Trainer’s Corner: My journey with “Journey” the Mustang – Part 3

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Competitions and Opportunities Highlight Mustangs’ Qualities

At the end of the last article, I’d finally saddled Journey, my formerly wild mustang who I was preparing for a 90-day competition, with a full-sized saddle after starting him with a kid’s saddle. Then life happened, and I had to be gone for 10 days to judge a horse show. Upon my return in mid-September, I was able to do my first ride on him, a little over a month after picking him up as a wild horse. 

But now, with less than 60 days until the Mustang Mania Trainers Challenge, he was still extremely leery of anything new or any changes in the program. Different saddles, cinches, or saddle blankets meant we had to go backwards in our training protocol to reassure him. I attributed this to his overall lack of confidence. Even though I felt the pressure of the competition looming over me I still had to work with Journey at a pace he could accept. He was not a difficult horse, just one that required a lot of reassurance.  

One of the things that always amazes me about mustangs is how much they accept and what they’re able to do in a relatively short amount of time. Some of the different competitions that are held for mustangs all over the country highlight this quality. 

The original Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) events, put on by the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF), have been going for 16 years. These EMM events feature trainers who draw a random wild, untouched mustang and then have 100 days to gentle and train their horses for a 2- or 3-day competition. Some of these trainers are professional horse trainers and others are folks who do it because they love working with mustangs. The MHF also has a Trainer Incentive Program (TIP) where they provide financial support to trainers who want to start a mustang and prepare it for adoption. You can learn more about this program at the MHF website. 

Other events are organized and run by local groups or individuals and are called TIP Challenges. These events are also sponsored by the MHF and are held all over the country. To learn more about them you can also check out the MHF website for the dates and locations. There are about 20 TIP Challenges happening around the country in 2023. Several of these events have been going on for nearly 10 years. In most TIP Challenges the trainers only show their mustangs in-hand, as opposed to under saddle. If you are interested in starting a mustang for one of these competitions or would like to adopt a mustang that has competed in one of these events, go to the MHF website to find where one is being held near you. 

As mentioned previously, I’ve competed in two EMMs, and participated in several TIP Challenge events including the Mustang Mania Trainers Challenge that Journey and I did last November. 

The Mustang Mania Trainer Challenge consisted of several classes: Handling and Conditioning, Trail, Maneuvers, Pattern class, and Freestyle. In many competitions these classes are done over two days, but the Mustang Mania Trainers Challenge we attended was all in one day. 

Back to Journey. After my uneventful, quiet, initial ride I had another two weeks to work with him before I had to be gone again. I spent as much time riding and introducing him to new things as I could, sometimes for 4 to 6 hours a day. I loaded him into as many different horse trailers as possible. Journey didn’t like the idea of climbing into an enclosed space. Most horses aren’t initially comfortable getting into small, enclosed spaces that resemble a cave (that’s where the predators live). It takes time to convince them it’s okay to get in and hang out. 

One reason for him to get in a trailer is somewhat obvious (I need to be able to take him places). But another reason is that one of the components of the competition is to load your horse into a trailer parked inside the arena. He was doing great being ridden over bridges, logs, and other obstacles. I had him side-passing over poles and walking through curtains (pool noodles hanging from a pole). We also got him out on a few trail rides which he really liked. 

While I was out of town on my next trip, I had a young friend stay at our place and ride Journey. It was great to have someone else keep his training going while giving him more experience with other people.

These mustang competitions demand a solid, trusting relationship between horse and rider. Horses must be exposed to and get comfortable with a lot of different situations. Journey was building his trust and was getting to the point where he’d do most of what I asked of him. It all just takes time, something I dearly wished I had more of…  

Stay tuned for the final installment in Journey’s story in the September/October issue of The Northwest Horse Source. 

Part 1 of this series:

Part 2 of this series:

Part 3 of this series:

Final – Part 4:

See this article in the July/August 2023 online edition:

July/August 2023

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