By Kay Whatley, Editor
Across the US, the Extreme Mustang Makeover challenges horse trainers to take on a wild horse, gentle it, and prepare it for adoption several months later. The challenge has helped thousands of American Mustangs move from holding facilities to homes across the United States. Last weekend, a makeover held in Ft. Collins, Colorado, gave several dozen mustangs — and a few wild donkeys — the chance to be adopted.
With the Extreme Mustang Makeover, horse trainers meet their mustangs and have 100 days to tame the horse from “wild to mild.” They then showcase their mustang’s talents at one of these Extreme Mustang Makeover event, competing for $25,000 in cash and prizes. Competing adult mustangs are then offered for adoption at the close of the event.
The events not only find homes for the competing horses, they also show potential horse owners “the trainability of American Mustangs.”
The Extreme Mustang Makeover series is organized by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, based in Georgetown, Texas.
The Mission of the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) is to increase the adoption of wild horses held in the Bureau of Land Management’s off-range short term and long term corrals and pastures. The BLM is currently responsible for more than 50,000 horses in short term and long term care. The Mustang Heritage Foundation works to promote the Mustang’s versatility, trainability, and worth as an equine companion through innovative and exciting gentling programs and competitions including Extreme Mustang Makeovers. Over 6,700 American Mustangs have been adopted through the Mustang Heritage Foundation since 2007.
Work begins months before the public events. Trainers go through a selection process. Those selected may then pick up an American Mustang that is wild — these horses are essentially untouched by humans before being handed off to the trainers.
For 100 days, the trainer and horse work together. The trainer is responsible for gentling, halter breaking, and saddle training the horses before their assigned Makeover competition date. The trainers must also build trust with the horse, which may have only known life on the range before being taken to a holding center by the US Bureau of Land Management..
For those who want to attend an Extreme Mustang Makeover event and watch the mustangs — well, really the trainers — compete, the shows are free to watch, except for the later part of day two which requires a ticket. Tickets may be purchased in advance or on-site.
The 2016 Extreme Mustang Makeover events have already been held in:
- Gonzalez, Louisiana (March 11-12, 2016)
- Queen Creek, Arizona (April 22-23, 2016)
- Jacksonville, Florida (May 6-7, 2016)
- Ft. Collins, Colorado (May 20-21, 2016)
Upcoming Extreme Mustang Makeover 2016 events are:
- Reno, Nevada — June 18-19, 2016
- Nampa, Idaho — July 29-30, 2016
- Sedalia, Missouri — July 14-16, 2016 (three-day event at the state fairgrounds)
- Topsfield, Massachusetts — August 5-6, 2016
- Lexington, Virginia — August 25-27, 2016
- Ft. Worth, Texas — September 15-16, 2016
During the events, the mustangs and their trainers go through preparations, attend classes, are introduced to the arena crowd, go through maneuvers, watch demonstrations, perform freestyle, and are judged. At the conclusion of the Extreme Mustang Makeover, the gentled mustangs are offered for adoption by competitive bid.
Then, the horses head off to their new adoptive homes and the trainers walk off into the sunset… perhaps to return again with a new horse on their rope. There are many, many mustangs on hold with the Bureau of Land Management that may be helped by these Mustang Heritage Foundation events.
To find out more about Extreme Mustang Makeover events in 2016, visit extrememustangmakeover.com. Information on the site includes how to compete in the next round, and how to adopt one of the gentled mustangs.
For more about mustangs and donkeys captured and in holding with the Bureau of Land Management, visit the Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Program website.
One Colorado Mustang Story: Asha and Trainer Brian Sprague
On May 20-21, 2016, the Colorado event was held at the CSU B.W. Pickett Equine Center, 701 S Overland Trail, in Ft. Collins CO. Mustang number 3, named Asha, had spent 100 days training with Professional Horse Trainer Brian Sprague, and was at Extreme Mustang Makeover to show her stuff.
Brian and his wife, April, live in the Town of Bennett, Colorado. They’ve had horses for years, worked at several area stables, and were interested in this challenge of gentling a wild mustang from the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Brian worked with Asha through February, March, April, and part of May before heading to the Ft. Collins competition. Here is what Brian shared about his Extreme Mustang Makeover experience.
How did you get Asha? Did you pick her, or did the Makeover folks present Asha to you?
