Cloud – the documentary











In the world of wild horses, Ginger Kathrens is a legend who filmed the first ever full length documentary about the mustangs of America. 


By Camilla Alfthan, all images by Ginger Kathrens, The Cloud Foundation


Today, Ginger Kathrens is the director of The Cloud Foundation, named after the band stallion that she documented from birth in his native Pryor Mountains in Wyoming.  In the spring of 2011, Congress declared Cloud an ambassador for all the wild horses living in America. He’s still alive and thriving though the wild horses are getting scarcer by every day.


You’ve dedicated your to saving the wild horses. But is it true that most Americans don’t know about this issue?


We’re trying to communicate about it all the time, but I think it’s possible that the majority of people don’t know  that we have wild horses.


Some think they’re starving and need to be removed.


That is the mythology that the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) has created. That they are starving and must be rescued. It’s true that there are natural systems that will limit the horses. But we should support those systems, not  work against them. That includes starvation. That sounds cruel but it’s a factor in wild life management. When the populations are too large they sometimes crash – that’s just the way nature works. So we ought to foster an acceptance of natural systems and that includes predation, it includes drought and subsequently it can include starvation.


Then the strongest horses would survive.


Yes. The natural selection is then the strongest that can weather the storms, that are smart enough to avoid being killed by a predator, and their off springs will hopefully have those same characteristics.


What triggered your interest in the wild horses? How did it begin?


I was actually asked to produce a film on wild horses by Marty Stouffer who was a very popular host of the series, Wild America on PBS. I’d been working since 1987 on that series but it wasn’t until I received an Emmy for producing Spirits of the Rainforest for the Discovery Channel, that he asked me to go out and make a film for him.

I was a writer, editor, researcher and I’d filmed most of the natural sequences. And so, in 1993, Marty called me and asked if I’d shoot this film about wild horses. He always wanted to make a film about mustangs. I was kind of taken aback and jumped at the chance. But then I got seriously worried. Wild America was a very strong behavioral program and normally it would take one species, like grizzly bears and look very closely at their behaviour.

I came from a background of having one horse at the time as a child and I didn’t think they had any interesting behaviour.

So I came into this very much a blank slate.

Sometimes I think that’s good. I had a preconceived notion that there was nothing interesting to film. That turned out to be just the opposite. I immediately started to realize that they had a dominant male who was with a small or large family group all the time.

In my first impression they were very wolf like in that social structure. There aren’t many other mammals that have a dominant male that is protective all year around so in this sense they are unique.

It makes their communication within this family group very complex, subtle, interesting and diverse. I felt like I’d been dropped into behavioural heaven.


“I had a preconceived notion that there was nothing interesting to film. That turned out to be just the opposite.”


Because there was so much to observe..


And absorb. How does a bachelor stallion ascend to become a band stallion ? What behaviours can you observe in that stallion who tries to challenge to win a mare? That can be many different ways.

When I chose to document the Pryor Mountains herd I was still doing a film that was full of history and evolution about the Spanish coming and reintroducing the horse and the native Indians. I put all that into my script when I thought there wasn’t any behaviour to observe.

Then the history became a minor thread as it became a journey with Raven’s family. Raven is Cloud’s father. I began filming a year before Cloud was born. So it became a very personal look about how this family interacted and how they related to the other bands that surrounded them. There’s so much ritualised behaviour that causes you to sit and ponder what it means and then try and draw conclusions based on nearly 20 years of observation.


So it’s been 20 years since you started?


In November (2013) it will be 20 years since Marty called me. My first experience was going to the Western slope of Colorado trying to  observe the wild horses in the little book cliffs. I went out with a lady who had had years of experience with that herd. The Juniper trees were so dense, the topography could barely glimse the horses through the trees and then they’d be gone.

Whereas the Pryors have vast expanses of ridges where you can put up binoculars to see where there are. In my first Cloud film it was almost like being in an arena were I could film in this big open beautiful landscape.

Ginger Kathrens on Trace

Ginger Kathrens on her adopted mustang, Trace.

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