The ideal of the American West is wide open, undeveloped spaces. But we know that’s changed a lot. Fences and highways divide land and one consequence of that is the changing space available to wild horses.
Today, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management has about 50,000 of these horses and burros in its custody. A handful of young Texans are hoping to bring attention to these animals with a new documentary.
Their film “Unbranded” – now in theaters across the state – is four Texas boys on a wild horse journey. They were all buddies at Texas A&M. And they were doing what college buddies do when Ben Masters says he came up with the idea for the film.
“‘Unbranded’ started… well it actually started with tequila,” Masters says.
But more seriously, it was based on an earlier adventure they’d had. An adventure only cowboys at heart would come up with. “In 2010, two friends and I from Texas A&M – we didn’t have anything going on one summer and we were like, well let’s ride some horses all summer long,” Masters says.
So they did. They used their regular quarter horses but on a whim also adopted several wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management for just $125 each.
“And the mustangs that we used ended up doing a better job than the domestic horses that we had,” he says.
So Masters decided to up the ante. Do a longer ride, take along more wild horses, and film the whole thing. The result is “Unbranded.”
The film is part activism and part reality show – but its biggest ingredient is Texas boys on an adventure.
“Exactly what they did is the kind of thing that I like to see and I was kind of jealous when I heard about it. Would like to have gone along on something quite similar,” Sara Grimes says, who saw at the documentary at its premiere in Austin with her mother Sharon.
“It helps people understand the beauty of these animals that are out there roaming free and wild and it’s what the west was all about,” Sharon Grimes says.
Many in the cowboy chic crowd supported the film on Kickstarter. Ben Masters says it’s interacting with them that’s made him decide he wants to make more movies.
“I’ve seen the power of a documentary,” he says. “Whenever we go and we have an event for 400 or 500 people that are engaged in something that you created for an hour and a half and they come out and they’re thinking about the issues and they’re thinking about this wild horse situation in a new way.”
It’s not exactly what he set out to do at Texas A&M a few years ago… but, as he says in the film, it’s a journey that’s set him free in a way.
“Almost as if we have a lot in common with the horses. There’s not enough room out there for them and sometimes I feel like there’s not enough room for us,” Masters says in the film. “I think that we’re saving each other by doing this long trip – we’re getting them out of their captivity and they’re helping us get out of ours.”
“Unbranded” is in theatres across Texas now – as well as on video on demand.