Here, extreme cold has created a very special horse.

But to find it takes a thousand-mile journey from the nearest airport.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ THOMPSON: I've come all this way to see a man called Alexei.

Where I come from, we'd call him a cowboy, and we'd call this a ranch.

But it's not cows that Alexei is running.

It's horses.

In fact, he has one of the biggest herds in all of Yakutia.

300 horses in the coldest place that humans inhabit.

And I want to see how he does it.

♪♪♪ Well, there's Alexei.

He's just bringing a herd of yearlings in.

He's the man we've come to meet.

Alexei tells me his people came here eight centuries ago.

They fled violence in Mongolia, riding north into the Siberian forest.

They were completely reliant on their horses for transport and for food.

Today, little has changed.

It's so cold. It's so cold.

I mean, I knew it would be cold, but nothing really prepares you.

Under the midday sun, it warms to minus 40.

Overnight, it will fall to minus 50.

Even under all this frost, these horses seem content.

But the humans need a break.

Alex and his father tell me their ancestors had no intention of settling in the coldest place on Earth.

But I'm curious.

What kind of horse can survive that?

♪♪♪ [ Calling ] The humans who live here use technology to survive.

Warm clothing.


But not horses.

They had to evolve -- their bodies had to change.

♪♪♪ In this intense cold, Yakutian horses have gotten smaller, their legs shorter.

♪♪♪ The shape Nature chose here isn't elegant... but it works.

During the long winter, they reduce their metabolism.

Yet they stay on their feet.

This unique behavior is called standing hibernation, and no other horses do it.

It's a textbook example of natural selection.

Without it, Yakuts may never have survived in this environment.

It's amazing.

An Arctic horse that made an Arctic people.

But really, shaping a special breed for a special place isn't uncommon at all.

Every horse culture creates its own horses.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Some love the cold.

And some love the heat.


One of the hottest places on Earth.

A world without water.

♪♪♪ But even here, you find people.

I've come to the Arabian Desert to meet a remarkable breed.

A horse that makes it possible to survive where no human could survive alone.

♪♪♪ This is the homeland of the Bedouin.

Beyond the oases, the Bedouin could only survive by constantly moving.

So for thousands of years, they have lived on horseback.

[ Conversing in Arabic ] The endless migrations of the Bedouin have shaped a special kind of horse.

♪♪♪ A desert breed.

The Arab.

The Arab horse is famous for being hardy, spirited and fast.

♪♪♪ No matter how hot it gets, these horses just love to run.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Arabs are called 'hot blood', and most people think that refers to their character, their personality.

But when I think of the features that -- Oh, come over here -- the features that these men prize in an Arab horse, they're really about dealing with the heat.

So these high fine ears, this fine facial structure, these big nostrils and then even the high tail there.

All of these features are the architecture of a horse that's built to shed heat in a hot environment.

And I think that's why this horse is having a much better time then I am in this climate.

Aren't you? Yeah.

Arabs are one of the oldest breeds.

They've been carrying humans through these scorching deserts for at least 2,000 years.

Like Yakutians in the Arctic, this is an extreme horse... created by an extreme world.

♪♪♪ After a long day in the saddle, we're all sore.

But the horses seem just fine.

These are tough animals.

Without them, we wouldn't be here.

Even though we're out of the saddle, we're still talking about horses.

My guides tell me a Bedouin legend.

They call a mare Banat er rih: 'daughter of the wind.'

Their horses move like a storm.

That is why they give us the power of flight... without wings.

♪♪♪ It's not hard to see why the Bedouin believe God made horses just for them.

♪♪♪ But science tells us, this breed is simply Nature's answer to an extreme environment.

Bred for the desert, Arab horses just happen to be absolutely gorgeous.

♪♪♪ But in different parts of the world, you find completely different horses.

Like Icelandics... and Fjords.

Horses with a 2,000-year history of putting up with weather in Scandinavia.

With a shape like this, you'd think these were little ponies.

You'd be wrong.

♪♪♪ Weather shaped horses.

But so did we.

Breeds were created for some very special jobs.

The beautiful Friesian, bred to carry 250 kilos of armored knight into battle.

Bred today...for looks.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Or the Drum horse.

Created... just to carry the regimental drums of the Queen's bodyguard.

♪♪♪ This one's a star.

The Quarterhorse.

With the power to turn on a dime.

And accelerate.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Aristocratic breeds.

Prized by nobility.

