Running Wild: The Life of Dayton O. Hyde is a new documentary film about (as the title suggests) the eventful life of cowboy Dayton O. Hyde, who describes himself as “a cowboy first, a conservationist second, and a writer third.” The film covers many aspects of his life, from his childhood to the present, including but not limited to his establishment of the Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, his marriage and family, his love for nature, his writing career, and of course his love for horses.
If I had to come up with a single word to describe this movie, it would have to be “heartwarming.” Hyde’s life is filled with memorable people and events that are brought to life once more in his remembrances. It is clear that Hyde truly believes in what he fights for and that he is knowledgeable enough about the issues he faces to find a solution.
Early in the film, he discusses the establishment of the wild horse sanctuary, the mission of which is to create a place where wild horses can live freely without human interference. What makes Hyde’s views worth listening to is that he understands the root of the problem: the wild horse population is out of control, and they are wreaking havoc on the ranches in the western part of the country. Something needs to be done, but the government’s attempts at solving the problem aren’t working. So Hyde’s alternative is a much better approach because it takes into account that the problem cannot be solved by people who don’t understand the source of the trouble. The sanctuary removes the horses from the location where they create conflict and relocates them to an area where they are both safe and out of the way.
That may sound dark or preachy, but the whole film is not so brooding over this and other issues. There are plenty of sweet and even funny moments as well. (My personal favorite: on a tour of the sanctuary, a young boy asks how to tell the difference between a male and female horse, and the tour guide doesn’t really know how to answer, eventually settling on, “Just like you can a man and woman.”) There is a calf-birthing scene that, while graphic, is touching to watch, and Hyde’s interactions with the horses are nothing short of awe-inspiring, especially to someone like myself who has loved horses all his life.
Hyde himself, along with some of his family and friends, recounts his own life in his own words, making it a much more personal experience than many other documentaries I’ve seen. The cinematography is incredible as well: images of sweeping plains, galloping horses, and weather phenomena (rainbows and lightning in particular) abound.
That’s not to say that the film is without flaw, however. If I had to nitpick about something, it’s that the film covers so many topics that it sometimes seems to lose focus. Many aspects of Hyde’s life and surroundings are discussed: horses, conservation, family, writing, nature, uranium mining, even Native American culture. I will concede that, while diverse, these topics are all part of Hyde’s life, but they are not all equally engaging. And the pacing keeps the lack of focus from totally derailing the film: each topic is addressed fully before the film moves on to the next segment, so as varied as the topics are, the film still flows well.
On the whole, I say that the film is good, but it may not be for everyone. I say this in part because it is a documentary, so its purpose is to be instructive, not entertaining. Horse lovers should enjoy it, as will those who share Hyde’s conservationist ideas and those interested in the life of a cowboy. As a horseman, I thoroughly enjoyed his thoughts on the creatures he obviously loves. I can identify with his feelings for them, and I think other horse people will as well. I take to heart his claim that there is “nothing better in the world than the feel of a good horse and a good saddle” and that horses are “worth the allergies.” The images of horses squeezed into holding pens like sardines packed into a can are truly heartrending to those of us who love them, but the clips of sleek and well cared-for mares running alongside their foals will lift our spirits. So by all means, if you think horses are the most beautiful and magnificent creatures put on this earth, check this movie out and see how one man can make such an impact on the world around him.
Running Wild opens in select cities October 4, 2013. For a list of available screenings, click here.
Christopher Weston is a student at Campbell University studying English. He is an avid horseman and enjoys reading and writing in various genres.