“I’m Your Huckleberry”

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Mustangs are our YourDressage Breed of the Month for June!  Known for their wild and majestic spirit, these free-roaming horses are rounded up periodically to be sold to new homes where they will be tamed.  These unique equines are living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West.

Dressage enthusiasts who ride Mustangs have the opportunity to earn special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards as The American Mustang & Burro Association Inc. is a Participating Organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a rider shares how a Mustang came unexpectedly into her life while she was battling breast cancer.

By Kathryn Butt

Whether you believe in divine intervention or not, there were definitely cosmic forces at work that brought I’m Your Huckleberry, AKA Groot, into my life. Groot is a 14.2h blue-eyed paint Mustang that was gathered from Adobe Town, WY, and found himself in some of the best possible hands for the 2018 Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) in Texas. His number was drawn by Jerry Jones of Diamond 3 Performance Horses and Cowdogs, who trained, rode, and competed him that year. Groot quickly became a fan favorite of Mustang enthusiasts with big flashy looks and a big, confident personality. If a tank can be considered agile then that description sums up Groot! He placed in the top ten that year at the Texas EMM.

My longtime friend, and once colleague (while both working for John Zopatti and Bent Jensen in Wellington, FL), Ashley Rose Stevenson acquired Groot after the EMM. I have always admired Ashley’s work for, and with, Mustangs. She has helped place hundreds of Mustangs over the years and has a remarkable talent at gentling them and finding suitable homes for them. I promised myself that one day I would get one from her and own my own little beautiful piece of American heritage. When Ashley got Groot, I was smitten! I admit that I stalked her Facebook page for posts and pictures of him working with other Mustangs, learning to be shot off of, and learning to work cows. Many Mustangs that she gets are beautiful but there was something about Groot that left me fascinated. He was just so cool! However, Groot can be strong to ride and quirky at times, so he was not an ideal fit as Ashley’s personal horse. Therefore, she made the hard decision to sell him. Shortly after that decision was made, she was called in on an abuse case to help a group of starving horses. In order to help them financially she needed Groot gone. She set up a raffle where the total cost of tickets equaled his sale price. I wanted to be supportive and help her help these horses in need so I bought a ticket. I had no intentions of winning! I had just had a mastectomy the week prior to the raffle and the last thing my family or I needed was another horse. Naturally, I won.

When Ashley posted the video of my name being drawn as the winner, I was stunned! At the time, I was hooked up to a vacuum seal across my chest with drains and tubes coming out of me, and I did not know my future course of treatment or life expectancy. Breast cancer in someone my age (28 at the time) is not common, and I did not know if I would ever be able to ride again. The afternoon that I found out that I won was the first time that my mother had left me since surgery. When I called her saying, “We have a problem…”, a horse was not what was on her mind.  We talked trying to decide what to do with this news. We debated offering him back to Ashley to draw someone else’s name or offering more spots to try to raise more money for the rescue horses. We just were not sure what to do. Finally, the realization that I do not know how much longer I will be on this planet sunk in, in terms of horses. I have always admired Ashley’s Mustangs, especially Groot. When was I ever going to get another opportunity like this? Is there ever a perfect time for anything? Probably not. The next phone call was to Elite Horse Transport to tell Jim Welsh that I needed a Mustang brought to South Carolina. Thank you, Jim, for always providing the best and safest horse transport!

It is true what they say that not all trust and work with wild horses carries over from person to person. Of course, Groot was completely handleable and rideable when he arrived, but he was aloof. It was interesting to watch his dynamic with the other horses on my farm and see how he looked to them for comfort and guidance, instead of a person. His instincts to establish a pecking order on the farm were so much stronger than any domestic horse I have ever seen. The time I spent just sitting with him, grooming him, or sitting on him while he grazed since I was not physically able to do anything else was a blessing in disguise. Sitting on him while he grazed made me so happy and was the first time I was on a horse in over a year after my surgeries. We bonded and Groot discovered the joys of cookies. It turns out he is really a bit of a glutton! As a lifelong dressage rider, I had to pester Ashley to learn his tack before slowly making the transition to dressage tack. I had to learn Groot’s aids and he mine. Now he is learning to be a dressage horse! He is so smart and has giant gaits for his size. He has the biggest walk in the barn! I hope to make our dressage debut this fall.

Groot brings such a colossal personality to my barn that now I cannot imagine it without him. After winning that raffle, so many people have reached out to me that are fans of his. They send friend requests so that they can follow him and send footage of his EMM experience. In this way, social media has been a blessing. Groot brought me so much joy and comfort in the middle of a very tough time in life. Now I look forward to the future and hope that I can live up to his potential and fanbase.

Kathryn Butt is a South Carolina native that grew up involved in the South Carolina Dressage & Combined Training Association (SCDCTA) and has brought various horses up from Training Level into the FEI levels. She was one of the original participants in the USEF Emerging Athlete Program through the U-25 Grand Prix ranks, and the Dressage Seat Equitation competitions. Thanks to the generosity of The Dressage Foundation, she is a past Young Rider International Dream Program participant. The meat of her dressage education comes from Bent Jensen, whom she works with to this day.  Upon her return to SC from five years in Wellington, FL working with Jensen, she completed her bachelor’s degrees in Business Administration and Accounting and went on to earn her MAcc (Masters of Accountancy) from the College of Charleston. She’s a USDF L Graduate, a USDF Bronze and Silver Medalist, and a past participant in the USEF/USDF Young Rider Graduate Program. Students within her training program, Mad Kat Dressage, have represented Area III at the FEI North American Youth Championships on the eventing team, and have successfully competed at various Great American/USDF Region 3 Championships. Her development of the SCDCTA Annual Jr. Clinic over the past four years has led to it being named recipient of the USDF Creative GMO Sponsored Program Award.

Stay tuned to YourDressage all month long as we celebrate this breed, with photo galleries and exclusive stories from Mustang enthusiasts across the country!

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