That’s A Wrap: 2021 Horse, Human and Nature Conference & EQUUS International Film Festival Close on Hope and Inspiration


That’s A Wrap:  2021 Horse, Human and Nature Conference & EQUUS International Film Festival Close on Hope and Inspiration

“This was a love story with a mission,” said Nancy Zeitlin after Unreined, her international (Israel) documentary was named Best of Festival at the conclusion of the 2021 Horse, Human and Nature Conference and EQUUS International Film Festival, presented in Dillon, September 9-11, by the independent nonprofit Montana Center for Horsemanship, in partnership with University of Montana Western and the William Kriegel Foundation. #eliteequestrian

It was a sentiment that just as easily applied to MCH Director of Development and Communication Janet Rose, and the international team of ranchers, educators, students and volunteers she harnessed to present this first-ever national conference on natural horsemanship in the 21st century.

The conference message, “Think natural, act respectful perpetuating the Western tradition,” was reflected in ranch tours, award-winning films and presenters, demonstrations in natural horsemanship, dynamic panels, performances by students under Road to the Horse Collegiate Colt Starting Championship team coach and MCH Director of Horsemanship Education, Eric Hoffmann, and inspiring keynote speakers Dr. Temple Grandin, and Dr. Barbara Baker, President Emeritus of the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium, the only zoological institution in the world to incorporate natural horsemanship into wildlife management.

Dr. Grandin spoke twice during the conference, opening Friday on Sustainable Ranching – A Western Legacy for Future Generations and addressing Understanding Autism, Animal Behavior and Equine Therapy before Saturday’s roundtable.

William Kriegel, co-founder of the Montana Center for Horsemanship and La Cense Method Natural Horsemanship, presented Dr. Grandin with the conference’s EQUINE Icon Award in recognition of her groundbreaking work building greater understanding of autism, equine and all-animal behavior and said, “We all have a dream to communicate better. It is the same dream for all of us.”#eliteequestrian

On Saturday, Kriegel presented Iola “Olie” Else, UMW Chair of Equine Studies and two-time (2004, 2018) National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Coach of the Year with the Horse, Human and Nature Conference’s Lifetime Achievement Award before the evening’s film awards.

Unreined also earned three Craft Awards, for cinematography, script and direction, and Zeitlin accepted the 2021 Visionary Heroine Award from Rose, who called her a horsewoman who, “Exemplifies ‘vision.’ Who sees the power of the horse to transcend controversy, governments, politics and war.”

Cowboys: A Documentary Portrait, tied with Unreined for Best Documentary Feature and was honored with a Special Award for highlighting equine and human traditions of the American West.  Cowboys will have its Missoula, Montana premier November 4-5, during a special highlights edition of the film festival to benefit Montana Center for Horsemanship and Horse Haven Montana.

Other multiple award winners included Pass the Safe Act, for both Best Call to Action and Best Advocacy; Stallion of a Dream, Vision Award and Legacy Award recipient for helping keep alive a rare breed, plus a Merit Award for best use of rare and archival footage; 500 Miles, for Best Documentary Short (produced by Heroes and Horses) and the Journey Award, for honoring those who came home from war to find peace, solace and hope through horses; White Angels of Camargue for Best Non-Broadcast and Best Independent; Gallop NYC for Best Nonprofit film of, by and about a nonprofit organization, and Best Film About Therapeutic Riding.

Desert Flight earned the Excellence Award for Truest Portrayal of the Horse-Human Bond and was runner-up finalist for Best of Festival. The Best Training Film Award went to Ashley Mancuso/Ash Equine Productions for Yoga on Horseback. Wild Lands, Wild Horses won Best Portrayal of the Wild Horse Issue in America Merit Award for illuminating the lives and work of wild horse photographers. Riders of Destiny was recognized with the Spotlight Award for presentation of a complex cultural racing tradition. The Best Student Film Award went to Tighten the Reins and, catching up post-Covid, Leila Pages accepted her 2018 Best Documentary Feature Award (tie) for Freedom Tracks.

During one of the most powerful commentaries on horse sense and scientific fact, Gallop NYC spokeswoman and former Brown University equestrian team captain Lauren Reischer explained why natural horsemanship — despite how unnatural it might look to entrust a disabled person to a horse – works.

“Horses,” she said, “have the largest amygdala of all mammals on earth.” Best known as the part of the brain driving the fight or flight response, Reischer reminded her audience how it is also the part of the brain where emotions and memories are processed.

“Horses are uniquely capable for this (therapeutic) work. The equine amygdala is highly advanced in its capacity for empathy. They choose to empathize with us and make memories with us,” she continued. “Horses remember how you left them the last time they saw you.”

Those who came to Dillon, Montana for this Horse, Human and Nature Conference will remember, too.

Reported/photos by: L.A. Sokolowski,


  1. Montana Center for Horsemanship
  2. Stephen Williams of Desert Flight, Excellence Award winner, and MCH co-founder, William Kriegel of the La Cense Natural Horsemanship Method
  3. Elite Equestrian’s equinista, LA Sokolowski, and partner Charles Joseph Berry at the film awards during the Horse, Human and Nature Conference in Montana