“From wild to mild” they say.
As a person who grew up being horse crazy I’ve had a lot of time to learn about events and activities involving horses. This means my bucket list is wrought with equine adventures.
A few include:
Own a horseDone! Do a hunter paceAlso done!
- Own horses in my backyard
- Attend the swimming of the ponies from Chincoteague Pony Swim in Virginia
- See the wild mustangs
Attend Equine AffaireDone too!
- Participate in a cattle drive
- Overnight camping with horses
- Horseback in the Andes Mountains
- Swim with Horses
- Ride on the beach
- Attend the Extreme Mustang Makeover
The last item was something I was able to make happen earlier this year, before the launch of The Green Horseman. We had a mustang at our farm for a few years and they are such a smart versatile breed. He was lovely in the ring, on trails, hunter paces. They are incredibly healthy and have rock hard hooves.
My love of the American Mustang led me to the Extreme Mustang Makeover. Since today is World Wildlife Conservation day I thought this would be an appropriate topic. A little late after the event, sure, but it’s never a bad time to talk about mustangs!
The American Mustang has a bad stigma around the horse world. They are wild animals and overbreed due to a lack of natural predators. The mature height is often smaller than most prefer, with few growing above 15 hands. Because the population growth is exponential the BLM (Bureau of Land Management) is in a tough position to keep the lands healthy while conserving these wild horses. According to estimates there are over 75,000 wild horses roaming wild and an additional 45,000 that have been kept in holding pens waiting for adoption. Many will die in holding; many will be euthanized.
The topic of culling mustangs can be very controversial; euthanasia as population control can seem extreme to many. Although I don’t like the idea it beats the alternative of them starving to death. My blog, my opinion….and you’re welcome to your own. There ARE other options that are available but have their own complications….that is a conversation for another day. Trust me, I will return to this but for now lets talk about one way of handling the mustang situation.
Since mustangs are mainly located in the western United States, folks like me in the east don’t have many opportunities to learn about them much less see or own them. The negative stigma of mustangs also hinders their adoption. The Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) initiated the Trainers Incentive Program (TIP) to help encourage trainers to adopt and train mustangs. In addition, the Extreme Mustang Makeover became a thing about a decade ago.
In 2007, 100 trainers competed for $25,000 in the first Extreme Mustang Makeover located in Fort Worth, TX. Each trainer drew a completely wild ungentled, unbroken mustang. Each trainer had 100 days to gentle and train his/her horse and compete at the final event. Following the competition the mustangs were put up for auction to approved homes.
Since 2007 the event has spread to 23 cities. The one closest to my home is in West Springfield, Massachusetts. This year it took place June 15-17. I had been planning this trip since I took a new job in February. A few friends and I went down Friday evening and Saturday for the performances. Since we live within 2 hours we drove both days.
Just like the original makeover competition the trainers were all given 100 days to train their mustang mares. If you visited the website you were able to look at the horse and assigned trainer, some of my friends even followed their progress on Facebook. When the time for the event came the trainers all gathered. They competed in different classes throughout the day for points. We didn’t really attend this portion, but we were there for the main events. I noticed all the horses were mares of 7 years old. This helps to even out the field and reduce variability; other events do all geldings of similar ages.
We began our evening with the National Anthem, and the flag was carried by a gorgeous black mustang.
We then had a performance from Double Dan Horsemanship (Dan James and Dan Steers). We were able to see liberty and various other training styles with this method of horsemanship. Dan had five horses going at liberty all at once. He demonstrated mark training, where a horse gallops down a stretch freely to a wooden marker. We saw some long lining techniques and some Hollywood tricks. Although they weren’t mustangs these horses were fascinating!
Following the Double Dan presentation we finally got to see the mustangs in action. Friday night we saw the horses under saddle showing specific maneuvers; walk, jog/trot, lope/canter, flying lead change, circles, halt, sidepass, and yielding the hindquarters to name a few. Below you will see Emma riding GingerSnap.
On Saturday we drove down early to spend the day. In addition to the adults we finally go to see the littles.
You read that right.
I said littles…as in children. The Extreme Mustang Makeover also has a youth event for kids ages 8-17. The mustangs are yearlings 18-24 months of age. The horses are gentled and trained from the ground (no riding at this age). The kids compete on their own with the young horses. Like the adults, they have various classes throughout the day to earn points.
These freestyle performances were incredible. The kids had the babies dressed up and going to music. They lunged, went through scary obstacles and some even bowed. They stood still even with popping balloons and plastic bags. I was amazed by what the youth event had to offer, and enjoyed it almost more than the adults.
Since these are kids I’m leaving out the names/last names. My favorite performance with the horse named Minnie Mouse was flagged for copyright on the music, but when I sort it out I will post it (hopefully with the sound intact).
At the end of the day the adult finalists competed for the grand prize of $25,000. The horses came in with their own freestyle. Some did obstacles, some did jumping, reining, mounted archery, cattle sorting. Watching them you forget that the horses had been completely wild and unhandled 3 months prior.
I also had another video held up due to the song the rider used. Again, when it gets settled I will post the video (with or without the song).
The winners were selected, pictures taken, and awards given. Immediately following the freestyles/prize ceremony ALL of the mustangs took the ring.
The horses were auctioned off one by one. Some selling for $200 and others for $4,500. I was saddened to see two very good chestnut mares not sell at all. Some of the trainers won the bid to keep their horse, though it appeared nerve-wracking at some points. The money collected through this goes back into the programs to help more mustangs find homes.
At the end of the whole event I am super glad I attended my first Extreme Mustang Makeover. It certainly won’t be my last, and I hope to attend with a trailer in tow someday. Adopting one of these incredible equines is yet another bucket list item.
I’m a little nervous that I see only two cities scheduled for 2018. I’m hoping to see Springfield come back next year, so I’ll give it time. For now the 2018 events are in Lexington, KY and Fort Worth, TX.
Mustangs are amazing creatures. They are smart and athletic. Nature has selected them to be fit and healthy. They have great feet and are typically easy keepers. In order to survive mustangs must adapt, they are incredibly trainable, and have great brains. This is demonstrated by all the horses at the Extreme Mustang Makeover that only had 100 days of training.
They are smaller than most horses but they are strong, smart, and rugged. Not to mention they carry the spirit of America.
For more information on mustangs or the Extreme Mustang Makeover, be sure to visit:
What’s your experience with mustangs?