Like the Warmblood.

Once, a jumper in battle.

Now, a jumper for sport.

♪♪♪ But one horse above all became the very definition of horsepower.

♪♪♪ The Belgian.

A ton of pulling power.

A Belgian can reach 7 feet in height.

And yet, they're one of the gentlest breeds.

In the age of horsepower, if there was a job for the horse, there was a horse for the job.

From giants... to miniatures.

♪♪♪ Our ancestors left us with an astonishing diversity of horses.

And we found a place for them in every part of human life.

♪♪♪ It's easy to forget how much our world once revolved around the horse.

♪♪♪ But go back in time, and horses are everywhere.

♪♪♪ Before humans knew we could ride horses, think of the impression it made when we first saw a rider.

I mean, I think that's the origin of the myth of the centaur.

The body of a horse, the torso and the head of a man.

A completely impossible creature... but there it was in front of us.

♪♪♪ Looking through the collections at the British Museum, it really strikes me that almost every time you see a horse in ancient art, it's a horse at war.

And not how I expected.

Instead of riding horses, we were behind them... in chariots.

♪♪♪ Look at this.

This is the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal standing upright in his chariot.

To me, this doesn't make any kind of sense, because in a world without roads, how is it even possible to stand in a chariot, racing around the battlefield?

I mean, there you are bouncing along, trying to shoot your bow and arrow and you're a huge target for the enemy.

But here's the proof.

Somehow the chariot was a game changer.

We just don't really understand how.

The only way to really know how chariots worked then... is to build one now.

♪♪♪ In this English workshop, we're reconstructing a perfect copy of one of the oldest chariots ever discovered.

The original was built over 3,000 years ago, in China.

♪♪♪ After months of work, it's finally finished.

HURFORD: And there we are.

THOMPSON: It's ready to be tested.

But that...takes someone with some unusual skills.

Mike Loades.

Mike's spent his life studying how horses changed history on the battlefield.

And today, he's going to see our chariot for the first time.

-THOMPSON: Are you ready? -LOADES: I'm ready.

Let's have a look.


THOMPSON: There it is. Is this how you imagined it?

LOADES: No, it's so much more. It announces itself.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: It may be impressive, but our experimental chariot is missing the key ingredient.


MAN: Whoa. Steady. Steady.

THOMPSON: For our test, Mike is using specialized chariot horses.

And they're tiny.

LOADES: Chariot horses are surprisingly small.

You couldn't ride horses like this into battle.

But two horses pulling a wheeled vehicle could carry a load far in excess than the weight they could carry on their backs.

Whoa. Easy.

♪♪♪ They had to have tremendous stamina for running all over the battlefield, and going on campaign.

They had to have strength to pull those men on the chariot.

They had to have spirit.

THOMPSON: These ponies also have to run in unison -- one stumble, and the whole chariot goes down.

Mike makes it look easy, but I have a feeling it isn't.

I'll give this a try. -LOADES: Yeah, up you come.

-THOMPSON: Ok. -LOADES: That's it.

THOMPSON: Now what are you doing?

One foot ahead of the axle, one foot behind the axle?

LOADES: Yeah. You've obviously got that pole in an emergency to grab onto.

Walk on, lads. Giddyup.

There you go.

There you go. You all right?

Yeah, you're doing pretty well, I think.

THOMPSON: I cannot imagine handling weapons in this situation.

All I'm doing is standing in one place.

LOADES: Going around a corner.

THOMPSON: I'm going to try to let go with my hands.

LOADES: Stand up.

Yay, surfing. Going around to the right.

THOMPSON: I was right -- standing is hard.

But maybe that's not what you're supposed to do.

♪♪♪ LOADES: Whoa.

THOMPSON: How's that going?

LOADES: Well, that was very interesting.

I mean, there's no doubt about it, it's a lot of fun to stand up.

It's the glamorous Hollywood idea of what you do in chariots.

And it's perfectly doable.

But then I was thinking well, why the low rail?

So, I thought well, it's, it's, it's inviting me to kneel.

So can I drive kneeling?

Yeah, actually, that's really quite comfortable.

The light bulbs go off.

This -- this just fits.

I'm completely secure.

Can I shoot from here? I'm sure I can.

We've got to test that.

But that's what's so exciting.

The chariot speaks to you.

It tells you how it wants you to use it.

