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Preview: The Nature of Things opens its new season with “Equus — Story of the Horse”

In 2015, director and anthropologist Niobe Thompson debuted “The Great Human Odyssey” as part of The Nature of Things. It won several awards, all deserved. Now Thompson is back with a new, and expansive, look at the life of an animal that has a close relationship with humans: the horse.

The three-part “Equus — Story of the Horse,” kicking off The Nature of Things’ new season on Sunday at 8 p.m.,  is an ambitious, masterful exploration into the animals through visits to 11 countries, three continents and trips back in time to delve deep into the human-horse relationship.

“No other animal has done more for us,” Thompson says in press materials for the program. “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?”

Much of Episode 1, “Origins,” does exactly that, with Thompson tracing back to the beginning of this proud, muscular beasts’ entrance to the world. He begins his journey in Saudi Arabia and the Bedouin people, who live on horseback and regard them as members of the family. His two-day experience into the desert is astride the Arab horse, a breed hardy, spirited, quick and able to handle the harsh climate thanks to some unique physical details. The Arab is one of the world’s oldest breeds, but it’s not the oldest.

That recognition is bestowed upon the 45 million-year-old Dawn Horse, a creature that led to modern horses. Tiny, forest roaming, vulnerable to predators, and a fruit eater, fossils of Dawn Horse are brought to stunning (and a humorous) life by evolutionary biologist Martin Fischer and Thompson’s team of 3-D animators. The changing of the planet from a greenhouse world to more temperate place meant the introduction of grasses and shrinking of the places a petite, chubby mammal could hide. So Dawn Horse ran and evolved into the tall, fit animal we recognize today.

With stunning visuals (the slow motion is simply amazing) and Darren Fung’s soundtrack, “Equus — Story of the Horse,” is a gem to behold and will likely garner more awards for Thompson. Future episodes of “Equus — Story of the Horse,” continue with “First Riders,” on Sept. 30 and “Chasing the Wind,” on Oct. 7.

The Nature of Things, “Equus — Story of the Horse,” airs Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of Handful of Films.