While we’re still in the throes of a Canadian winter, it’s always a welcome respite to cozy up in front of the television. And a new documentary that’s streaming on PBS gives you another reason to relax after a day in the saddle.

Nature: American Horses explores the history and breeds unique to North America and how their various roles from working New England homesteads to cattle ranches in Wyoming to tribal lands in the Mountain West contributed to American history.

Narrated by actor Bill Pullman (The Sinner, Independence Day, Spaceballs), the feature documentary premiered on February 23 and showcases horses that are also popular breeds in Canada – Morgan, Appaloosa, Quarter Horse, and Mustangs.’

Nez Perce girl and her Appaloosa horse, Nez Perce Tribal Land, Idaho. (Jeff Reed/courtesy of The WNET Group and TMFS GmbH)

The show uncovers the origin story of American horses, which can be traced all the way back to the 50-million-year-old fossil beds of Polecat Bench, Wyoming. From there, the Equus spread around the world, but mysteriously became extinct in North America. Arriving aboard ships of Spanish explorers, horses reclaimed the continent after a 10,000-year absence. With their return, the stage was set for a new generation of American breeds and a lifelong partnership with humans.

“Horses helped shape the landscape of our nation,” said Fred Kaufman, executive producer for Nature. “Their stories are a fascinating look at how their history and our history are inseparable.”

Emerging from regional patterns of work, culture, tradition and geography, these signature breeds each made their mark on the nation. There was the Appaloosa, bred and revered by the Nez Perce tribe; the American Quarter Horse, perfectly trained to work the open range; the Morgan Horse, whose underdog story is legendary; and the wild Mustang, whose close bonds within their community shed insight into their relationships with humans. The film shows viewers scenes of horsepower in action, whether cutting cows in a sagebrush sea, galloping through autumn foliage in New England or racing across the Pony Express Trail.

Narrator Bill Pullman. (© Ami Vitale photo)

As for Pullman’s own horse connection, the actor splits his time between New York and his Montana ranch. “In our valley in southwest Montana there’s a few people that are go-to riders that can do a little whispering, because it’s fairly hazardous,” he tells ABC Audio. “You learn so much about what it is to be human by being around horses.”


Nature: American Horses, is streaming on PBS (check local listings), pbs.org/nature and the PBS Video app. Check out the trailer here: