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 Region 6 rider shares the story of Muffin, and the process of taking him from a wild and unhandled young Mustang to his dressage debut.
By Emily Fjosee
Muffin is a 14hh 2016 Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mustang gelding from South Steens HMA (Herd Management Area) in Oregon, although now-a-days he resides at Canter Lane Dressage in Olympia, WA. It’s been quite the unexpected journey with the little man! When I started shopping for my next dressage horse, I NEVER imagined that I’d wind up with an actual honest-to-goodness wild mustang, but building this partnership has been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done with my life.
Unfortunately, my acquisition of Muffin was a result of the tragic loss of my schoolmaster, a beautiful Thoroughbred and absolutely magnificent teacher named Pascal. On June 3rd of 2018, I woke up to a dozen or so missed calls and texts from my barn owner telling me that Pascal was critically injured and the vet was already on his way. While I raced to the barn, radiographs were taken which revealed a completely dislocated hock. My vet said that in 41 years of practice, he’d never seen anything like it, had no clue how it happened, and that there was zero chance of success with surgical intervention. I held his head while he passed and cried for the loss of my dear friend and our future.
After months of not riding, my trainer Patty Russell convinced me to get back in the saddle. She helped me realize that just because my horse was dead, didn’t mean my dream had to be. However, being a school bus driver that was already working off board and lessons, my pockets were…not deep. I quickly realized that my horse shopping budget was inadequate for what I was wanting, especially after two “failed” pre-purchase exams further decreased my budget.
Enter: Muffin. Although at the time he was BLM tag #4580. Patty and I both saw his sales picture in a Pacific Northwest horse group and thought he looked nice, and I was in need of a little vacation, so I took a road trip down to Oregon “just to look.” Famous last words, right?
Muffin was with TIP (trainer incentive program) trainer Jasmine Lechner, who had managed to get a halter and drag line on him and get him into a round pen. Jasmine and I stood outside the round pen and chatted while he warily watched us from the other side. I asked Jasmine if she had been calling him by a name and she said no, she waits for the adopters to choose their name. I said that he’s pretty cute, he’d need a ridiculous name like skittles or poptart or muffin…and when I said muffin this scared, scrawny little horse finally walked across the round pen and nuzzled my outstretched hand. In that moment, I knew: he’d be coming home with me, and his name was Muffin.
Muffin leaned very heavily towards the “flight” end of the “fight or flight” spectrum, and thus had a really difficult time trusting strangers (like a farrier) to pick up the giant clodhoppers that are his feet. Despite the fact that I was able to pick up his feet and was starting to get him used to the vibrations of a rasp, he was still so flighty and wary of strangers he had to be completely anesthetized for his first two trims and sedated for the third. I am so fortunate to have such a wonderful team to help Muffin; not once did Dr. Clarke call me crazy or give me flak for having him out to anesthetize a pony for a simple hoof trim. Kenton Wright, who had recently partnered with Jessica Wisdom, was gracious enough to take Muffin for a few weeks for further gentling and to help him learn some life skills.
It was truly a privilege to see Muffin grow and develop over the following year. He had transformed from a horse that was living in a halter and drag line, to a cuddle bug of a pony that would meet me at the paddock gate every day. When the time was right, I sent Muffin back to Kent and Jessica to be started under saddle, and oh, how rewarding that was. When Jessica sent me the first video of Kent trotting Muffin around, I was absolutely floored. Here he was, a little $125 mustang pony named Muffin, in training with some phenomenal dressage riders, and he looked every inch like he belonged.
Unfortunately, shortly after bringing Muffin home from being started under saddle, I tore my rotator cuff. Fortunately, Muffin makes a pretty great trail pony, and I have some wonderful friends and my trainer Patty that were willing to keep him going for me while I rehabbed my shoulder. I don’t know if it’s because he was wild and we have built up so much trust that makes him such a wonderful partner, or if that’s just his personality, but by golly is this pony a fun ride. He is so dang willing and smart, and I honestly can’t remember the last time he spooked. I think that’s part of the whole Mustang thing though: in the wild they’re constantly having to think, “Okay, is this thing going to eat me? Do I need to run or fight, or am I safe?”
Muffin and I are just starting to really buckle down and get to work in dressage; we’ve only been to one show so far, a Lower Puget Sound Dressage Club schooling show, where he received a 66% in Training Level Test 1 and was an absolute gentleman with zero shenanigans. When Dr. Clarke saw my Facebook post after the show, he sent me a congrats text, and asked if I finished the test yelling, “We used to knock him out to do his feet!!”
P.S. I still have one of the anesthesia bills from getting his hooves done – it’s being framed alongside Muffin’s blue ribbon, as a reminder of how far we’ve come.