Following the death of his estranged father, reclusive bronze artist Sam Hayes returns to the ranch of his childhood in a remote part of southeastern Oregon. In a dry spell and searching for inspiration to carve the wax that will become his next piece, he finds solace in his land yacht, sailing across a dry lakebed adjacent to the ranch. One morning he nearly collides with a wild mustang. Strangely, the stallion studies him, flaring his nostrils to smell him before galloping away in the alkali dust.
With help from George, an aging Native American who’s stayed on at the ranch along with housekeeper Juanita, Sam sets up a bronze studio in an unused barn where he stumbles upon a diary that belonged to his father. It describes the wild mustangs he studied and how they might be a pure genetic remnant of Spanish mustangs brought to the new world centuries ago. But Sam has more to deal with than creative block and wild horses; he’s facing bankruptcy and his 12-year-old son Mike is about to arrive for the summer. Meanwhile, in the hills that border the Steens Mountain Protection Area, Southwestern Mines president Alan Whitlock presides over a survey party staking out the boundaries for a massive open pit mine.
When Mike arrives from Los Angeles history seems destined to repeat itself. Sam hasn’t seen him in six years and the boy has feelings of abandonment. Though Sam tries to break the ice by showing his son a distant herd of wild mustangs, their relationship suffers further when Sam joins a legal fight to stop the mine. But George befriends Mike, becoming his spiritual teacher, and believing direct interaction with the mustangs will bring father and son together, he finds a dozen of the horses and leads them back to the ranch.
It’s soon apparent the mustangs are exceptional as Sam connects with Dancer, a mare his father had trained and set free. Sam teaches Mike to ride to the boy’s surprised delight, and realizing they need proof of the mustangs’ ancestry to fight the mine, Sam contacts University of Kentucky geneticist Ellen James. Fascinated by Sam's story, Ellen tests a blood sample and proves the mustangs are not only direct descendants of the Spanish explorer’s mounts, but their DNA no longer exists anywhere else in the world. As a romance develops between Sam and Ellen, it strengthens his resolve and he takes Dancer to a cow cutting competition in Sacramento. If he wins, the prize money could save the ranch and help protect the mustangs. After placing second, however, all seems lost until a wealthy horse breeder joins forces with him.
But it’s too late. The mining interests target the herd for destruction when it becomes a roadblock to their plans. In a nightmare scenario, most of the herd is poisoned at a remote watering hole, and the mustangs are further threatened when Whitlock’s henchmen raid Sam’s ranch, releasing the rest of the herd and endangering Mike in the crossfire. In a last ditch effort to stop the mine and save the mustangs, Sam must make his case before a judge in Burns, Oregon to reveal the true nature of Whitlock, whose greed may cause the genetic extinction of one of the most graceful creatures on Earth.
The Steens Kiger screenplay is available upon request for those interested in this project. Please contact us for a link to the screenplay and treatment, and other information.