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Equus - Story of the Horse

The horse changed everything. From the moment humans mounted these magnificent animals, we shaped our world with horsepower. Join anthropologist Niobe Thompson on a global journey to explore the evolution of horsepower, discover the mysterious origins of our incredible partnership, and witness our enduring love of horses in the present day.

  • Niobe Thompson
    Boy Nomad, The Great Human Odyssey, Vital Bonds, The Perfect Runner
  • Niobe Thompson
  • Niobe Thompson
    Fast Horse, Boy Nomad, The Great Human Odyssey, The Perfect Runner
  • Niobe Thompson
    Key Cast
    The Great Human Odyssey, The Perfect Runner, Code Breakers, Inuit Odyssey
  • Project Type:
  • Runtime:
    52 minutes
  • Completion Date:
    November 1, 2018
  • Production Budget:
    2,500,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
  • Country of Filming:
    Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, United States
  • Language:
  • Shooting Format:
    4K Digital, Sony F55, RED Epic
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
Distribution Information
  • Film Option International
    Country: Worldwide
    Rights: All Rights
Director Biography - Niobe Thompson

Canadian anthropologist and filmmaker Niobe Thompson is well known around the world for his engaging and accessible on-screen presence. Combining the roles of producer, director and host, Niobe has developed a unique style of adventure and science storytelling the Globe & Mail calls “indescribable, but brilliant.” The recipient of four Canadian Screen Awards and eleven nominations, his three-part exploration of human origins, GREAT HUMAN ODYSSEY, was nominated for an Emmy and won the Canadian Screen Award for “Best Science and Nature”. His feature-length documentary MEMENTO MORI was the first film in history to capture on screen the death of a patient and the decision of his family to donate his organs. Niobe is the founder and owner of the boutique production company Handful of Films.

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Director Statement

“No other animal has done more for us,” says Series Producer Niobe Thompson. “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 Thompson takes viewers on an epic journey across 11 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, explore the evolution of horsepower, discover how our ancestors tamed the horse, and learn fascinating new insights into the body and mind of this captivating animal.

To bring the science to life, Thompson travelled the globe with his film crew for 18 months, taking his audience on a genuine journey of discovery. Thompson learns by doing with horse nomads in Arabia, Siberia and Mongolia, travels into the field with archeologists, geneticists, and horse psychologists, and above all, gets friendly with horses everywhere he goes. “For thousands of years, our world completely revolved around horses,” says Thompson. “But what do we really know about how our partnership began?”

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? We learn from English horse psychologist Karen McComb that horses have rich emotional intelligence, and 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. And we get to learn his secrets as he starts an “unbroken” 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. “For the first riders, mounting this magical creature must have felt like breaking a law of nature”, says Thompson. And Danish geneticist Eske Willerslev echoes the sentiment at the site of the Kazakh dig, where he’s hoping for a tooth and DNA to reveal new findings: “It’s a massive freedom. It’s like, inventing the car. Getting on a horse, travelling wherever you want, for almost as long as you want. It’s a game changer in human history!”

EQUUS is also on the scene for a genuine science scoop. Viewers will be 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 team returned to Kazakhstan, where 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.

To learn how horsepower made the ancient nomad way of life possible, Thompson joined a never-before-filmed winter migration with Mongolian horse nomads across the Altai Mountains. A true extreme-weather expedition, much of it shot from horseback at high altitude in mid-winter.

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. We meet the Yakutian, at home in the coldest inhabited place on Earth (Siberia). The Arab, a spirited horse happy to gallop across the scorching sands of the Arabian Desert. And the elite Thoroughbred, a breed of super-specialized sprinters descended from one of three 18th-century stallions.

On Canada’s Sable Island, Thompson visits the only truly wild horses on Earth, now evolving in unexpected ways without human intervention.

And in a thrilling 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.

Extremely rare in our digital age, viewers of EQUUS are in for a treat with a live orchestral score composed by Darren Fung, recorded with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra and ProCoro Canada at Edmonton’s Winspear Centre.

EQUUS STORY OF THE HORSE was written, directed and produced by Niobe Thompson for Handful of Films, in association with CBC’s The Nature of Things. Caroline Underwood is Executive Producer and Sue Dando Executive in Charge for CBC. Director of Cinematography is Daron Donahue and Senior Editor is Brenda Terning. Composer is Darren Fung. Equus – Story of the Horse was produced in association with PBS “Nature” and PBS “NOVA”, Taglicht Media (Germany), Kazakhstan State Broadcasting and Danmarks Radio.