DUBAI: Growing up in a rural town in Australia, Robin Wiltshire was, in his own words, “the runt of the litter.” His authoritarian grandfather said he would never amount to anything, and Wiltshire — unable to read and write aged 10 — believed him. His grandfather was wrong, though. Wiltshire is now one of the most respected horse trainers in the world, and has worked with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
The new short Netflix documentary “My Heroes Were Cowboys” tells how Wiltshire — inspired by a love of Westerns and a fascination with horses — moved to the US in the Seventies, dreaming of working with animals on movie sets. His timing was not great. “Star Wars” had just come out and Westerns were rapidly going out of fashion. However, Wiltshire found a home in Wyoming (director Tyler Greco shows, through sweeping panoramas of breathtaking landscape, why Wiltshire was so struck by Wyoming’s beauty), and began working with horses. In his understated drawl, Wiltshire explains how his third horse, Juniper, “changed my life completely” and briefly breaks down when describing his friend’s death.
Wiltshire’s big break came with a commercial for Marlboro cigarettes, and he has gone on to work on countless advertising campaigns, TV shows and movies. But “My Heroes Were Cowboys” spends little time celebrating Wiltshire’s showbiz career and connections. Instead, it focuses on Wiltshire’s lifetime spent building an unparalleled understanding of horses. And the horses are its real stars.
Greco captures their majesty, grace and intelligence with the same empathy Wiltshire uses to build his relationships with animals that often arrive at his ranch traumatized and distressed. Wiltshire uses no physical coercion; he simply allows the animals to be themselves and shows them he can be trusted. They repay his trust by allowing themselves to be directed by him.
This beautifully shot doc packs more into its 27-minute runtime than many feature films manage in a couple of hours. It’s a triumph of storytelling and a tribute to the bond of unquestioning love that can exist between humans and animals when the latter are treated with the respect they deserve.