It’s a cold and snowy November morning at Colorado Horse Rescue in Longmont as Shawna English and Alex Judkins approach a pen containing two eager horses.
“When it’s cold like this, they need more food because they are burning more calories,” said English, the director of development at Colorado Horse Rescue.
Sure enough, at the sight of the hay in Judkins’ hands, one of the horses, Bam Bam, moves closer to the fence.
“This one is motivated by food,” Judkins says as she drops the extra flake into his trough.
Meanwhile, the other horse — named JR — has unceremoniously nosed most of his hay out of his trough.
“They like to get the flakes at the bottom,” Judkins says as she puts the hay back in JR’s trough, only for the horse to nose it back out again.
You can forgive JR and Bam Bam if they might seem like divas. After all, in the horse world, they’re sort of a big deal.
Both horses were featured in the 2015 documentary movie “Unbranded,” which tracked four men as they led 16 mustangs — including JR and Bam Bam — 3,000 miles from Mexico to Canada. The film garnered critical acclaim and several awards as it delved into the issue of the wild mustang population in America.
As two of the stars of the film, JR and Bam Bam have earned a life of retirement with all of the hay they want. But the two horses came perilously close to a much more tragic ending.
Following the events of the movie, JR and Bam Bam ended up at a dude ranch in Wyoming. But once the horses were no longer viable, they were scheduled to go to auction, and most likely slaughter.
But thankfully, the ranch first called the Colorado Horse Rescue to see if it would be willing to take in the two horses and try to rehabilitate them.
“That’s what we want dude ranches to do,” English said. “If they can be pain-free, they can still have a quality of life.”
But when the horse rescue took possession of JR and Bam Bam, there was a question of whether that life was in the cards. JR was lame from years of too much riding with too little rest, and Bam Bam was even worse off.
“We didn’t even know if he was going to make it,” English said as she looked at Bam Bam in his pen.
But thankfully, both horses pulled through. JR might be able to carry a light rider one day, while Bam Bam’s riding days are over but he should at least be able to walk pain-free.
“They’ll be able to live happily on a pasture somewhere,” English said.
The task now was to find a pasture, but the answer came from a familiar face. After finding out the history behind the horses, on a whim English sent an email address she found for Ben Masters, the producer and one of the human stars of “Unbranded.” To her surprise, he immediately responded.
“He emailed back within 12 hours wanting to step up and do something,” English said. “He had no idea they came that close to auction.”
Masters said he lost track of the two horses following the film, and was appalled to find out they were almost headed to slaughter.
“It was frustrating to hear,” Masters said. “I’m just grateful that Colorado Horse Rescue was able to help them.”
Masters has some land in Texas where some of the other members of the “Unbranded” herd already reside. And now that he has adopted JR and Bam Bam, they will be joining them.
“I’ve spent a lot of time with these horses,” Masters said. “They’re part of the team, and you have to take care of your team.”
JR and Bam Bam will spend a few more days in Colorado, and on Dec. 8 Colorado Horse Rescue is holding an open house for people who want to meet them.
“They’re a big deal in the equestrian community,” English said. “I think a lot of people will want to come see them.”
But after that, the horses are off to Texas, and no more extra calorie burning.
“Wouldn’t you want to come to Texas for the winter?” Masters said. “It’s 70 degrees right now.”
But more than warm weather, the trip to Texas represents a second chance at the good life.
“Everyone deserves that life of retirement, and now they get to reunite with the herd,” English said. “It’s a beautiful and miraculous story.”
If you go
What: Meet JR and Bam Bam
When: Noon to 4 p.m. Dec. 8
Where: Colorado Horse Rescue, 10386 N 65th St., Longmont
More information: chr.org