By Caitlyn Bennett
In 2012, I took on the challenge of training a wild mustang yearling from the Bureau of Land Management through the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover. I had only been riding for a year. My trainer, Rebecca Bowman, had trained numerous mustangs over the years, and she felt it would be a great experience for me and several of my friends to have the chance to be youth trainers. We adopted my mustang in March. The choice was made based on one photo and a 30-second video, taken months before, of him running in the sand at a holding facility in Nevada. Two months later, I traveled from Atlanta, GA, to Jackson, MS, to pick him up. He was a tiny black colt with a wild sense of curiosity, but a mild personality and an eagerness to learn. The moment I met him, I knew he was magical. I named him “Hocus Pocus.” Hocus and I practiced hard and grew close, over the 120 days of ground training and bombproofing prior to the competition.
The competition went well, and we both learned a lot from competing in Fort Worth. Afterwards, because of his young age, Hocus took a year-long break at a friend’s farm, so he could grow up a bit more.
Hocus returned to me in 2014, and it was a big year for us. In early February, I trotted and cantered him for the first time, after only bareback walks. He took to it well, like he knew exactly what to do, and much to my surprise, we entered our first combined training schooling show in May. Rebecca was especially helpful. I took all of my lessons on Hocus, and she trained me to be the “trainer,” showing me how to teach him how to jump, as well as navigate dressage tests. Over the course of that year, we competed in six shows, earning an amazing average for our first year. Our scores landed us in third place in the Amoeba CT (18in.) division at the Georgia Dressage and Combined Training Association’s (GDCTA’s) Year End Gala.
We continued our combined training success into the next year, winning third at the next level, Tadpole (2’). Along with the CTs, we also dipped our toes into a few Training Level dressage tests. Hocus loved the intriguing challenge of what the tests had to offer. So, with scores in the mid-60’s, we decided he was ready for something more.
I started training in dressage with Suzanne King in 2015, and she really connected with us. She worked hard to help me meet my goals with Hocus, as a rapidly growing, tall, teen rider on a small 14 hh horse. But what made it special was the fact that Suzanne never blinked an eye over the fact that he was a mustang. She never doubted us. Sometimes people get scared around these horses because of the Hollywood reputation the Wild West movies have given them, but she treated Hocus just like the clients with expensive, imported horses.
Over the last two years, Suzanne has helped us achieve our goals of competing in USDF-recognized competitions. We qualified for the Great American/USDF Regional Championships at our first show, and had a very successful year. In October, Hocus and I competed at the Great American/ USDF Region 3 Championships. He was the smallest horse there, and the only mustang, but he was where he belonged. Hocus has earned his Training Level Horse Performance Certificate, and we received the USDF All-Breeds Training Level Champion Award in December through our participating organization, the American Mustang and Burro Association.
Our journey has been a remarkable one, and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Hocus has helped me see that nothing is impossible, and that partnership is the key to success in equestrian competition. The connection that Hocus and I have is unbreakable. As we enter the 2016-17 competition year, we will both be embarking on new adventures. I’ve grown into riding an 18 hh Oldenburg, and Hocus has found himself in great demand at a nearby farm with the next generation of young riders, eager to compete with a seasoned mount that can fulfill many more dreams, for many years to come.