“Molly Hallam knew what Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre was looking for in a horse, and in the end, traveled all over to find a horse with the right look and temperament for the kind of trained behavior needed for the movie,” says DeMayo.

Both Clermont-Tonnerre and Hallam visited two of Return to Freedom’s sanctuary locations on California’s Central Coast, looking at horses being prepared for adoption that had been born at the sanctuary.

“A trainer and farrier who has worked with us on large rescue projects since 2011, Thomas Smittle, was hired to appear in the movie playing Thomas Youngblood, so we felt comfortable having our horses on the set,” says DeMayo. “Molly and Laure were also very open, and we were able to visit and check on the horses at any time.”

DeMayo says the horses were well looked after during the filming.

“They were basically the heroes of the movie,” she says. “The set was managed like a training facility, with the horses being handled and cared for pretty much all day.”

According to DeMayo, Clermont-Tonnerre has a very compassionate nature, which comes across in her film.

“It was clear to me that she felt passionately about telling a moving story about the prison program, and about the very individual and personal experiences inmates have while working with the horses,” she says. “I could see that she was really focused on what working with the horses gave to the men.”

By the film’s end, both Coleman and Marquis have learned a lot about love and trust. And judging by the photos of actual prisoners and their Mustangs that appear during the final credits, they are not alone.

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine.