Photo provided courtesy of the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
Drew Olsen won the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover! This thrills me on many accounts because not only did Drew and his mom, dressage trainer and my good friend Leslie O’Neal Olsen, lose just about everything they owned in the Georgia floods two years ago, but it makes me happy to see good training rewarded, and to see that the American Mustang can do the same job domestic horses can do.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover is a 90-day Mustang training competition created in 2007 by The Mustang Heritage Foundation in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management, www.blm.gov, to show that Mustangs can be trained. The public then have the opportunity to adopt the horses. www.extrememustangmakeover.com
The event has been a big success; more than 3,000 Mustangs have been adopted as a result. For more information on the Mustang Heritage Foundation or Extreme Mustang Makeovers visit www.mustangheritagefoundation.org. The Extreme Mustang Makeover will begin again in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on October 21-23.
Drew adopted his mare Mercedes for $600 from the April 16th 2011 adoption auction through the Superior Livestock Auction on RFD TV. Mercedes, a 2006 black mare, was gathered from the granite range in Nevada. Drew trained the mare for 120 days and then placed first in the Legends division against 70 traners with a score of 188.5 in the compulsories and 268 in the freestyle finals. He won $50,000. I am in awe of Drew because not only did he gain this mare’s trust, but she learned to do spins, sliding stops, lead changes, and how to work a cow. That is amazing.
I spoke with Drew last week about his win, and here is our interview:
Training a domestic horse is difficult enough, but training a Mustang has got to be even more challenging! What were some difficulties that you had to overcome?
Trust is the biggest issue right from the start. It just takes some time to get to know your horse and for him to get to know you. Once you gain their trust and are able to safely handle them, they are not a whole lot different than most horses. Actually, I really find they can be easier than some domestic horses. Mustangs have never been touched, so they have never learned any bad habits, and they don’t come with any “baggage” like some domestic horses do. So you really get to start from scratch and build the best horse you can, which is very exciting to me, because they really show you where the holes are in your training program. If I start having problems with them, there is nobody I can blame but myself. So I really think mustangs help keep you honest!!
Mercedes is 13hh. That is very small! How tall are you, by the way? How did you work around that height issue?
Yes it is. I am about six foot. I didn’t really look at it as a big issue. There was not a whole lot I could do about, so I didn’t feel that there was any need to really worry about it. I just started riding her and she had no problem packing me around all day like a big horse. Its really not about the size of the horse to me anyway, it’s about how much try and heart a horse has, how much effort they put into doing something. She puts in a hundred percent effort every time; her heart makes up for her size any day of the week!!
How did you gain your horse’s trust?
You know there is not really one thing that can be done to make a horse trust you overnight. It really just takes a lot of time; there is no substitute for time! You have to be consistent with them every day, and treat them fairly. It’s just as important that your horse knows how you will react to certain things on a daily basis. Your horse has to learn that he can make a mistake and it’s not the end of the world. I gained her trust by showing her consistent behavior every day. I really try to keep my cool and approach all my horses in a more methodical way rather than in an emotional way!! It’s very easy to get frustrated with a horse and loose your temper. That’s usually when you will loose their trust too.
You’ve been at this since 2008. Why did you choose to try again?
Because I had so much fun the first time! It’s just a great event, full of great people and great horseman. Its really inspiring for me to see what other trainers have accomplished, it keeps me motivated to go home and get better. I will probably be participating at the Makeovers as long as they have them and I am able to do them.
Are there any myths about Mustangs that you would like to bust?
No, not really. I don’t know of any myths about them, but I think common sense goes a long way.
Will you keep riding Mercedes? What are your plans?
Yeah, she is way too much fun not to ride. I plan on finishing her out, and hopefully showing her some more, eventually. I think it would be a lot of fun to see if she can hold her own and compete against some well-bred quarter horses. I really think she will be able to give them a run for their money! Right now, she is just a good broke horse, with a lot of handle to her. She is not finished by any means, but she is broke enough that I was able to show her in trail, reining, and cow classes at the show. In the future, I plan on showing her in some smaller reining and cow horse classes. She is very athletic and really likes a cow, so I think that eventually she will be able to be competitive.
Drew’s Champion Ride on Mercedes
If you’re interested in learning more about the Mustang, here is the breed profile from my latest book, The Original Horse Bible:
The Mustang is a derivative of the Spanish word mestena, which means wild. Horses roamed America 10,000 years ago but vanished from the landscape until the Spanish conquistadors arrived in the 16th century with their horses of Barb decent. Many Indian tribes ‘liberated’ horses and brought them to the further into North America. As America evolved, horses from Europe were imported, and offspring accompanied the settlers moving west. Wild horse bands formed from escaped or abandoned horses.
In the early 1900s, cattle ranching operations vied with Mustangs for grazing space on public lands. The wild horse was a liability, a nuisance for ranchers who leased public lands from the government. So began the era of Mustang slaughter. Hundreds of thousands of horses were captured and shot, their bodies ground into pet food. At the beginning of the 20th century, more than two million wild horses roamed the West, by 1926 the number declined to half that.
Velma Johnson, nicknamed “Wild Horse Annie”, fought to get newspapers and television interested in the plight of the wild horses. Through a children’s letter writing campaign, Johnson helped convince the US government that the wholesale collection, slaughter and processing of wild horses and burros into pet food, which had continued unchecked since the 1930s, was unacceptable to the American people. These massive efforts by grade schoolers paid off. In 1959, the hunting of wild horses by airplane was banned.
In 1971 the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act was passed protecting Mustangs from slaughter. Congress established Herd Management Areas and the Bureau of Land Management conducts gathers and offer the excess animals up for adoption. In 1976, the BLM introduced its formal Adopt-A-Horse program, which allowed ordinary people to buy a real Mustang, fresh off the range, for a small fee.
There are no overall characteristics of the Mustang as many different breeds of horses have contributed to the development of wild horses in various areas. Draft horses were popular in certain areas among settlers, and hot-blooded horses were more popular in others. Some are large and full-bodied while others are smaller and daintier in appearance. The abundance of or lack of forage also helps determine size. The Mustang ranges from 13hh to 16hh and all colors including black, bay, dun, palomino, gray and spotted. The Mustang is a superb Western trail horse and is also used for Western sports.