What Inspired the Unbranded Ride? Here's the answer, taken from the Unbranded book:
Unbranded started with cheap tequila and greasy enchiladas in one of the few places in the world where you can find people crazy enough to ride a horse for thousands of miles—Texas A&M University. Raising his glass, Parker Flannery, horse trainer, polo player, cowboy, adrenaline junky, and firm nonbeliever in lethargy, toasted to my proposition. Of course we should take a semester off school, save some money, gather a string of horses, and ride them through the state of Colorado. So we did. I recruited Mike Pinck- ney, whom I’d packed with in the mountains of Colorado, and the three of us rode horses through the entire state. We went ahead and rode through parts of New Mexico, Wyoming, and Montana while we were at it.
That trip was in 2010, and it really changed my life. We traveled over 2,000 miles in four months through untamed coun- try with few human inhabitants and great fishing. We were really broke and couldn’t afford all the good horses we needed, so we adopted some cheap, unwanted mustangs from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to supplement our quarter horses. Those unwanted wild horses ended up being the best horses we had, and on the next trip, they would carry us all the way to Canada. But the lifestyle was tough; it iced on us for the last two weeks, and when I finished that ride on September 22 with an empty belly, cold fingers, soaking wet clothes, and sore legs, I swore to myself that I’d never do a horseback trip again.
A few weeks later, after my fingers thawed out, after I’d gained ten pounds and bought new clothes, I began to plan another one. But this time it would be different; I’d learned from my mistakes. We would need more horses, horses bred for that kind of trip, more time, and a different route that avoided Colorado’s 12,000-foot snow-clad passes. I wanted to ride every single inch of the most backcountry route possible from Mexico to Canada, and I wanted to film it. The 2010 ride was so unusual and exciting that I felt confident people would want to watch a film of it. Making a movie couldn’t be that hard.
I also wanted to show people that mustangs aren’t the worthless beasts that are currently wasting away in holding pens but are excellent, usable stock, especially in the backcountry. Some of them make great mountain horses, they’re inexpensive, and they’re living symbols of the American West. Mustang management is also in dire need of policy change, and currently the only method of population control is adoption. By using mustangs, I hoped to inspire adoptions and educate viewers on the necessity of population control.
I ruminated over the idea for a couple years, looked at cameras, crunched numbers, and approached several production companies. The big ones wanted to bring large crews to the project and produce the reality junk typically shown on TV. I wanted the show to be raw and to tell the true story, documentary style, without a screenplay.
Finally, in Bozeman, Montana, I found the right man for the job, Phill Baribeau, one of the top adventure filmmakers in the industry. We put together a plan. All we needed was a crew of willing guys, a bunch of wild horses, some cameramen fit enough to do the job, and a couple hundred thousand dollars.
Everyone wants to go on a 3,000-mile, five-month-long pack trip until they really look at what it entails: hard work, no pay,no girls, dirty, expensive, slow, hot, dusty, sore—it’s not an easy commitment. To find the right crew I had to go to Aggieland. Jonny Fitzsimons, a new friend I’d met at a party, was the first to commit, and he was the perfect candidate. Jonny grew up on a cattle ranch near the Rio Grande in South Texas. A good horseman, he was also a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps. Jonny had worked at a guest ranch one summer in Wyoming and knew a bit about mountain travel. Jonny’s tour of duty in the marines didn’t begin until the fall, which allowed him the perfect time frame to go on the trip. Jonny committed to the trip within a few days of my bringing it up.
Thomas Glover was the next to commit. Tom and I were close friends in college, guided elk hunters in Wyoming one fall, and worked at the same dude ranch in Colorado. Tom grew up in the city of Houston but took to horses and the mountains like an old- school packer. He was exactly the type of guy you want in the backcountry when things go really wrong, really fast. He is also hilarious and pulls more than his weight, both import- ant traits in someone you have to live with for five months.
Ben Thamer was a childhood friend of mine and a close pal of Jonny’s at college. After Thamer graduated from Texas A&M, he started working at a feedlot in the Texas Panhandle. Thamer also led horseback trips for an outfit in Colorado during a college summer and spent a lot of time in high school wrangling at a kid’s camp. Thamer’s quick wit and willingness to be the cook made him ideal candidate number four. We had a good crew, now we just needed money, horses, and a production team to go out and make a movie.
When you need cash in Texas you go to the oil fields. It’s a hard, hot, and sweaty lifestyle, but the pay is great and they will work you ninety hours a week. So I went out to West Texas, lived on my brother’s couch, and screwed pipes together on a caliche pad in the Texas sun for four months to save up and buy a nice camera and lenses. When I had enough money, I quit and headed north to Montana with the intention of shooting a promotional video to use for fund-raising. I worked at Mountain Sky Guest Ranch for two weeks, where I shot footage of horses moving through the mountains. Then I spent two months filming pack trip elk hunts in Wyoming, and later two more weeks filming wild mustangs in the Pryor Mountains of Wyoming. I gave the footage to Phill Baribeau in Bozeman, where I learned that there is a lot more to making quality video than just having a nice camera. Although I got some fair shots, it just wasn’t enough to make a video of high enough quality to attract production funding. We needed better footage, with the entire crew and more action. We decided to bring a cameraman along to film the adoption and training of eleven wild horses to be used on the trip. That would be the exciting footage we needed to raise production money. To do that, we had to go to a mustang holding facility in Kansas.
I hope you enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed living and writing it. Preorder the Unbranded book!