Horse movies are notoriously unreliable. (I know, an oxymoron). They're too weepy, too syrupy, too unbelievable, just TOO. Sometimes, as in the case of "Secretariat" or "Seabiscuit", the horse is distinctly a side character, merely the base for what was, in reality, a chick flick with horsehair. Up until now, the only horse movie I truly liked was "War Horse". While it had some stretches of incredulity, in general it was probably the best horse movie I'd ever seen.
Now I've seen another.
Last night I watched "Unbranded". This isn't a movie. It's a documentary. Produced by a wildcat bunch under the moniker "Fin &Fur Productions", "Unbranded" was funded by Kickstarter!
"Unbranded" documents the efforts of four Texas A& M graduates to train and ride 10 mustangs across the U.S., from the Mexican border to the Canadian.
(for my European readers, Texas A&M is an 'agricultural college" in Texas. Students are known as "Aggies". For the life of me, I cannot find what the M stands for unless it's Machinery. I don't know. But I do know that the college is primarily one for students of the land: farmers and ranchers. They have a veterinary college, I think) (The Aggies, too, have an undeserved reputation for being louts and clods. One of the many Aggie jokes is: Why does Aggie football stadium have synthetic turf? To keep the cheerleaders from grazing during half time.)
The leader of the group, Ben Masters, has a dream...to adopt ten mustangs right off the range, break and train them to ride and pack, and then ride them from one border to the other. He recruits three other graduates. The horses are chosen from bands rounded up by the BLM (Bureau of Land Management), trained for 90 days by professionals to accept saddle and bridle, and then off they go.
They set off from somewhere in Arizona. This is the shakedown part of their so called 'cruise. They stick mostly to game trails and Forest Service roads. Indeed, almost all of their journey is in the backcountry (although I'm certain in some spots they had to be on pavement). As they progress north, you can see the men changing, maturing from college punks to men. As well, the horses change, too. They stop being green broke mustangs and turn into reliable saddle horses. Of course, being that they're riding, you see some incredibly beautiful scenery. You also see some hair raising terrain. You honestly wonder how in the hell did the horses make it across that part.
If nothing else, the movie demonstrates the incredible durability, the settled minds, the very essence of what makes a mustang a mustang. Your typical Quarter Horse in the barn would never have made the trip. These horses are TOUGH. They have good minds. They don't scare at much (except helicopters, dirt bikes and quads...machines used to chase them into captivity.). They're in incredible physical condition and almost all of them made the 3000 mile trip without problems.
As it's a documentary rather than a scripted movie, much of what's going on in the men's heads is left to the viewer. Still, it's so well produced it feels scripted.
Master's dream was for the same ten horses to go from border to border, with the same four men. You and I, being horsemen, know that Things Happen when horses are involved, and they do. I will tell you that while they ended the trip with ten mustangs, it wasn't with the same ten they began with. One had to be dropped because one of the young men failed to heed Wise Horseman's rule of never turning a horse out wearing a halter.
The movie is seamless, carries the plot from start to end, and is at once entertaining, informative and very, very good.
"Unbranded". See it.