Showcasing the versatility and trainability of America’s wild horses through competitive Mustang training events.
Many of us are aware of the challenges and controversies facing America’s wild horses. With the wild horse population ever increasing, the Bureau of Land Management has tried various ways to manage the herds, including contraception techniques and adoption events.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover
Founded in 2001, the Mustang Heritage Foundation works to promote the adoption of wild horses and burros from the Bureau of Land Management’s holding facilities. One of the ways this is done is through events such as the Extreme Mustang Makeover and Mustang Million.
“The Extreme Mustang Makeover was created in 2007 as part of the Mustang Heritage Foundation to show the trainability and versatility of the American Mustang,” says the foundation’s marketing director, Kyla Hogan. “It was also designed to place gentled Mustangs into adoptive homes that might not have the time or knowledge to have a wild, untouched horse.”
A Bit of History
The Extreme Mustang Makeover has been rapidly gaining attention and participation since its inception. “The first EMM was held in Fort Worth, Texas, in 2007 with the idea of 100 trainers, 100 Mustangs, 100 days,” explains Kyla. “Selected trainers were assigned a wild horse and given just over 100 days to gentle and train the horse for competition. After the event, the horses were available for adoption by the public. The Mustang Heritage Foundation has now produced events in over 15 states and is adding Idaho, Alabama and Pennsylvania to the list this year.”
Six to ten Extreme Mustang Makeovers are held nationally each year. Each event will have 30 to 50 competitors, on average. A larger event is held each fall in Fort Worth.
100 Days to Competition
Within the 100 days, the selected trainers aim to develop a trusting relationship with their Mustangs, to get them to the point where they are comfortable being handled and ridden. To compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, horse and rider must first go through a preliminary class involving obstacles and patterns. From here, the highest placing horse and rider teams advance to the finals. The finals are a freestyle event – horse and rider have four minutes to showcase what they have been working on. These horses are able to do things that domestic horses with years of training often can’t – riding without any tack, roping, jumping, and handling frightening objects/situations.
“Mustangs for the events are supplied through a partnership with the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program,” says Kyla. “The horses used are in BLM holding facilities waiting for adoptive homes. They are generally randomly assigned to trainers. However, we do have events in which the trainers select a horse they wish to compete with and adopt the horse up front. You do not have to be a professional trainer; however, we do review training references from people who are familiar with the prospective trainer’s horse experience. There are also facility guidelines that must be met before a trainer can house a wild horse.
Giving Them a Good Home
“At most Extreme Mustang Makeovers, the competing horses are available to the public for adoption through competitive bid,” says Kyla. “Prospective adopters do have to be approved by the BLM before taking a Mustang home. The Mustang Heritage Foundation is a non-profit organization and the funds from the adoption auction go back to producing other EMM events.” Since 2007, the Mustang Heritage Foundation has placed more than 5,000 Mustangs into adoptive homes through its training and gentling programs.
Reforming the Wild Horse’s Reputation
Watching the Mustangs compete at the Extreme Mustang Makeover, it is often hard to believe that just over three months ago these horses were wild and unhandled. It really speaks to the trainability and spirit of these horses, and goes a long way to reforming people’s opinions on whether or not Mustangs can make good riding horses, for pleasure or competition.
“I’m continually amazed at what trainers are able to accomplish with horses that were virtually untouched before the event began,” says Kyla. “The transformation continues to be an inspiration for the trainers, adopters and all who are involved. We would like to think we are taking away some of the negative stigma that surrounds these horses. They are very willing, intelligent, versatile equine partners that can transition into a number of disciplines when given the opportunity.”