♪♪♪ If you took squadrons of chariots against an infantry army, you could have run circles round them, you could've pinned them down, and they can't get you.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: Mike's convinced me.

If you know what you're doing, chariots can be deadly.

♪♪♪ Chariots ruled the battlefield for a very long time.

But then, a new way of harnessing horsepower emerged and a new kind of horse warrior replaced the chariot team.

Horse archery.

A man on a horse with a bow and arrow.

You put thousands of those in the field and no chariot army can compete.

LOADES: You can spin a horse so much more easily than you can a chariot.

You know, I can come around and do this.

I can run around you and then... The speed of the horse and the speed of the shooting.

It's absolutely a teamwork.

I mean you actually do become a centaur.

From the waist down, you're a horse.

From the waist up, you're an archer.

You become the mythical centaur.

There was a key change that had to happen with horses to enable the horse archer.

Horses had to get bigger.

They had been selectively bred with more bone.

With more muscle.

That became the riding horse.

Once the ridden horse comes onto the battlefield and you have the horse archer, then you've really got an extremely versatile warrior.

A single horse can go places that a chariot can't.

Once the horse archer entered the battlefield, then the days of the chariot were numbered.

And that is the beginning of a long and tragic story for the horse.

The carnage, the loss of life, the tragedy of horses in the service of man's wars.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: For thousands of years, horses were invaluable on the battlefield.

Not anymore.

Today we cherish horses for different reasons.

♪♪♪ This newborn foal is a Thoroughbred.

And it's carrying a huge weight of expectations on its little shoulders.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Among the breeds, Thoroughbreds are specialists.

♪♪♪ We created them for one purpose: to run faster than any other horse alive.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ All Thoroughbreds belong to one tiny family of horses.

♪♪♪ Incredibly, every living one is a descendant of one of three stallions, who lived 200 years ago.

The Stud Book is closed.

DR. HILL: The Thoroughbred has been a closed Stud Book since the early 1800s, when it was determined that no further input from exotic gene pools would improve the breed.

And so it was said that this breed is now 'thoroughly bred'. And that's where the term 'Thoroughbred' comes from.

THOMPSON: Emmeline Hill is an Irish geneticist.

Several years ago, working with the DNA of Thoroughbred racehorses, Emmeline had a breakthrough.

She discovered a kind of genetic recipe for speed.

She calls it the 'Speed Gene'. DR. HILL: For hundreds of years, I suppose, people have used pedigrees to try to figure out if it's a sprint type pedigree or a pedigree with more stamina.

We can now take the guesswork out of that.

We're able to actually look inside the DNA and identify those genes that are contributing to an elite athlete.

THOMPSON: Jim Bolger raises some of Ireland's fastest horses.

♪♪♪ When Emmeline discovered the Speed Gene... Jim took the leap.

He let her use the test on his elite Thoroughbreds, hoping to spot a special horse.

DR. HILL: We'll send you the results in advance.

They're ready now.

BOLGER: We're not going to have a top horse every year.

It's a game of chance, and it's very high risk, but we only need one.

THOMPSON: With Emmeline's help, he found the one.

A stallion called Dawn Approach.

At two years old, he emerged on the European scene as an unbeatable racehorse.

After just one season, Jim sold his champion for a fortune.

♪♪♪ Today, Dawn Approach has run his last race.

His new owner sells his sperm.

Each insemination is worth $50,000.

♪♪♪ In his lifetime, he will father thousands of foals.

♪♪♪ Emmeline's discoveries are helping us squeeze every last ounce of speed from Thoroughbreds.

But with only a tiny few allowed to pass on their genes, the genetic diversity of this breed is getting even smaller.

DR. HILL: Limited genetic diversity could potentially be a problem.

You have a very high-level of inbreeding, particularly when you have a stallion of high value, and therefore has very large numbers of progeny.

The genetic health of the population could be in jeopardy.

It's the unknowns that are always the problem.

THOMPSON: As we take breeding to incredible extremes, we're getting incredible results.

But there's a fine line between breeding... and inbreeding.

♪♪♪ The Thoroughbred is a human invention.

Such a delicate animal wouldn't survive in the wild.

Leave it to nature, and you get a very completely different horse.

They say there are no truly wild horses.

♪♪♪ Except for these.

♪♪♪ A mythical horse, hanging on in an impossible place.

♪♪♪ The horses of Sable Island.

♪♪♪ Their ancestors were left on this sliver of sand off Canada's East Coast at least 40 generations ago.

