Making A Movie Authentic: Meet The Wild Horse Expert Who Assisted On ‘Black Beauty’

By Jeryl Brunner, Forbes

January 19, 2021

This past November Disney released the classic film Black Beauty about a wild mustang that bonds with a young girl. The film, which is based on the classic 1877 novel by Anna Sewell, gives audiences a sense of the life and struggles of the wild horse.

When Disney was making the film, the production team was devoted to accurately portray what these wild horses endure. So the film’s director Ashley Avis turned to Suzanne Roy, the director of the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), to get insight.

The largest wild horse advocacy organization in the nation, AWHC has a grassroots following of nearly 1 million people. They are experts on America’s wild horses, the challenges they face and the solutions that are available for protecting and humanely managing them on Western public lands.

“We were able to help writer/director Ashley Avis with an accurate depiction of a roundup and the threats these horses face each day,” explains Roy. “It is important to us that the public understand the threats faced by the American Wild Horse.”

Roy shared more about her work on the film.

Jeryl Brunner: How did you assist the producers of Black Beauty?

Suzanne Roy: The movie’s writer and director Ashley Avis reached out to us for information on the issues surrounding the treatment of the nation’s federally-protected wild horses and burros. In addition to providing information on the issue, we directed Ashley to the best location for filming wild horses and provided guidance on how to film wild horses in the wild and at roundups.

Brunner: For people who might not know about the American Wild Horse Campaign (AWHC), how would you describe what the organization does?

Roy: The American Wild Horse Campaign is a nonprofit organization working to ensure the future of America's wild horses and the public lands where they roam. We’re a group of people with a passion for advocating on behalf of this iconic species. Our work focuses on educating the public, lobbying and field programs to conserve habitat and humanely manage wild horses in the wild.

Brunner: What would you like people to know about the plight of wild horses?

Roy: Wild horses are protected as symbols of freedom for our nation. It’s important to protect sustainable wild horse populations humanely within their natural habitat. Unfortunately, these horses face threats from special interests, particularly cattle ranchers, who want the horses’ land for commercial reasons. This results in inhumane federal helicopter roundups that brutally capture and remove thousands of wild horses every year from public lands in ten western states.

Brunner: Why would people call the AWHC to be an expert on film and television productions?

Roy: AWHC is the largest wild horse advocacy organization in the nation, with a grassroots following of nearly one million people. We are experts on America’s wild horses, the challenges they face and the solutions that are available for protecting and humanely managing them on Western public lands.

Brunner: How do you hope that perceptions about horse roundups will change from the film?

Roy: Americans love wild horses and polls show that they overwhelmingly support protection of these animals. However, many people don’t know what is happening to wild horses at the hands of our own government. The film accurately portrays the abusive treatment of wild horses during roundups and serves as a call-to-action for each of us to step up and defend them.

Brunner: What was the joy of working on the film?

Roy: Being able to educate the public on the plight of the American wild horse and to know that the film accurately portrayed the cruel and brutal roundups that wild horses and burros face at the hands of the government.

Brunner: What might surprise people about what you do?

Roy: We don’t only advocate for protecting wild horses, we are actually boots on the ground showing how wild horses can be protected. In fact, we operate the world’s largest wild horse birth control program that is humanely managing a population of 3,000 wild horses in a 500 square-mile habitat in the greater Reno, Nevada area.

Brunner: What is one of the best aspects of working on your job?

Roy: The opportunity to get out and see wild horses and visit the spectacular public lands where they live. Viewing wild horses living wild according to nature’s rule, beholden to no one but their own is fascinating. It never gets old. And the remote places where they live are vast and breathtaking. I wish everyone could experience the thrill of seeing wild horses running wild.

Brunner: What would you like people to know about wild horses?

Roy: Wild horses evolved in North America and are a native reintroduced wildlife species. They are highly adapted to their high desert habitats in the American West. Wild horses are admired for the beauty, strength and resilience. They are socially complex animals who form close bonds within their family groups, called bands. Wild horses suffer terribly in roundups when they are captured and separated from their families and deprived of their freedom forever.

Brunner: When did you know you had to focus on the well-being of wild horses as your life's work?

Roy: I have always been an animal lover and after an early career in politics, I devoted my life to working to protect animals, including elephants, marine mammals and chimpanzees. But it wasn’t until my daughter was born and became a “horse girl” when she was four that I started learning about horses and what incredible beings they were. When I found out about what was happening to wild horses, I knew I had to help them. It is what I’ve dedicated my life to for the past 10 years.

Originally posted by Forbes