If there’s one thing Ben Thamer and Ben Masters want a recent Amarillo audience to take away from the documentary “Unbranded,” it’s not about the beauty of wild mustangs or the issue of horse adoption and conservation.
Not at all.
“If there’s something you really want to do — I’m not saying go sail around the world — but take the time to do it while you can,” Thamer said. “Anything you can dream up, you can do. Don’t be afraid to go and do big things. Follow your passion for adventure.”
Thamer and Masters, both of Amarillo, were half of the four young cowboys who did what’s never been done — trained 16 wild mustangs in 2013 and then took them 3,000 miles from the Arizona-Mexico border to Canada, and did so in six exhausting months.
That experience, with its literal and figurative peaks and valleys, is chronicled in the well-received documentary, which had its Amarillo premiere earlier this month at the Globe-News Center for the Performing Arts and a screening in Lubbock on Thursday and became available Friday on iTunes.
“I want people to go on their own version of ‘Unbranded,’” said Masters, who lived in Amarillo just prior to his senior year in high school.
“The desire to go on an adventure is a very human thing. I don’t know how many regret doing one, but a lot more regret not doing one.”
There was no regret among Masters and Thamer, Thomas Glover and Jonny Fitzsimmons — all graduates of Texas A&M University — but it would be greatly romanticizing the ride to say it did not test their endurance and tenacity to the very end.
“I was really ready to be done,” said Thamer, a 2007 Amarillo High graduate who now works for a local cattle operation.
“I had about all the John Wayne I could stand. I realized I got my fill of living like a mountain man. I hope to strike a balance between being outdoors all the time and a more traditional lifestyle.”
Even Masters, who devised the ride and lives for the outdoors, was weary at the end.
“When we finished, it was time,” he said. “We were tired. The horses were tired. It had been nearly six months and we were ready to be done. Now two years later, I just wish I could go back and relive some of those moments.”
That’s easily done with the documentary, a Fin & Fur Film directed by Phil Baribeau.
In April, it was shown at Hot Docs, the Canadian International Documentary Film Festival in Toronto.
About 600 documentaries are submitted to the world’s biggest documentary film festival, of which 200 were chosen. “Unbranded” won the audience award for top documentary. It got a similar reaction at the Telluride (Colo.) Mountainfilm Festival.
“That was really neat,” Masters said of the Toronto recognition.
“That’s primarily an urban audience, which you wouldn’t think would necessarily be a target audience. So to get that kind of response made us feel really good.
“It’s a funny movie. A lot of documentaries aren’t funny. A lot make you feel bad about yourself.”
Two cameramen alternated about every 10 days on the ride. Masters estimated they were on 70 percent of the trip and became the unseen cowboys. They used drones effectively.
The group may have been the only ones to ever take horses from rim to rim in the Grand Canyon, and the doc included some harried footage along narrow trails where a false step meant the end.
The group was also fitted with Go-Pro cameras, of which some footage was used of Thamer getting kicked in the mouth by a perturbed horse.
“They just didn’t video three hours a day,” Thamer said.
“If there was anything going on, they usually had a camera on it. The first time I watched it, I thought, ‘Oh, man, make us look good.’ There’s four 23-year-old guys who don’t necessarily want everything in a movie.”
It’s an honest look, full of ups and downs that even includes sort of a “Blazing Saddles” campfire scene, if you know what I mean. There’s an argument or two, including a bit of a surprise at the end.
Fitzsimmons decided at the end not to ride with the other three the last mile into Canada, but instead struck out on his own.
That caused friction then, but now there’s a bit of understanding, or at least grudging acceptance.
It was two years ago that the ride ended. They’ve long since separated.
Thamer’s in his hometown.
Masters, who married in May, currently lives in Houston. So does Glover.
Fitzsimmons lives in San Antonio.
“As far as where this fits into my life,” Thamer said, “I don’t want it to be the first part of my obit, that this was his biggest success that he went across the country with horses and made this documentary. But still, it was quite the experience.”