Movie Review: ‘Unbranded’ Doc Highlights Plight of Wild Horses

A still from "Unbranded"
A still from “Unbranded”

In the documentary, “Unbranded,” we follow Ben Masters, Jonny Fitzsimons, Thomas Glover, and Ben Thamer – recent graduates of Texas A&M University – as they travel 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada through public lands of Arizona, Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

The adventure is done on horseback with 16 wild mustangs that they adopted from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and trained for the journey. If you ever had a fantasy of being a cowboy, this film is for you.

The men and their horses in "Unbranded" travel on a narrow canyon path.
The men and their horses in “Unbranded” travel on a narrow canyon path.

But it’s more than just a cowboy fantasy movie. The men wanted to bring attention to the plight of wild horses in the U.S. Introduced to the country hundreds of years ago by the Spanish, horses are not native to North America. Yet, they have been allowed to run wild for years. The problem? Man, of course.

As people have taken over more land for themselves and for livestock, less land is left for the horses – not enough land. The BLM’s solution? Put 50,000 of them in captivity and let them wait for adoption – most of them waiting out their entire lives, of course. According to the film, activists claim that the BLM is systemically eradicating the horses to make room for livestock grazing.

Masters came up with the idea for the journey. “I wanted to prove the worth of these mustangs,” he says in the movie. According to him, the wild horses outperformed domestic horses in every way.

Ben Masters consults a map in "Unbranded"
Ben Masters consults a map in “Unbranded”

The men run across a host of challenges along their arduous five-month journey, and not just related to the varied terrain. Some of the challenges are a result of dealing with personalities – their own, as well as the personalities of the horses.

It’s a compelling film for a number of reasons. We get to watch people do something many of us would probably love to do but would never do. We also see beautiful footage of the American west, including Yellowstone National Park, Glacier National Park, and the Grand Canyon.

A still from "Unbranded"
A still from “Unbranded”

Most importantly, we learn about the problem of land and wildlife management – a problem that is vital for us to solve if we want to leave a proper legacy for our children.

Unbranded” is directed by Phillip Baribeau and opens nationwide today, Sept. 25, 2015, in theaters and on VOD. There is also a companion book available.


One response to “Movie Review: ‘Unbranded’ Doc Highlights Plight of Wild Horses”

  1. Keri Avatar

    This documentary is the most amazing work in a very long time promoting the wild mustang’s potential and the situation they are involved in with the ranchers, US Wildlife and those wishing to protect them. Most of all, this film shows our wonderous backcountry and just how beautiful it remains…as untouched as when the first explorers headed West! It is a MUST-SEE!!!

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