Mountainfilm: “Unbranded”

Mountainfilm: “Unbranded”

“A simple journey, a complex problem and an epic journey” – straight from the horse’s mouth. Mountainfilm guest, photographer, author Ben Masters writes about his first movie, a doc about wild mustangs. “Unbranded” is also a book.


Passes/tickets for Telluride Mountainfilm here.

Unbranded started with cheap tequila, greasy enchiladas and a college buddy who wanted more than a degree, internship, 401k and home in the suburbs. We decided to skip a semester, gather a string of horses and ride 2,000 miles of the Continental Divide Trail for four months through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. We were broke at the time and adopted $125 of wild mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to use for the trip.

The adventure was incredible: the fly-fishing absurd, the adrenaline addicting and the lifestyle beautifully simple. I found a greater appreciation for the natural world and conservation efforts. I was also impressed with the mustangs and looked into the controversy surrounding them.

I discovered a simple animal in a complex problem. The BLM established appropriate management levels for wild horses to protect rangelands from overgrazing. When populations exceed that level, excess horses are gathered via helicopter and offered for adoption. Almost 50,000 wild horses and burros are in holding pens and pasture, costing taxpayers $43 million annually. The BLM spends most of its money feeding unwanted horses in pens, rather than managing them on the range. Considering livestock, wildlife and native vegetation, the appropriate management level for wild horses and burros on the range is 26,000. The current population: 50,000.

As the West becomes an increasingly difficult place for indigenous species to thrive because of development, drought and human impact, the culturally important but non-native overpopulated wild horse herds pose an ecological risk to delicate ecosystems. I wanted to do something about it: inspire mustang adoptions and bring attention to their plight.

I decided to take another journey, this time using all mustangs and traveling from Mexico to Canada through the deepest backcountry of the American West. I gathered a team of riders — Ben Thamer, Jonny Fitzsimons, and Thomas Glover — met adventure cinematographer Phill Baribeau and launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised over $170,000…


Continue reading here.

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