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The Battalion

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Aggies make 3,000 mile journey to raise awareness for wild horse adoption

Fifty thousand wild horses are currently held in government pens awaiting adoption — a plight four Aggies were inspired to help fix by taming and riding 16 of them through the American West.

Their journey is chronicled in the book and documentary “Unbranded,” which was viewed in an advanced screening before a large audience — and former president George Bush — at the George Bush Presidential Library Wednesday evening. The film partnered with the Bush Foundation, which sponsored Wednesday’s event, and the accompanying book of the same title was published by the Texas A&M University Press.

“Unbranded”is a documentary that follows the journey of four Aggies and 16 mustangs across the American West. The documentary was filmed over a period of 5 months and 3,000 miles. The four riders started at the Mexican border and finished at the Canadian border. The group looked to raise awareness for the 50,000 wild mustangs living in captivity and the fragile ecosystem they inhabit.

Ben Masters, Class of 2012, spearheaded the idea and said he is glad he took an unconventional path after graduation to pursue something he was passionate about.

“I feel like there’s a lot of pressure for people to graduate and immediately get a corporate job and work your way up and never really take the time to do something you’re really passionate about,” Masters said. “I think a lot of people relate to ‘Unbranded’ in that way.”

Masters became interested in issues concerning wild mustangs during a previous ride in 2010. He learned that 50,000 wild mustangs live in pens due to a lack of adoptions and ecosystems. Out of this realization, the idea for “Unbranded” was born.

“You take a big risk and try to achieve a goal, and it’s a little bit crazy to see people watch the movie and … it’s really satisfying to also kind of spread the message of the wild horse adoptions through the film and through the book,” Masters said. “It’s really impactful to me seeing that it’s actually making a quantifiable difference.”

The film has partnered with the Mustang Heritage Foundation and is looking to inspire awareness and adoptions of wild mustangs. Kali Sublett, Executive Director of the Foundation, said she hopes the film does help improve the situation.

“Right now there is approximately fifty thousand wild horses out on the range and another fifty thousand in off-range corrals, which are holding facilities,” Sublett said. “Right now they’re getting adopted at a rate of about two thousand a year.”

“We create events that encourage awareness and adoption of the mustangs, just in hopes of getting more horses adopted and out of those holding pens; That’s really what we’re trying to do,” Sublett said. “And just to raise awareness so that people know that there are mustangs out there and that they are available for adoption.”

Masters graduated in Spring of 2012 with a wildlife biology degree and had the documentary filmed the summer of the following year. He recruited Thomas Glover, Ben Thamer, and Johnny Fitzimons, all Texas A&M graduates as well, to accompany him on the ride. The group originally tried getting a production deal with a television station but was unsuccessful.

“We got declined and declined and declined and then finally I just met… the guy who directed the film and he said let’s just raise money on Kickstarter and make it ourselves, so that’s what we did,” Masters said.

Dennis Aig, who produced the film, said the importance of the ride itself took precedence over the filming.

“Part of what we were trying to do was not let the film interfere with the ride, so it’s a really fine balance,” Aig said. “The unexpected was the biggest challenge, because you never knew what was going to happen and you had to be ready for it, and when it did happen, we dealt with it.”

Aig is a film professor at Montana State University and much of his film crew was comprised of his former students. He said one of the most interesting parts of the journey was watching young people change and adapt to the challenges.

“The four guys who left were different people by the time they got to Canada, and that’s just part of working with young people,” Aig said. “An experience like this is going to change you and I know it changed them and it also changed all of us, even those of us who are a little bit older.”

Fred McClure, Chief Executive Officer of the George Bush Presidential Library Foundation, took interest in the project and helped coordinate the idea to screen and promote the film with Texas A&M University.

“This began the idea of a collaborative effort between the Texas A&M University Press, the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences that resulted in this evening’s program,” McClure said.

The screening auditorium hosted a full house Wednesday night that included former President George Bush and President of Texas A&M University, Michael Young. A reception took place after the screening.

Masters said he is happy he took a path less traveled after after college and is glad to see the results of it.

“I’m really glad that I didn’t take a normal path after graduation; I went off and did something a little bit crazy and because of that I’ve got a really interesting resume, I’ve got a killer job, and I’m doing a lot of fun stuff,” Masters said.

“Unbranded” will again be shown Thursday at 6:30 PM in Rudder Theatre.

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