Wild horses: Documentary exposes abuse and decimation of Colorado herd (VIDEO)

The Bureau of Land Management's efforts to remove thousands of wild horses from public lands -- supposedly for their own good -- has generated outrage among mustang advocates across the country, as well as numerous YouTube glimpses of the brutality of the roundups. Now a documentary having its Denver premiere at the Starz Film Festival this Friday digs deeper to show how the BLM is messing with one herd in southwest Colorado, in the aptly named Disappointment Valley.

Wild Horses & Renegades, by Santa Fe-based filmmaker James Anaquad-Kleinert, explores the woeful history of the government's half-baked efforts to protect wild horses, focusing on the recent removal of roughly half of a small but hearty tribe of mustangs in Disappointment Valley, a short drive from Telluride. The eighty-minute film is both scenic and gut-wrenching, as it captures images of the horses at play in their natural element and probes the true motives and goals of the roundups.

Anaquad-Kleinert made a previous film, Spirit Riders, which deals with the special bond between Native Americans and the horse, and there's a bit of mystical hoohah in this doc about how horses are our "bridge to the spirit world." (If they were less charismatic animals, does that mean we shouldn't care about their destruction?) Willie Nelson, Viggo Mortensen, Sheryl Crow and Daryl Hannah are among the celebrities corraled for interviews about this national scandal. But the real star of the film is a good-looking stallion named Traveler who was supposed to be spared the roundup and got hauled off anyway -- to a holding pen in Canon City, oddly enough. Anaquad-Kleinert and others then campaigned for his release.

For all its sentimental moments, Wild Horses & Renegades also packs a mule's kick: scenes of helicopters buzzing the horses; inept workers stuffing injured animals into overcrowded pens; even undercover footage at what appears to be a Mexican slaughterhouse -- where, the film suggests, a number of the captive horses end up. Interviews with former government officials and horse activist groups challenge the BLM's claims that the horses are starving on the range and suggest that the real agenda is to remove horses to make way for livestock and other corporate interests. A few months after the roundup documented here, Anaquad-Kleinert reports, the same BLM lands were being staked out for future uranium exploration.

"I'm definitely not anti-ranching," Anaquad-Kleinert tells Westword, "but we're trying to get at the big picture. What we're seeing if that after they get rid of the cattle, the extraction industries are coming in."

What's left of the Disappointment Valley herd faced another roundup last month. Anaquad-Kleinert has filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM's management policy and is working on a follow-up project probing the government's claims that the range is inadequate for the current horse population. "This has been a very suppressed story," he says. "We're hoping the film will really educate people as to what's happening out there."

Wild Horses & Renegades airs Friday, November 11, at 2 pm at the Denver Film Center, 2510 E. Colfax, and then at the Starz Film center, 900 Auraria Parkway, on Saturday at 9:30 pm and Sunday at 12:15 pm. For more on the film, go to The American Wild Horse website.

Check out the trailers, below -- the first one features Willie Nelson & Friends, while the longer one focuses on Disappointment Valley herd.

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