The photographs are breathtaking, the idea for the enterprise and how they were able to carry it out equally so.
In Unbranded, author Ben Masters tells the story of how he got the idea that what he really needed to do was to ride horses across the American West. He recounts how it started at Texas A&M University "one of the few places in the world where you can find people crazy enough to ride a horse for thousands of miles."
Masters had undertaken a long-distance riding trip with a friend -- four months and 2,000 miles -- on quarter horses. When he decided to do it again, he says he realized he needed a different kind of horse, one more adaptable to back country hardships.
He chose the mustang.
He writes that "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."
The story goes on to tell how he had to raise money for this project -- he worked inthe oil fields for four months to raise money for a really good camera. But then, as he wryly notes it takes more than a good camera to be successful, he needed a good cameraman. He found one in Montana and hired him to film the group's adventures.
The result was not only this book but a movie. Its elegant, elegiac prose and gorgeous photos of their 3,000 trip with 16 mustangs elevates it far beyond a simple coffee table tome. It's an adventure tale filled with heartache, challenge, triumphs and discouragements told by someone who says toward the end that "I often wished I lived in the year 1500, when nature dominated the continent." ]
But since he can't, he says, he's dedicated himself to conserve nature in the best way possible. Few of us, even experienced horse riders, would ever undertake such an arduous journey. But people reading this book will have their love of nature reinforced in ways both spectacular and poignant and appreciate the fact that there are people like Ben Masters and his fellow riders in this world.
Unbranded by Ben Masters, 9x10, 188 pages, 165 color photos. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, $40 cloth, $24.95 flexbound, Publication date: February 25, 2015. Orders: 1-800-826-8911..
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.