A soulful portrait of the connection between human and animal, 500 Miles profiles a unique rehabilitation program that promotes healing among United States veterans and wild, un-purposed horses.
The psychological toll of warfare often rears its ugly head once veterans return home from the battlefield. Struggling to gain their footing in a reality far removed from the extreme conditions to which they've grown accustomed, many of these brave souls linger without a positive direction or purpose. In the depths of their hopelessness, some resort to suicide.
Spearheaded by the non-profit Heroes and Horses program, 500 Miles is a project that allows these veterans an opportunity to face and overcome challenges in a constructive, life-affirming way. Their companions on this journey are a group of wild mustangs and burros who must undergo rigorous "gentling" training during a demanding trek across New Mexico and Arizona.
Horses like these are too often tamed through harshly disciplinary methods. They are essentially treated like slaves. The 500 Miles project approaches this process differently. It aims to establish a deeper connection of respect between the animals and their military veteran trainers. Both man and horse are on a similar journey; they must both face the most antagonistic aspects of their nature, battle an unforgiving landscape filled with physical and mental peril, and come out the other side with a renewed sense of spirit, purpose and belonging.
Accompanied by a team of veterinarians and other support personnel, the film crew captures the process by which the participating horses are chosen. We're introduced to 16 veterans who discuss the difficulties of acclimating back into society, and their desires to overcome their demons and reclaim a peaceful life with their children and spouses. We witness each obstacle in their arduous travels across mountainous terrain, and the trust that grows between each horse and their trainer along the way.
Of course, the central journey depicted in 500 Miles not only resonates with returning veterans and untamed horses. The filmmakers have crafted a metaphor for the challenges that each of us must conquer in order to find meaning in our own lives.