Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Extreme Mustang Makeover

The Extreme Mustang Makeover takes place every September in Ft. Worth, Texas, where one hundred horse trainers from all over the United States volunteer to take on a wild mustang and train it for one hundred days. I had the pleasure of attending this year’s event, and I can’t remember the last time I have been in such good company. As I walked around the barn interviewing trainers about their experiences in working with the mustangs, I was humbled by the love and devotion these hard working folk felt for their animal.

Only three months and ten days after being introduced, the trainers and their mustangs congregate at the Will Rogers Memorial Center to compete and show what they have been able to teach this animal that had never been handled before. After the competition, there is an auction to sell the gentled mustangs, and all of the proceeds go back into the program. The trainers receive $500 and a wild mustang; all other expenses, and the time spent to train the mustang come out of their own hip pocket, and the goodness of their hearts. Many of them had hopes of buying their mustang back through the auction and returning home together. Most could not afford to do this.

There were three levels of competitors, the stars, idols and legends. Depending on the level of competition, the trainers led their mustang through a routine of required movements, such as walking, trotting, cantering, stopping and backing up. Many trainers had taught their mustang to lie down, bow, spin, and gallop across the arena doing flying lead changes and other fancy maneuvers.

In addition to the one hundred trainers taking on a mustang to train, another one hundred youth volunteered to take a mustang yearling to gentle and put up for adoption. Again, I was taken by the courage and love of horses these children possessed, and the boundless support their families had devoted to this cause.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation, www.mustangheritagefoundation.org , sponsors this event every year with the intention of raising awareness about wild mustangs and encouraging adoption. It is the responsibility of the Bureau of Land Management to care of the herds of wild mustangs that live in remote areas of fourteen states. As part of their management program, the BLM conducts gathers, taking a percentage of the herds every year. If the gathered mustangs are not adopted, they are shipped to holding facilities where they spend the rest of their lives. Currently, there are over 33,000 mustangs standing in holding facilities across the United States.

I will be posting the stories of the trainers and young people I had the pleasure of interviewing. This first of which is with Mark Lyons and his mustang, Christian, the winners of the Legends Class Finals! Don’t miss this one!

To view a collage of photographs from this wonderful event,
click here.