Don’t Underestimate a Mustang

Padre’ getting ready to lead out one of the many parades he did as the Riderless Horse for Operation Wild Horse

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 2 rider shares about her Mustang, who she purchased for a modest $125, and how the duo changed people’s perceptions of Mustangs everywhere they went.

By Patti Gruber

At his first show

Padre’ was born in the New Pass/Ravenswood Horse Management Area in Nevada and was gathered as a yearling. I first met Padre’ when he was a little 5-year-old stallion. He had been adopted from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) by Dr Ric Redden of the International Equine Podiatry Center in Versailles, Kentucky. I had always told Doc, “If you ever want to see what one of your Mustangs can do, let me know.” Padre’ was given to me in 2007 and we began competing in dressage when he was only ten weeks under saddle. 

Throughout our whole career together, we always worked to show Doc and the rest of the world what Mustangs can really do. 

When I brought Padre’ home, I didn’t realize how different Mustangs are than domestic horses. I have had domestics my whole life, but there is a difference in the bond with Mustangs, because they see you as a member of their herd. You have to build a relationship and understand how much pressure you can and cannot put on a Mustang. It is not about your agenda with them, it’s about you learning to work with them at their speed. I have always said I learned more about working with horses after having Padre’ than I had learned before. I learned to listen to all of my horses, and it made me a better rider and they performed better also.

At the time I brought Padre’ home, I had been riding dressage for about six years, but had been riding my whole life. I didn’t have the budget for a big fancy warmblood but when I saw Padre’ trotting across his pasture, I knew there was something special in his presence and gaits. He had this look-at-me-I’m-the-coolest-thing-on-four-legs attitude and I thought, “Wow he could really be something.” 

Padre’ training at home

We started out at schooling shows then moved onto in-hand and recognized dressage shows. We also dabbled in some halter, western, and hunter classes at American Buckskin Registry Association (ABRA) shows. Padre’ was a horse you could take anywhere and do anything with, but he always stood out. He was a beautiful black point dun with a large dorsal stripe and neck, leg, and facial primitive markings as well. I don’t think anyone ever saw us as competition and we spent a lot of time changing people’s preconceived notions about what a Mustang is. As he started to make a name for himself, Padré drew a crowd. I think we were the partnership that everyone was capable of finding. My little 15.1 h Mustang stallion, who was originally purchased for $125, was competitive against $100,000 warmbloods. Padre’s success allowed people to dream and know that it is possible to rise to the top without a big budget. 

Padre’ winning his Stallion Class at Dressage at Devon

We had some funny moments at shows because other competitors weren’t sure what to think of Padre’. People would guess what breed he was; we heard lots of Welsh Pony, German Riding Pony, and Andalusian comments, which I always thought was flattering. We were at a dressage show waiting for a Dressage Sport Horse Breeding (DSHB) class and one of the other competitors in our class kept doing fly by’s past our stall with her stallion. I didn’t think much of it at first until the third or fourth time she came past when she stopped and told me all about her stallion, his breeding, and his successes. When she asked about Padre’ I told her he was a Mustang and she not-so-nicely commented that it was nice that I tried bringing him out to a show. When Padre’ beat her horse by more than ten percent, she didn’t make any more comments. 

The Mustang- America’s Wild Horses

When we arrived at Dressage at Devon, it was our turn to be uncomfortable in the elite dressage world that Devon is. We unloaded into the back two stalls of a well known trainer’s stabling area. It was a world I didn’t feel completely that we belonged in, even though we qualified to be there. We kept to ourselves with our small group of supporters until it was time for our first class. Padre’ rose to the challenge of showing off in the Dixon Oval and I ran next to him as best I could, just hoping we wouldn’t end up last in our class. The rush of emotions when they announced that Padre’ had won his class was a moment I will never forget. I didn’t think it could get any better until he was named Reserve Champion Stallion overall in his second class. One of our comments said that Padre’ was the gold standard to which all stallions should be expected to behave. That judge was at a show we were at the following year and she told me that she told my first judge that we shouldn’t have won the first class but that after she judged Padre’ in the second class that she had to take back what her original thought was because Padre’ really did deserve to win. 

The season after Dressage at Devon, Padre’ went on to beat every stallion in our region in DSHB classes at least once. For the North Central Series Division Championships we were up against a magnificent stallion who we would have happily taken second to, but that wasn’t in Padre’s cards. He won the championship. 

The following season, Padre’ won at his first show, then suffered a pasture accident that put him on stall rest for a year and a month.  I didn’t know if we would ever show or ride again but I was okay as long as he could have a good quality of life. Padre’ was schooling Fourth Level when he was hurt and we were able to get back to Second Level after the injury, but some days were a challenge. We tried showing twice after his injury but it was too much for him, so we spent lots of time trail riding and enjoying life. 

Two Mustangs

After the success Padre’ and I had together, Breyer made a model in his likeness, a children’s book was written about his journey, and he is a chapter in another book. I wanted to do something to give back and be able to share Padre’ with the public. Padre’ was the inspiration for me to start Operation Wild Horse working with Mustangs and veterans and active duty military. He proudly walked many parades as the Riderless Horse and attended community events raising awareness for Mustangs and the 22 veterans who commit suicide in the United States everyday. The program grew to 13 Mustangs and has helped thousands of veterans and military personnel since it started in 2017. 

In October of 2018, we took Padre’ to The University of Wisconsin Veterinary Hospital with what we thought was a mild colic. During surgery, a large mass was found, and after a biopsy, determined to be a rare cancer. The veterinarians told us to expect Padre’ to live another six to eight months, but he lived just over a year. Padre’ passed away in November of 2019 at the age of 20. 

Padre’ showing off his success in the USDF Breeders’ Championship Series as USDF North Central Series Division Champion 4 Year old and older Stallions in hand

Padre’s legacy lives on with his Breyer, his story, my memories, and in Operation Wild Horse.  Padre’ took me on a journey that I could never have imagined or even thought possible. He is my heart horse and while I miss him everyday, I am grateful for every moment and memory I have because I took a chance when no one thought it was possible to take a Mustang of the wild into the dressage arena. 


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