Justin Koehler's upbringing on a ranch between Midland and Philip, South Dakota gave the young filmmaker the perfect perspective to tell stories about the places and characters from the western half of the state.
Hot on the heels of the success of last year's "The Buffalo King," about Scotty Philip and his efforts to save the American bison from extinction, Koehler is now turning his cameras on the life of legendary South Dakota cowboy Casey Tibbs.
Koehler talked about "Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs" from his Denver, Colorado home. "We've had a lot of buzz and a lot of excitement. I have a lot of great ideas," he said. "I want to do these South Dakota stories."
Several big names have signed on to contribute memories of the first great rodeo superstar. Country music legend Charlie Daniels, cowboy poet Baxter Black and rodeo hall-of-famer Larry Mahan have all added their support.
As Koehler has researched Tibbs' story he has uncovered layers of history. "When you really dig in you find stories no one knew about. Casey was involved in so many things - game shows, talk shows, movies. I think he was a bigger deal than a lot of people realized."
The six-time PRCA saddle-bronc champion was always working on his next project according to Koehler. "He didn't settle for anything. He tried to create a rodeo league with teams in different cities that people could cheer for. He introduced rodeo to Japan. He was a model for LEE Jeans. What a great ambassador for South Dakota and rodeo." He pointed out Tibb's appearance on the cover of LIFE magazine in 1951 as the moment when the sport of rodeo gained mainstream recognition.
"I even hear men say he was a good looking guy. He had that kind of Evel Knievel risk-taking sex appeal."
"Casey is a story teller's dream and the layers of his story add depth to the film," Koehler said. "When I talk to people who knew him you can hear the excitement in their voice. Most people think it is long overdue. It would be really fun to bring the people of South Dakota together to help tell the story."
Those interested in supporting "Floating Horses" can contribute via a Kickstarter campaign and receive various gifts for their donation. A full explanation of the project and what the funds will be used for are listed on the Kickstarter site.
As for Koehler's first film, "The Buffalo King," it has been winning awards at festivals around the country and is being distributed by the Public Broadcasting System. "It is showing in Alaska, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Kentucky, Wyoming and South Dakota that I know of so far," he said.
You can keep up-to-date on "Floating Horses: The Life of Casey Tibbs" at the official Facebook page and learn more about Casey and his favorite sport at the Casey Tibbs South Dakota Rodeo Center in Fort Pierre.