Text Only Skip to content
Skip header navigation.
Skip sub-section linksSTLCC Home » College News » » Abberton Practices What He Teaches to Document Ozark’s Wild Horses

Abberton Practices What He Teaches to Document Ozark’s Wild Horses

December 05, 2014

Wild horses in the Ozarks  
The wild horses pass through a river in the Ozarks. (photo by David Abberton)

During the fall semester, David Abberton teaches oral communications, film appreciation and an interdisciplinary course called “Movement Culture of 1960s America.” He teaches his students how to communicate effectively and how to analyze and explore film, politics, art, literature, music and history.

During the summer, he puts those skills to work to document the story of a band of wild horses deep in the heart of the Ozarks.

“My goal is to create an historical record that will serve to protect the horses down the road in case things change,” Abberton recently told a group of students.  “I’m not there to prove a point. A documentary is a marriage of technology and art, and I let the content lead the structure of the film.”

Abberton began filming the documentary film “Wild Horses of the Ozarks” in 2011, and spends one to three weeks at a time during the summer camping along the Current and Jack’s Fork rivers where the horses live. There he “stalks” the horses with a camera in the hope of telling the story of how they are connected to the land, each other and the people around them.

“It’s amazing to watch them because they are playful and affectionate, but they are also aggressive,” he said.

Abberton recently described the complex relationship that the band has with one another to his students through stories. He said there is a strict family structure, with a long courtship between mare and stallion that extends beyond simply breeding.

“The boss mare leads and she arrives 10 to 15 minutes before the others come. She’s protective, so when she looks at me, I drop my head and shoulders and look submissive,” he said. “Eventually she came closer to me.  It took two years, but now she knows who I am by my voice and my smell.”

Whereas the lead mare scouts ahead, the lead stallion follows behind the band and protects them from the rear. They forage for food late at night like deer and eat grape leaves and sassafras.

In one encounter, the lead stallion chased Abberton out of a clump of trees and into the woods, then patrolled the area for a long time before joining the rest of the band.  Over time, this horse also has finally become comfortable with Abberton and his camp.

His stories are numerous, from tales of foals playing in the river, to the time when a mountain lion walked through his camp. Abberton told the story of one horse who was taken during a “gather” by the Wild Horse League – an organized round up of the horses for population control – to a farm where he has been “adopted” by another horse, and the wild horse’s escape attempts to follow the farm horse when he is occasionally transported to a different location. He also has interviewed local residents and learned their stories.

In the future, Abberton hopes to find and track all four of the bands that live in the Ozarks, even the elusive Broadfoot band which disappears as soon as people come near them.  His hope is that his documentary will call people to reflect on the role of these wild horses in their natural environment and in the culture around them.