In the Presence of Greatness

Mustangs are a clean slate. Rounded up off of the range, most have had zero interaction with human beings. They have minimal handling during processing, just enough to ensure they are healthy and administer any necessary veterinary care. Mustangs may not be every trainer’s ideal equine, but many well-known, dare I say “famous?” trainers, at the top of their sport venture into the mustang world for the challenge and opportunity to work with an animal in it’s rawest form of existence. The challenge of an Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) often draws these trainers to test their skills against other trainers. You have the opportunity to see amateurs, trainers in the early stages of their careers, and long established trainers all starting out on equal footing with horses that have never been handled. Trainers that have proven themselves in their chosen disciplines with mustangs or have finished respectably in several EMM’s are given the opportunity to participate in an invitational competition, the Mustang Magic.

These competitions are all about educating and getting the public up close and personal with mustangs. The animals in the EMM events are all up for auction at the end of the event. By the very nature of these events, us mere mortals that may only have ever seen our favorite trainers from a distance at a competition or via social media, Facebook, Instagram have the opportunity to meet them in person. It is the only show atmosphere I’ve experienced where the trainers make the time to speak with the little people, individuals interested in their programs and horses. By little people, I mean those of us that aren’t spending in the upper 5 figures for our horses, because hey, you can adopt a mustang for the price of $125 and under the current AIP program, BLM will reimburse you $1000 for taking the animal off the range.

Unlike other breed or organized shows, mustang people/trainers are all there for one reason. To promote the horse. At an adoption price of $125, no trainer is going to get rich off of selling mustangs. They can make a living training them, and competing with them. Many will tell you that mustangs changed their lives and catapulted their businesses, but the primary reason for showing up at these events is the simple love of the horse. Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the Mustang Magic Rising Stars and Celebrity Freestyle events. I was in total fan girl, geek out mode the entire weekend, despite having worked closely with three of the trainers in the event.

As a little girl, owning a horse that became a Breyer model horse was the epitome of equine success. This weekend alone I talked to at least three people, who owned/trained mustangs that became Breyer models. I even managed to get a model signed. I had the opportunity to speak with the USDF 2019 horse of the year trainer. I attended clinics and talked with an eventer that was on the US Olympic Eventing team short list. I suddenly had an up close and personal view in the warm-up arena, in the aisleways, and at the stalls of people that I follow avidly online. The Celebrities and Rising Stars, are all incredible horsemen/women. They are doing amazing things with their animals, humble little range rats.

Two years ago, at the 2020 EMM and Mustang Magic event, I had a difficult mustang of my own at home. A little bay mustang named Nacho, instantly stole my heart, and if you know me, I don’t usually fall in love with brown horses. Even though I already had two trainers lined up to help me through the parts I just didn’t feel like doing, like the putting in the first “real” rides fully tacked, Nacho had a softness about him that you don’t often see in domestics with only 100 days of training. The seed was planted and I tagged that trainer as someone I wanted to know. It was fate, because while the two trainers I had originally wanted to train my horse were able to fit in Darling Husband’s mustang, Koda, they didn’t have availability for mine in the near future, and I was anxious to get him under saddle. So I called Nate, and couldn’t be happier with the foundation he gave my horse, Johnny Cash!

Fast forward two years. I’m preparing my mustang for his first show season, and all three trainers that I personally know and admire are competing against a few other trainers I can only follow on Instagram. It was like the ultimate show down with no way to pick a winner because I wanted them all to win! With many of the mustang shows, I’m frustrated with the judges placings. I learned back at the stalls that there are nuanced rules, that I didn’t realize were even being judged that would cause point deductions. Since I’m considering maybe doing one of the open shows, I guess I need to download a copy of that rule book.

However, I totally agreed with the top 3 placing in the Mustang Magic Celebrity Freestyle. There was no question, nuanced rules or not. Nate Eicher, Elisa Wallace, and Katie Moore were all awesome! That little brown horse, Nacho, that peaked my interest in Nate’s training, put his little heart into his performance, pretending to be a bucking horse while Nate rode his pasture mate, Mercedes, bareback playing the guitar, neither concerned with Nacho’s antics. Elisa rode three different mustangs, two totally tack-less while performing upper level dressage movements and clearing an oxer that was at least four feet high. The talented Katie Moore and Tater had some great dressage moments with really cute tricks and liberty thrown in! I was a little frustrated Craig Moore didn’t place higher. He was a last minute invitation to the show, and only had ten days to prepare when the other competitors had been preparing for months. He ended his performance by roping and then riding Cowasaki the steer. That alone should have earned him bonus points for entertainment value!

It’s pretty awesome to know, work with, and even have horses trained by some of these professionals. Hopefully the knowledge I gain by picking their brains every time I see them will help me in the future when I decide to try starting another mustang from the ground up. I walked away from the event in awe of my idols with wheels turning on how I could fit more visits, clinics, and rides in with these incredible horse(wo)men!

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