Once I submitted my application to the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and it was approved, I was given a number to call to arrange a pickup time. I took a 9am pickup time on February 5, 2016, and made the long trek to the Canon City Colorado Correctional Facility where the horses are housed. Upon my arrival, I filled out the paperwork for the brand inspector and picked up her health certificate, vaccination record, and information about her capture date and herd integration. She was already assigned to me and upon my arrival. The pen riders sorted her out and ran her down a chute into a squeeze chute where they placed my halter on her, and then it was up into my trailer.
What was Asha like at the beginning, versus how gentle she was at the end?
In the beginning Asha was a small, scared but curious little mare. She resisted my first touch at all costs. It took a lot of sweat and consistency to get the first touch, and when we finally got there is when we both started an amazing journey.
About 2 weeks into her training she was calm enough to introduce new people. I will never forget bringing in a friend who was very cautious about petting this Wild Mustang! She reached in slowly and when she touched the horse she began to weep. I asked her if she was okay, and she said it was just so powerful to touch this once wild animal. I couldn’t help but wonder if the horse felt somewhat the same.
We progressed through our training and we finally picked a name — Eyota Asha but Asha for short. It is Algonquin for “Great Hope.” Asha was an amazing little horse — so willing to learn and yet hesitant to trust.
We progressed to the riding portion of training. Again so willing to learn, but you could tell her mind was always turning in the beginning…. How do I get out of this?….
By the time we hit day 60 of our 100 days, Asha was farther ahead at this point than I could have ever dreamed. She was soft in her head, soft in her body, and carrying me with a grace I wish I could find in every horse. She had developed this shine in her coat that rivaled the $50K-plus horses of the AQHA.
By Day 100, we were certain that we were Top 10 contenders. We made the trek to the CSU B.W. Pickett Equine Center for the Colorado Extreme Mustang Makeover. Once there, her world changed again.
What did you do during the Makeover this past weekend? Was it a lot of different “tasks” judged?
During the weekend of May 19, 20, and 21, 2016, we got a chance to showcase Asha’s abilities. May 19th we arrived around noon and saw the brand inspector, got settled in to our stall, and went right to work getting used to the facility. Asha was doing great.
On May 20th we started our first day of competition. The first class was the “handling and conditioning” class. We thought we would have this in the bag! The first obstacle was to release Asha into a round pen and walk out for 15 seconds, then go back in and catch her. Asha did awesome.
Next, we walked to a barrel about 20 feet away where a brush was, and I had to show I could brush her all over. Again, Asha was a rock star.
Then, we had to trot from the barrel to a cone 30 feet away and then stop. Asha did well. Back up 6 steps, Asha rocked it. Pick up all 4 feet, Asha bobbled when I picked up her back feet. After that, time to load in a trailer. Asha was a superstar.
We ended up 11th out of 27 at the end of this class.
Next, we proceeded to the trail course. I was nervous about this one! Some of the obstacles were different than I had practiced, and Asha had been going for almost 12 hours this day and she was showing some crabby behavior.
The first obstacle was to walk over some poles then mount, open, walk through, and close a rope gate, trot a serpentine to a bridge, walk over a bridge, and then trot to the back of the arena into a box, back up at an angle, and then walk out of a box to some poles, side pass over the poles one way, then the other, followed by a trot into a square, turn 180 degrees, and dismount, turn back 180m and exit the course.
Long story short: Asha did just okay and we messed up a few obstacles. Not her fault, but simply a fault in my preparation.
The last class was on Saturday, May 21st. “Maneuvers” showcases your ability to walk, then trot, then lope, then trot, then stop, then backup. Really easy most days; on this day, my horse wanted nothing to do with it and we finished the competition 16th overall.
That night the Top 10 performed a freestyle class and awards were given. Immediately after, the auction of these horses started. Horse prices ranged from $200 to $4,100. After Asha sold, I met her new owner and gave them a run down of her training. This horse who in the beginning was scared, by the end gave me a hug every time I fed her, laying her head and neck on my shoulder. Asha was meeting her new owner and I was packing up to go home — a bittersweet moment.
I have had time to think about the journey. It didn’t turn out as I expected and I hoped I would finish better. But, looking back Asha is with the owner she was meant to be with, she found a great home! A future veterinarian from the prestigious CSU vet program adopted her.
What I learned is that mustangs are amazing animals, different from our domesticated horses only in their level of desire to do or not do any one thing. They always remain a little wild, and that makes the journey of having one very exciting. And once they trust you, it is a connection unlike any I have ever experienced before.
Would I do it again? Maybe….
Did I love my time with that Mustang? Absolutely.