How they got here, no one knows.



Whatever their story, today, they belong to no one.

♪♪♪ Few get permission to visit.

I'm very lucky to be on this plane with biologist Phil McLaughlin.

PILOT: Estimating landing on the beach in seven minutes.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: Phil and I share the same question.

What happens to horses when they return to the wild?

THOMPSON: So this is a situation where you have horses who we used to shape, now being shaped by this natural environment.

I mean, at what point do we start calling them wild horses?

McLAUGHLIN: I call them wild horses.

There's not been any interactions with humans other than what -- what we're doing right now.

Looking at them.

It actually still amazes me how well they do.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: Phil can go right up to some of the adult horses and they really aren't bothered at all by his presence.

They're more curious of him than anything.

As far as these horses are concerned, human don't exist.

Now, they live in partnership with a different animal: seals.

♪♪♪ Every winter, half a million grey seals crowd onto the sands to give birth.

And this huge gathering of sea mammals keeps the horses alive.

McLAUGHLIN: So we have seals coming onto the island for weeks where they're pupping, they're mating... and while they're here, they're fertilizing the grasses.

The influx of nutrients is -- is quite impressive.

And the horses are responding to this.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: It's a remarkable connection between two mammals who couldn't be less alike.

The seals bring nutrients to these barren dunes, and the horses feast on the grass.

A food cycle that nourishes over 500 horses on Sable today.

But within that population, a new horse is emerging.

A tougher animal that has to fight to survive.

Phil takes me to the far eastern end, where there is no standing water.

♪♪♪ The horses here are forced to dig for a drink.

McLAUGHLIN: Every horse here has to dig down, paw, get the water back up, drink.

They're going to take 20 minutes, at least.

Whereas, you go to the other side of the island, a whole band will come in to the freshwater pond.

They'll be gone in 7-8 minutes. -THOMPSON: Wow.

McLAUGHLIN: And these horses here, I always think of them as being subject to much more strife and competition.

So they're always on the watch.

You'll see bands line up over in the hills there waiting for their chance.

And the hierarchies that you see in the social groups, it's much more clear out here.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: There was a little bit of a competition.

One of the stallions was -- was kind of pawing at the other male, as if to say 'Get away from my water hole'. McLAUGHLIN: Exactly. That's it.

It's an uneasy lifestyle here, and these horses don't even know what it's like on the west side.

They've never been there.

They've lived their whole life here.

THOMPSON: On Sable, it's Darwin's world.

Natural selection is shaping the horse once again.

This island shows us horses can return to the wild.

They don't need us to survive.

But even today, some people can't imagine life without horses.

The prairies of Southern Alberta.

♪♪♪ Home of the Blackfeet.

Hundreds of years ago, the Blackfeet became a great horse nation.

That hasn't changed.

Allison Red Crow is the great-grandson of a legendary chief and warrior.

Red Crow fought his enemies on horseback.

Allison is still passing the warrior tradition on.

In a modern way.

[ Indistinct talking ] With horse racing.

RED CROW: We are modern-day warriors.

We are still on our horses, just like our forefathers were.

They were on the back of a horse every day.

♪♪♪ BIG TOBACCO: It's a part of the tradition, the hair anyway.

They say it gives us strength.

THOMPSON: Cody Big Tobacco is on the team.

His little brother Ian dreams of joining.

RED CROW: Keep -- keep your body to the side.

Don't be walking right here, because he'll run right over you.

Okay? So always remember that.

He's going to be hot after the race.

Look what they're doing right now.

They're busy, eh?

They're busy, they're having fun.

I tell the boys staying at home, they'll be sitting around, getting into trouble.

That's the main thing, boys.

If we can stay out of trouble, we'll be all right.

These horses they'll keep us out of trouble.

THOMPSON: These aren't the compact Spanish horses the Blackfeet once rode.

They're Thoroughbreds.

RACE ORGANIZER: You've got about ten minutes to go.

THOMPSON: These horses are fast.

RED CROW: Come on, Tyler.

THOMPSON: In Blackfeet country, they call this Indian Relay.

A race is three bareback gallops around the track.

Speed is important.

But the race is won or lost at the exchange.

Jumping off one horse and onto another.

RED CROW: Go on. Go on!

Go on!

[ Indistinct shouting ] Horses are what makes us warriors today.

You work hard enough with them and you're willing to work with them, you're gonna feed off them, you're gonna feel that strength.

