Local filmmaker Ginger Kathrens thought a wildlife film about mustangs would be the simplest of projects.
After all, she told herself, horses just stand around in a field and graze all day.
Off she went to the Arrowhead Mountains and Pryor Mountains, near the border of Montana and Wyoming where what is considered a "historically significant" herd roams.
Instead of incredible footage of wild horses grazing, she took incredible shots of "butts and dust," she recalls. "They take off the minute they see your car."
It was a challenge that galloped all over Kathrens' heart; for more than 19 years, she has chronicled generations of the herd. And along the way, she has become an activist for wild horses.
Kathrens has been called the Jane Goodall of wild horses and her work to save them and burros on public lands led to the formation of The Cloud Foundation.
On Aug. 2 Kathrens, volunteers with the The Cloud Foundation and horse lovers in general were treated to a fundraising event, "Celebration of Wild Horses through Art and Music," at Cottonwood Center for the Arts. The exhibition of equine artwork by 27 local and national artists was teamed with "a musical journey into the world of wild horses" by Cindy and Bill Loos. The exhibit, which was coordinated by painter and gallerist Tracy Miller, runs through Aug. 31.
Kathrens' work has focused on a little white colt she named Cloud. Year after year, Kathrens hiked all over those mountains to find the ever-moving herd, which resulted in three PBS "Nature" films. They show the little fellow growing into a stallion and leading his own family. Freedom and their families is what the horses value most, she learned. And the strength comes from the stallions, "who are there for their mares and foals 365 days a year."
Her work has been recognized as the only continuous documentation of a wild animal from birth, Kathrens says. Unfortunately, Cloud was severely injured in a fight to stop a younger stallion from taking over his family and he disappeared. Kathrens was encouraged when spotters say they saw him in the distance this year and he appears to be doing fine, an old man of 19 years.
Kathrens described her Cloud films and her relationship with the great stallion to the audience of almost 200 and said she is making "Cloud Encore" about the beloved Cloud's offspring.
The week following the fundraiser, she showed the third of her film trilogy, "Cloud: Challenge of the Stallions," to a standing-room-only crowd at the Tim Gill Center for Public Media. It's not just a pretty film. It shows the rugged life of the herd, the life and death struggles, and, says Kathrens, the damaging involvement of the Bureau of Land Management.
The foundation's legal fund and Friends of Animals filed suit this month against the BLM to stop a helicopter roundup of 800 wild horses designed to drive them off public lands and into pens. The helicopters terrify the animals and roundups are often deadly, Kathrens says, adding it costs taxpayers more than $46 million each year to care for the almost 50,000 wild horses held in BLM pens.
This past week the BLM was forced to postpone the hunt because of the lawsuit, according to Cloud the Stallion's Facebook page. Hunt protests are planned Aug. 25 in Wyoming.
That kind of practice is wrong, Kathrens says. "The wild horses are the icons of freedom and we need to protect them."