New film highlights plight of American Wild Horses

By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country 8-08

Saving the American Wild Horse, a powerful new documentary hosted by Viggo Mortensen, Sheryl Crow, Peter Coyote, and directed by Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker James Kleinert, examines the politics behind the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) controversial policies regarding wild horses on public lands and questions the fate of America’s Wild Horses and Burros, whose very existence is in jeopardy.

“I think it will be a real shame when we look back and we don’t have these incredible species, and I guess my best hope would be that people, individuals, step up at this point and really protect these animals,” the Grammy-winning Crow says.

Saving the American Wild Horse documents the struggle of an animal that is of major importance in the Native world and has long symbolized freedom, individualism and unbridled passion. Through interviews with scientific experts, ranchers, historians, wild horse owners, animal rights activists, environmentalists and others, the filmmaker examines the origins and effects of the recent “Burns Bill” which gutted the Wild Free Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971 and cleared the way for the slaughter and removal of a vast majority of the wild horse herds.

This film explores BLM’s past management history within the Wild Horse and Burro Program. The film exposes the current massive Western land grab by oil, gas and mining corporations, exploiting over 30 million acres of natural Western lands in the areas of New Mexico, Nevada, Colorado and elsewhere. The current excessive land exploitation is affecting all wildlife species including the American Wild Horse. This has happened to the extent that there are now more wild horses housed in BLM holding facilities than remain on the open range.

Saving the American Wild Horse tells the dramatic story of the horse as it disappears from the North American continent ten thousand years ago, only to be reintroduced by Europeans in the 1500s. The film captures the role the horse has played in both Native American and Euro-American culture over the last four hundred years. The film features stunning footage of horses in the wild with an original score featuring music by Rick Allen (drummer of Def Leppard), Lauren Monroe singer songwriter, Craig Sutter, Keith Secola, Grammy Award Winner Robert Mirabal, and Preston Pope.

Kleinert also produced Spirit Riders: Riding to Mend the Sacred Hoop. A breathtaking documentary about the Lakota community which features Viggo Mortensen collaborating with the Lakotas to spread their culture.

Kleinert shot his first documentary film “Living It” while he was a member of the U.S. Freestyle Ski Team; “Living It” was awarded best New Film at the 1994 International Ski Film Festival in Crested Butte Colorado. Kleinert spent eight years of his life on the world cup freestyle ski tour, living, competing and coaching in Europe. This experience gave Kleinert great insight from living outside of the United States and looking back in.

Studying film and theatre at the University of Utah and combining it with his athletic skills, Kleinert landed jobs as an actor and stuntmen in national television shows, feature films and was a member of Screen Actors Guild. A devastating stunt accident in 1996 ended his stunt career and placed Kleinert behind the camera again. Kleinert began documenting environmental activism, American Indian Elders and the Spirit Riders from 1996 to present day.

Kleinert has produced, directed and filmed music video’s including “Clouds” (Cherokee Rose), “4R Ancestors “ (Keith Secola), “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” (U2), and “Hysteria” (Def Leppard).

“My interest in documenting American’s wild horses began while working on my film “Spirit Riders” about the birth of an American Indian peace movement, as well as learning about the removal of these beautiful wild animals while living in Wyoming,” says Kleinert.

“Viggo Mortensen was riding with the Lakota Peace and unity riders in 2003,” says Kleinert. “In my mind having filmed and been on the ride for a number of years, it was very powerful having that blizzard along with Viggo and the many riders. It just took you back to part of the experience that Chief Big Foot and his band experienced in 1890. Viggo’s riding skills and determination to ride in such difficult weather conditions plus his effort to pay respect to the Lakota were impressive. As a filmmaker I stayed back and observed Viggo interacting with the Lakota people, especially the youth, that were all excited about riding with the star of The Lord of the Rings. After the ceremony ended I introduced myself to Mr. Mortensen and gave him a rough cut of Spirit Riders. He generously accepted our request to be involved with Spirit Riders the documentary film. Mr. Mortensen generously gave me two long interviews for the project and also has donated time to the Wild Horse film.”

Kleinert connected with Sheryl Crow when he did her video.

“I met Sheryl Crow through my fellow film maker Ginger Kathrens who appears in the documentary film Saving The American Wild Horse. Ginger has directed several amazing films on Wild Horses, her most known film is Cloud. . . Wild Stallion of The Rockies. I highly suggest people see Ginger’s films. Sheryl Crow adopted a Wild Mustang through the help of Ginger. The horses helped to connect us. As I look back, the horses have helped me make amazing connections and wonderful friendships. The Horse Medicine is amazing!,” he says.

