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equus horse steam

Synopsis

We built the world around us with horsepower. But what is it that makes humans and horses so perfect for each other? And how have we transformed the wild horse we tamed 6,000 years ago into over 400 specialized breeds today?

To answer these questions, anthropologist turned filmmaker Niobe Thompson takes viewers on an epic journey across eleven countries on three continents and back in time to the mysterious beginnings of the horse-human relationship. Over three spectacular hours of cutting-edge science and gripping adventure, Thompson explores the evolution of horsepower, discovers how our ancestors tamed the horse, and learns fascinating new insights into the body and mind of this unique animal.

Thompson learns by doing on a global adventure of discovery, living and riding with horse nomads in Arabia, Siberia and Mongolia, travelling into the field with archeologists, geneticists, and horse psychologists, and above all, getting friendly with horses everywhere he goes.

In Episode 1, “Origins”, Thompson takes us 45 million years back in time to meet Dawn Horse, a creature that led to all horses today. Tiny, forest roaming, vulnerable to predators, and a fruit eater, Dawn Horse’s fossil remains are brought to life by evolutionary biologist Martin Fischer and Thompson’s team of 3D animators.
How do these huge animals practically fly? Thompson visits some of the fastest, and most valuable, horses on Earth, and learns how elastic energy and a bizarre ability to breath-hold make these some of the fast land-runners in Nature.

Why are horses so willing to please? Through some fascinating experiments, English horse psychologist Karen McComb discovers that horses use 17 different facial expressions to communicate. (That’s one more than dogs, and three more than chimpanzees!) Thompson spends a day in the Canadian Rockies with “extreme cowboy” Jimmy Anderson, a horse whisperer who has left the old idea of “breaking horses” behind. Anderson doesn’t break horses – he starts them. We get to learn his secrets, as he starts an “unbroke” colt.

The domestication of the horse has been a mystery of science for generations. In Episode 2, “First Riders”, Thompson travels to Kazakhstan to witness the groundbreaking discovery of a skeleton from the earliest culture ever to tame horses. In this episode, viewers get a set of genuine science scoops: we are the first to learn that our ancestors domesticated the horse twice, and that early riders carried the world’s first pandemic of plague to Europe.

To bring the world of the first riders to life, Thompson and his filmmaking team travel back to Kazakhstan to film a series of exceptional dramatic re-enactments. In a year-long collaboration with Kazakh specialists, they rebuilt an entire Stone Age village, cast over 70 actors, filmed huge herds of horses high in the Tien Shan Mountains, and enlisted one of the world’s leading horse stunt ensembles, known for their work on Game of Thrones and Marco Polo.

Returning to the present, Thompson took a dramatic and never-before-filmed journey across Mongolia’s Altai Mountains. Joining horse nomads on their grueling winter migration over snow-covered alpine passes, Thompson discovers first-hand how horsepower makes an ancient way of life possible.

In the final Episode 3, “Chasing the Wind”, Thompson takes viewers to meet some of the most fascinating and unlikely of the world’s 400 horse breeds. He meets the Yakutian, at home in the coldest inhabited place on Earth (Siberia). He meets the Arab, a spirited horse at home on the scorching sands of the Arabian Desert. And he encounters the most valuable horses on Earth: elite Thoroughbreds, a breed of super-specialized sprinters descended from one of three 18th-century stallions.

Hard to believe, but there are still a handful of wild horses. On Canada’s Sable Island, Thompson visits the only truly wild horses on Earth, now evolving in unexpected ways in their completely human-free world.

In a thrilling white-knuckle climax to the series, viewers discover North America’s original extreme sport – the Indian Relay – and follow the fortunes of a young team of Blackfoot horse racers as they make their high-stakes debut at the Calgary Stampede. They remind us, even in the age of machines, some cultures still revolve around horses.