Directed by: Phillip Baribeau
Starring: Ben Masters, Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover, Ben Thame
Riding recently broken mustangs across mountains, high rivers, deep canyons and plains that make up the 3,000 miles of American land from the Mexican broader to the Canadian border might be something you would find in-the-edge-of your-seat-thrilling-western-adventure-movie, which in this case is true. But the film is not about the dangers of a mustangs retaining some of their wildness and can revert if provoked, traveling down a narrow hiking trail into the Grand Canyon or a rearing horse sending a rider to his death. No, it is about the war of destroying a legacy: the last free and wild horses of America. The riders’ project takes place in the context of a debate over the treatment of the wild horses that roam public lands in the American West.
A hotly debated topic that many activists argue over the fact that wild horses are endangered. Unbranded doesn’t dive into the history of these descendants of the Spanish mustangs introduced by the conquistadors and once numbering in the millions. But under pressure from ranchers and conservationists who complain the mustangs are destroying cattle grazing land, the Bureau of Land Management has corralled 50,000 equines in holding pens in government facilities, awaiting adoption. A wait, that unfortunately for many, never happens.
Ben Masters, the engaging leader of there adventure, offers various explanations for what he is doing: perhaps he’s proving how mustangs outperform domestic horses; maybe he’s just committed to getting his team of four humans and a rotating cast of horses from border to border.
The star mustang of the film, Luke, a palomino, was also the star of the “after showing” photos that were taken after special screenings in location in the west. Once the filming of Unbranded was finished, Luke was sold at auction in Fort Worth, TX to the O’Brien family of Tulsa, Oklahoma for $25,000. The proceeds went to the Mustang Heritage Foundation to help other mustangs find forever homes. A few months later, the O’Briens gave Luke back to Ben Masters saying Luke belong to Ben.
We wanted to inspire wild horse adoptions, but the fact that there is still a stretch of largely undeveloped land all the way from Mexico to Canada that you can still ride horses through is an appeal that I couldn’t resist. I don’t know if that route will exist in 10, 20, 50, or 100 years, and I wanted to see those landscapes now. The timing was also right in my life. I’d just finished college and wanted to do something that wasn’t “normal” by society’s standards and to learn more about myself. Getting to spend five months in the backcountry without cell phone reception also really gives you a huge amount of respect for nature and land stewards.– Ben Masters
Yes, I was definitely scared during parts of this adventure. I was scared Phil snapped his femur when he took a crushing kick, that Dinosaur would die when he fell off the cliff and that we’d never find our horses when they ran 40 miles away. We had human injuries, horse injuries, fatigue, dangerous terrain, dangerous wildlife and a host of other things that can injure someone or put a halt to the trip. —Ben Masters
I wanted to show people how many big landscapes still exist in the American West, build pride in them and make people feel like keeping open landscapes is important. I also hope “Unbranded” inspires other people to take their big journey whether that’s a horseback ride, backpack trip, kayak, climb, starting a business or whatever it is that is your dream. I also hope that “Unbranded” shows viewers that the wild horse issue isn’t black and white and that keeping wild horse populations at the appropriate level is crucial for the health of the rangeland and everything that relies on it. Because wild horses are such beautiful, majestic and spiritual animals, reducing their population is very difficult because there are a lot of emotions, love, and affection towards them. —Ben Masters
Also, Unbranded will be screened at the Equus Film Festival NYC in November!
There also the “Unbranded book! The hardcover is US $40.00 and the softcover is Us $25.00 , total of 188 pages, which you can buy here.
Thanks for reading and hope to meet you at the AMC Rockaway 16 Theater in Rockaway, NJ! What can be better the horses and gorgeous scenery?!
Huh? What? Well, I will believe that when I see flying Shetlands !