Crow, who lives in Tennessee, named her wild mustang Colorado, says the animals are part of American history but are being sacrificed in big business’ drive for Western lands.

“We’re starting to get really, really far away from our heritage and what this country is based on,” she says. “If any of these politicians visited these sites where our Indigenous animals are being slaughtered in an inhumane way and being sold for meat, I feel that there would be a different take and a different approach to what’s happening.”

Kleinert used many top Native artists in his films.

“In the making of my feature documentary film Spirit Riders... Riding to Mend The Sacred Hoop, I listened to a number of amazing contemporary American Indian musicians. I meet Keith Secola at the Sun Dance film festival in 2000. Keith and the Wild Band of Indians played a great gig. I spoke with Keith after the concert about possibly using some of his music. Turns out, Keith and I are both from the upper midwest (Wisconsin – Minnesota) I learned we have many of the same friends and acquaintances in Indian Country back there, so we shared common ground. Over the course of several years I have stayed in contact with Keith for music for several of my films (Spirit Riders, Athlete Profiles, Saving The American Wild Horse).

“Keith has been generous in sharing his insight into some of his motivation behind his music. We both share a love for the Wild Horse and issues ofconsciousness, so working together was a natural progression.

“Bill Miller is from Wisconsin as well and I knew of him and his music. I tracked him down at a concern he was playing in Arizona in 2002 and gave him a rough cut of Spirit Riders and asked if he would be interested in licensing his music for the film as well. Bill was very supportive and encouraging in having his amazing music used in Spirit Riders.

“Robert Mirabal is an amazing soulful musician as well. Having seen Robert several times in concert and having lived in Taos New Mexico (Robert’s home town). I had the opportunity to speak with Robert about his love of horses. Again another very natural fit to have Robert’s music in both “Spirit Riders” and “Saving The American Wild Horse.”

“Most of the footage in my films are shot on the land in wild scenic powerful places. To bring out the essence of the visuals requires profound music that can take the viewers mind away from the chaos of our modern society to the essence and spirit of the Mother Earth. Music plays such a powerful role in the film medium. To have Native artists working together to bring the messages of the films, spirit of the land and the ancestors is a wonderful thing.

“I have to add that Rick Allen (Drummer of Def Leppard) and his wife Lauren Monroe have added great music talent to the films as well.

“Rick as many of you may know lost his arm in a brutal auto accident. In my opinion Rick has had one of the greatest comebacks in Rock ‘N Roll history.

“Re-learning to play his drums with his two feet and one arm. Rick has amazing Spirit! Both Rick and Lauren have been great supporters of my films and friends as well,” he adds.

The film is available at – the official web site for the film. Saving The American Wild Horse will have several airings on The Documentary Channel. Visit to check dates and times.

For viewers interested in helping the cause: Please phone Senator Bingaman in D.C., (202) 224-5521 who chairs the Energy and Natural Resources Committee (where HR 249 currently sits awaiting movement by the committee). Request that the bill HR 249 be brought to a vote in Committee.

Type the following into your browser which will take you to the Senate Members on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Phone each member of the committee and ask that they vote in favor of HR 249 and urge Senator Bingaman to bring HR 249 to a vote.

Call Secretary of the Interior Dick Kempthorne – (202) 208 3100 & Director of the Bureau of Land Management Jim Caswell (202) 208-3801.

Require that the BLM personnel involved with the program have or acquire proper knowledge of equines, their care, management techniques, etc.;

Appropriate the proper funding to administer the BLM Wild Horse and Burro program;

Invite qualified interested public members to serve on an advisory committee, ideally one for each herd and Herd Management Area; Employ many more methods to address equine population increases, preferably, sanctuaries, rather than relying on adoption and penning;

Open previously closed Horse Management Areas and put older mares and gelded stallions now in government pens into these HMAs to live out their lives (contently and less expensively).

Finally, we urge you to support HR 249, sponsored by Reps. Nick Rahall, Jr. (D-WV) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) – To restore the prohibition on the commercial sale and slaughter of wild free-roaming horses and burros. This bill passed the House this past April by a vote of 277 to 137, and is before the Senate for consideration.

Kleinert also has founded the Spirit Riders Foundation, www.spiritriders – a non-profit organization working to provide Lakota (American Indian) youth educational opportunities and to create educational awareness for America’s wild horses and burros.

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