To hear Ben Thamer tell of it, there's nothing more natural than a twentysomething saddling up and heading out for ride through the backcountry of the American West.
"A seed was planted when I was a kid. It probably stems from the show that taught me how to talk, Lonesome Dove," says the Amarillo native of his itch for adventure. He talks of riding in the shadows of cinematic heroes and living off the land as a lifelong dream.
That dream will be fulfilled when Thamer and college buddies Ben Masters, Thomas Glover and Jonny Fitzsimons embark on a 3,000-mile horseback trek along a nearly uninterrupted stretch of federal land that crosses the United States between Mexico and Canada.
Out of the 18 total horses going on the trip, 11 will be unbroken, untrained mustangs that the young men adopt from the Bureau of Land Management.
Staging stations along the way will serve to stock the four recent Texas A&M University graduates with food, provisions and, most importantly, horses. Out of the 18 total horses going on the trip, 11 will be unbroken, untrained mustangs that the young men will adopt from the Bureau of Land Management.
"We'll start the journey with them still being a little green," laughs Masters, the mastermind of the trip. He's confident that the wild horses will adapt quickly to their task.
Though the gesture seems a symbolic one — returning the mustangs to the land from whence they came — Masters assures that it serves a practical purpose as well. The horses are cheap and their bodies well-adjusted to the terrain. "They're really sure-footed and they don't lose weight," he adds.
If a current Kickstarter campaign goes as planned, the trip will be professionally filmed and turned into Unbranded, a documentary about "conservation, exploration and wild mustangs" that would follow all six months of the journey, from breaking the horses to crossing the Canadian border.
And if a five-minute teaser released in conjunction with the Kickstarter is any indication, it would make for a rugged and breathtaking tale.
"All four of us have had the experience of our lives being shaped and changed by the outdoors," says Thamer, who received his bachelors in agricultural economics from A&M. "Part of the message we're trying to get across with this film is that without doing something about it now, those public lands may not be there in the future."
"Part of the message we're trying to get across with this film is that without doing something about it now, those public lands may not be there in the future."
"I see two polarizing forces in land uses," says Masters, who grew up in Amarillo and San Angelo before studying wildlife biology and conservation in college — when he wasn't taking semesters off to guide elk hunts or spending summers on fly fishing excursions.
Like Thamer, he sees a place for compromise between those who want to drain the land of its natural resources, and those who want to leave it alone altogether.
At just 24 years old, and despite an upbringing without horses, Masters is no stranger to this sort of lifestyle: He rode a similar 2,000-mile route along the Continental Divide in the summer of 2010, during which he learned a lot about the land and more about himself — knowledge that will help the four on this longer journey.
Masters and Thamer aren't the only one with an affinity for the lifestyle. Glover, a Houston native who graduated with a degree in construction science last December, has worked as a wrangler and for an elk hunting outfitter. Fitzsimons, a history grad who grew up on a working cattle ranch in Carizo Springs, adds an element of urgency to the trip — he is scheduled to report for a Marine Corps commission on Nov. 1.
The four young men are set to leave, weather depending, on March 16, whether or not they have the funding to make a documentary out of their travels. But with just over two weeks to go on their Kickstarter, the guys are nearly halfway to their $150,000 goal.
Watch the trailer below, and see out how you can help by checking out the Kickstarter page for Unbranded here.