Since the days are now both shorter and colder, and the promise of rain is here, we may have to get our “horse fix” tucked beneath a blanket on the couch watching “horsey” movies. One movie that should be on your “Rainy Day Watch List” is “Unbranded”; the story of four men, fresh out of Texas A&M University, who adopt, train, then ride a group of wild mustangs from Mexico to Canada. The quartet and 16 mustangs start in Mexico, enter the US in Texas and make their way through the western side of the middle section of the US, entering into Canada through Montana’s Glacier National Park – four months later.
The film was really an afterthought in terms of what the four men who began this journey truly wanted to do. There are thousands of wild horses roaming free in the United States, but due to a variety of factors, the BLM is forced to round up nearly 50,000 of these horses and put them into corrals for adoption. The men wanted to throw a spotlight on this issue, to show people that mustangs are fantastic horses and thus encourage their adoption. They also wanted to experience the “open spaces” that are left in this country…before they are gone. One of riders, Ben Masters, is touted as saying that the idea came to he and his friends “while drinking tequlia”. They raised over $170,000 on Kickstarter in 45 days to begin making preparations for their journey, and then were lucky enough to find producers Cindy Meehl and Dennis Aig, who were interested in making the “journey” into a film to share with the world.
Unbranded : At Its Heart A Documentary
The film is at its heart a documentary of the actual events of the four month long trip. It begins with the men choosing their mustangs, briefly shows the training involved, and documents the events of the 3,000 mile trek. The cinematography really stands out, and when you consider the setting – one of the last bands of vast, mostly-open space of the western side of the middle band of the US – you realize that it would be hard not to get some really stunning footage. Talented cameramen show their skill with unique lighting, angles, and wide shots of untamed, mostly uninhabited land, which is inhabited in this footage by the men and the mustangs.
We ride along, per se, with the four men as they find trails, make camp, get stuck, get bored, get lost, lose things, find things, meet people, get upset with each other, and appreciate one another – all expected outcomes of an undertaking of 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada on horseback. Yet there are a few unexpected events that keep things interesting. Along the way we are introduced to ideas and thoughts regarding the plight of the wild mustang and the ever-shrinking land on which they live, from a variety of perspectives such as: The BLM, the protesters, veterinarians and ranch managers and the riders themselves as they experience these hardy horses first hand. The trail takes a toll on the horses and the riders, yet this solidifies the value of the mustang breed and the focus of the cowboys.
Unbranded : Wrestles With a Variety of Issues
If you are looking for material to back a “let them alone” position only you won’t find it in this movie. You will hear thoughtful insight from the BLM perspective, a nod to the protesters, and factual information from a veterinarian, ranch and land managers. You will be left to evaluate the info and form your own opinion. One other main thought to wrestle with is accessible open space. This, in the end, seems to be the primary push of the documentary, which starts out under the premise of proving the hardiness of the mustang breed. When the movie is over you will be left to consider many different issues.
However, you will have enjoyed the scenery, the horses, and the western life-style that is becoming less common “out west”.
Some viewers will simply be satisfied with the beautiful scenery and enjoy the obvious care and concern these cowboys have for their trusty mounts. Others might be bothered by the seemingly pro-BLM stance the movie takes. However, the movie definitely helps us all appreciate the value of the wild mustangs and the sparse and challenging terrain in which they reside, which molds and shapes the hardiness of this special “home-grown” breed.
Unbranded stars the real cowboys who take the trek, Ben Masters, Johnny Fitzsimmons, Ben Thamer, and Thomas Glover and 16 mustangs. It is directed by Philip Baribeau, and produced in 2015 by Gravitas Ventures : Fin and Fur Productions, LLC. Unbranded is rated PG-13 for language and some intense situations. It is available through the Unbranded website, through Amazon and can be purchased in other formats.
Main Image: Unbranded the Film