You want to try him first?

BIG TOBACCO: I'll try him first.

-RED CROW: Yeah. -BIG TOBACCO: For now.

Let's try a couple jumps.

THOMPSON: Allison and Cody are working with a new horse, who's just learning the ropes.

RED CROW: Ready boys?

BIG TOBACCO: Ok, I'll try this one.

Even if he flinches. Oh.

RED CROW: Yeah, he's never had nobody running up and jumping to him eh?

But that's alright. He's going to have to learn it.

He's going to have to get used to it.

BIG TOBACCO: You see how he kind of... he's put his feet in the proper stance to take my weight.


BIG TOBACCO: And his head's coming a lot lower.

For sure.

Hey, boy, hey, boy, hey, boy.

From the first one to that one is pretty good, eh?

♪♪♪ For us horse racing has always been a part of our culture.

We just do it because we love it, you know?

We love horses.

♪♪♪ THOMPSON: A new season of racing will soon begin.

It's time for little Ian to learn the exchange.

RED CROW: You're training right now.

The main thing is just getting on the horse, doing it right.

IAN: Ok. -RED CROW: We'll take it slow.

-IAN: How's that sorrel? -RED CROW: He's good.

It won't be -- don't worry about none of them.

They're just big pups.

IAN: I wanna race, but I still can't jump up.

RED CROW: Jump, Ian jump. That's ok.

IAN: It means a lot to me.

But I'll be up there some day.

RED CROW: Jump. Kick, kick, kick, kick, kick.

Attaboy. Attaboy. That's the way to be.

Good. That's a good exercise, boys.

THOMPSON: Ian still has some growing to do before he can ride for the team.

But that time will come.

♪♪♪ Outside their world, the Horse Relay is virtually unknown.

But that is about to change.

RED CROW: Oh, boy, I couldn't wait to spread the news to the boys.

THOMPSON: How did the boys take it?

RED CROW: Hooo, they were just laughing and smiling and like 'Yeah.

We're going to Calgary.'

THOMPSON: Alison's been invited to compete at the Calgary Stampede.

Just four teams, all Blackfeet.

The first time ever for the Indian Relay.

RED CROW: Not in my wildest imaginations did I think I'd be running at the Calgary Stampede.

It is the event of the season.

It's like Christmastime.

THOMPSON: They call the Calgary Stampede the 'The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth'. But it's the same ritual as always: stretch, paint, dress.

But this is no small town race.

There are 50,000 people in the stands.

Allison's biggest worry is how to keep the horses calm.

You guys are gonna do good.

TYLER: Have some fun brudda.

[ Cheers and applause ] Let's meet our Canadian team, the O'kan Warriors.

THOMPSON: Allison and his boys get just three laps to remind us, no one rides like the Blackfeet.

♪♪♪ A good start.

Tyler's behind, but not by much.

♪♪♪ From one horse to the next.

A good exchange.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ The experience of the Montana teams is showing.

But the final exchange could decide the race.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Tyler's horse is spooked.

It's the roaring crowd.

[ Horse neighing, indistinct shouting ] Too late.

This time, the team from Browning, Montana, takes the honor.

RED CROW: That's it, boys.

STAMPEDE ANNOUNCER: Did you enjoy the first ever edition of our Relay Races here in Calgary?

[ Cheers and applause ] RED CROW: You did your job.

Ran with your heart, man.

You ran with your heart.

Proud of you.

A lot of emotion here.

Proud. Very proud.

The horses, my guys, my people in the stands.

That's why we're here, eh?

Show the world how proud we are.

THOMPSON: The Warriors didn't win today, but Allison was always running a different race.

RED CROW: Did you like that, huh?

-IAN: Yeah. I liked it. -RED CROW: Hell, yeah.

One of these days, one of these days, it's going to be you guys.

Eh? -IAN: Yeah for sure.

THOMPSON: He's using horses... to catch the next generation.

♪♪♪ And he's winning that race.

♪♪♪ For the Blackfeet, horses make the person.

Despite everything, that hasn't changed.

They are just one of countless human cultures this animal has transformed.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ Our obsession that began the moment we met the horse hasn't dimmed.

Since we saved wild horses from extinction, they've repaid us a thousand times over... with horsepower.

♪♪♪ But also with a bond unlike any other.

♪♪♪ We've always known ours is the perfect partnership.

The human story... is a horse story.

♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪ ♪♪♪


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