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Unbranded talks with NickerNews, Part One

Published: 7/7/2013
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Editor’s Note:
A few years ago, Ben Masters took a 2,000 mile backcountry adventure from Santa Fe, New Mexico, to the Canadian border.
Now, the Texas A & M graduate has masterminded Unbranded, the documentary film in-the-making of four friends, 14 BLM mustangs, and a BLM burro as they travel from the Mexican to Canadian borders.
NickerNews was thrilled to interview Masters just as the group crossed into Idaho. The milestone puts them at just over halfway of their 3,000-mile journey.

Part One of this multi-part interview series:

NN: You did an immense amount of planning. Are things going as you imagined?

Masters: There are so many variables that are outside of your control that you can’t really anticipate a lot of the things that are going to happen to you.
So I don’t try to imagine what its going to be like….But I’ve been absolutely blown away by the scenery we’ve gone through. Arizona. I had absolutely no idea that the southwest, especially that desert country could be so beautiful in the spring or summer time.
That’s been my biggest shock just how neat the scenery has been and also the lack of people that we’ve come across.

NN: How often to you see other people?

Masters: Depends on our location. If we’re in the backcountry, it may be two or three days before we see anyone. But we have to move from one National Forest to another National Forest, we may see a hundred people if we’re going through town or whatever.
On our route we generally avoid them, but it’s nice to drop down into town and get something to eat every once in a while.

NN: Your journey will be a film documentary. How often do you have other people with you?

Masters: We have a cameraman with us about 80 percent of the time. There are two cameramen. They alternate out. Cameraman One for 10 days. Then Cameraman Two for 10 days.
Then we’ll have a week off with no cameraman. It goes through cycles. That way, they can stay fresh. They can stay energized. Running all over the mountains getting footage is a real task.

NN: And how many animals are you working with?

Masters: We have 14 horses and a donkey.
We have four pack horses and five saddle horses. The remainder are loose. They are just following behind. So they’re getting a day off. We rotate through.

NN: How many miles are you doing and do your horses have shoes?

Masters: We ride approxiamately 20 miles a day.
Yes, we have to have shoes. If they were barefoot, our horses made it maybe 300-400 miles before they completely wore through their hooves. They cannot do this without shoes.

NN: Can all of you put on and take off shoes if you need to?

Masters: We can, but we aren’t professionals. So we try to get a professional shoer to come out and do it for us whenever we need to if possible. We can do it but I don’t want to risk our horses feet if I can get a professional to do it.

NN: Twenty miles is a lot of work. Do you have to supplement grazing with any grain?

Masters: We do give them grain…Not as often as I’d like. We try to pack some with us…That also helps keep them close to camp if there’s food around.
We give them about five pounds of grain every other day. Not really enough, but it’s the maximum amount we can take with us. It weighs a lot.

NN: How are horses holding up?

Masters: We adopted them in November. On average horses are 75 to 100 pounds heavier [that they were then].
They are trim.
They are in marathon shape.
They are in unbelievable shape. We’ll climb a hill that’s a thousand feet elevation and they don’t even break into a sweat.

Read more:
Zen masters could learn from these here cowboys. Part Two of our series.
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7/8/2013 Nancy Bachman
I 'am so very impress with your need to care for the horses in the proper way ...horses made it possible for our ancestors to build this country. I really respect u young men .....u r all awesome ..thanks for sharing such beautiful country & all your events (good & bad )...loved the article on the jumping cactus ..I remember them as a child ..they jumped on me a few times ...again thanks ..
7/8/2013 Beth
You guys totally amaze me. I can only dream.....
8/24/2013 Bud wellmon
I was the man who John Fitzsimmons let come to your sendoff party at the San Pedro Ranch in March. I had the rawhide panyards that I tied with a doublediamond hitch. Ben liked the panyards better than the knot.I have 6 mules now by mustangs from the Kiger Canyon in Oregon.Rode one the 100 mile trail down Canyon de Chelly and del Muerto in late June.Needed a Navajo and lots of water. Never got below 100 degrees during the day. Blair called Cena Alexander the A.M. I left you guys and Buster as well as Shaila Welch were at her place outside of Sisterdale when I arrived.I would have driven another 1,000 miles just to see them.Anxious to see your film.I was much impressed with you and your crew,friends and families.I've got 22 horses and 11 well broke mules and now I just need a few good people who can and want to replicate your trip with me.If you know anyone capable and interested please let me know.If they can provide their groceries I can furnish animals,tack and transportation for the horses and mules to the starting point.They can also come to my place in East Texas or the Llano where the most seasoned mules will winter and chose their mounts. Congratulations, wish I could have went with you.
10/29/2016 Rob Rowbottom
Bud Wellman. Have you gone on this trip yet. I read Nicker News all the time but I missed this one. I ride almost everyday, work with problem horses, do logging for a living and if you are still planning this trip count me in. Rob

"Those who look down eventually get there" - Kip Rosenthal