Sometimes, a night with tequila ends in disaster – or at least a headache. But for Ben Masters, a night on the tequila resulted in one of the greatest adventure stories since Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn. “We should ride horses across the country,” Masters said one night a few years ago. And that’s exactly what he did.
“It’s amazing that it's still possible – that there’s still enough public land to cross through the back country for 95 percent of the journey, South to North. It’s amazing that that so much land is still unpopulated,” Masters said about their 3,000-mile adventure through the American West.
The horses themselves are not your average horses. They are mustangs – a wild horse whose lineage is much like Americans themselves – rich with ancestral ties to the rest of the world. “They’re more like a world breed,” Masters explained.
Unlike domestic horses, with dozens of generations of selective breeding, wild mustangs are tough, muscular, and resilient. “With wild horses, it's survival of the fittest, so the toughness is passed on – it's in their genetics,” Masters said. In the wild, mustangs journey upwards of 20 to 30 miles per day on their own, so essentially, they are built for a 3,000 mile journey through the American west.
At the centre of their adventure’s story is raising awareness of the mustangs’ dire situation in America – “to prove the worth of these mustangs,” Masters said.
The amount of horses in the wild is rising, while the amount of hospitible public land is decreasing. So, prior to beginning their adventure, Ben Masters, Thomas Glover, Ben Thamer, and Jonny Fitzsimons adopted 16 horses from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The horses were then trained over a four-month period before heading to the Mexico/ Arizona border and points north.
“This is an adventure that involves animals,” Masters said. “You’re taking these animals into a situation that they didn’t sign up for, unlike the humans. So it’s entirely your responsibility to make sure the horses are safe. The horses are our team-mates and to lose a horse is like losing a team-mate.”
Masters spent two years planning the trip – setting up the route and organising logistics. They carried enough food for 10 days at a time, camera equipment, tents, horse care products, veterinary products, and temporary fences for the evenings.
However, as with most things in life, not everything went according to plan. The men dealt with locked fences, missing trails, heat stroke, runaway horses, injuries, wildfires, unrelenting hail, food poisoning, boredom, and an incredibly stubborn donkey.
The men who started the adventure were by no means the same men that finished. “You definitely get used to this way of life, but it’s a hard way of life – this isn’t easy,” Glover said.
Nonetheless, in the end, it’s not about the hardships but it’s about the adventure, the horses, the wild land, and as Thamer put it so perfectly: “a trip of self discovery.”