I attended a screening of this film last Thursday evening, just as a catastrophic early “winter” storm dumped 23 inches of snow on parts of the South Dakota Black Hills, devastating ranchers in what some estimate may be a loss of 100,000 head of cattle and countless horses. Dayton Hyde’s Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary reports that their animals are thankfully okay.
The documentary film Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde is the inspiring journey of a remarkable cowboy who triumphs in his quest to protect wild horses and the American West. And his may be one of the most riveting horse stories you’ve never heard.
Dayton Hyde is a rancher, photographer, essayist, and author of 17 books, including “Sandy,” “Don Coyote,” and “Yamsi.” He’s been called a rancher’s rancher and a naturalist’s naturalist, a man whose thoughtful observations (peppered throughout the film in the form of readings from his books) underscore the powerful fact that human beings are responsible for the earth, but not its master.
Hyde’s incredible destiny, as chronicled by filmmaker Suzanne Mitchell, begins as a young boy of the Depression and leads him to rodeo riding, conservation battles, wild horse rescues, award-winning writing, personal heartbreak, and new found love. Though a 6’5″ cowboy may seem an unlikely character to demonstrate the importance of defending our natural world before it’s too late, Dayton Hyde holds the ideals of conservation in his bones and, through his protection of wild horses, finds his own personal freedom.
The Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, Hyde’s preserve in South Dakota, is stunningly presented in the film. Breathtaking aerial footage of the sanctuary’s horses – photographed via hot air balloon so as not to frighten animals traumatized by BLM helicopter roundups – are interspersed with an impressive amount of archival footage of Hyde’s rodeo days and his children growing up on the family ranch. Chances are, seeing the film will whet a desire to visit the Sanctuary, which hosts a range of guided tours. (And there’s no better time, following the devastating recent storm, to support South Dakota in its recovery.)
In the film, a woman at a book signing tells Hyde “just put ‘To a fellow horse person'” and I highly recommend this film to those with whom I also share that title.
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