What I love most about being horseback in the high country is the amount of time I have to think. With the exception of fly-fishing, it’s the only time in my life when I have hours on end, away from cell service, to really ponder and reflect. A few weeks ago I was packing out of a gnarly, boulder-strewn mountain range, deep in thought after a week-long elk hunt. It had snowed for two hours and we were freezing, but eventually a weak, autumn Montana sun peeked through the clouds, turning the white wonderland into a spectrum of red, purple, and orange. My saddle horse, Violet, was attacking the trail at his normal three miles per hour. Behind me, six more of the Unbranded mustangs were strung out in a perfect line. They excel at their job.
It’s been a long year since the Unbranded ride finished on September 6, 2013. Since then, my life has largely been spent in front of a computer, which is the opposite of packing through the mountains. We’ve written a 188-page book, and 10,000 copies are being printed right now, which is terrifying because I’ve never written a book, much less sold that many copies of one. Unbranded the movie is almost finished. Only color correction, graphics, and sound composing remain. When you watch it, you can’t help but want to adopt a mustang and take pride in conserving the open spaces of the West. The film is entertaining, emotional, beautiful, fair, and beyond my wildest expectations. Watching someone who’s never heard about our project laugh, cry, and at the end of the movie want to know more about land management in the West is very satisfying.
The book is finished and hitting stands in January. The movie is in its final stages. Now we’re planning to get Unbranded, and the message it carries, to the masses. We’ll be showing Unbranded at film festivals for four to six months in 2015, the exact dates depending on when it premiers. After the film fests, we want you to be able to see Unbranded in theaters. We hope to have select showings throughout the country because seeing it on a big screen is so much better than on a laptop. From there, DVDs will be available as well as Unbranded on iTunes and other video services. It’s a full time job, and not a particularly lucrative one, to keep Unbranded driving forward. There are so many unknowns. How will Unbranded be accepted? Will Unbranded make a difference in wild horse management? How will we distribute? There is no crystal ball, but we’re betting all of our money, time, and effort that the American public will care about an adventure story with a message of conservation, adoption, and inspiration.
Sitting on my horse deep in the backcountry, traveling through the ephemeral winter light after a week’s absence from the modern world, thoughts of advertising, distribution, social media, budgets, and promotion seemed ridiculous. It made me question, not for the first time, why in the world it seemed like a good idea to ride 3,000 miles across the West and make a documentary. Then I looked at the horse I was sitting on, doomed for a life of boredom in a holding pen until I adopted him. And I thought about how lucky I was to be surrounded by millions of acres of incredible public land stretching as far as I could see, something many Americans don’t know is theirs and can’t appreciate. That moment gave me reassurance—of our journey, the documentary, and the blood, sweat, and tears that have been poured into Unbranded. The land and horses are worth it.