By Kim Davidson
Let me tell you a story about my little range pony, Boo. For many years I have had a bucket list dream of gentling my very own wild Mustang. It sounds a bit Black Stallion Syndrome, I know, but living out west like I do, I have pretty easy access to them.
It all started when my husband and I watched a hidden gem of a documentary called Unbranded. This project was put together by four recent college graduates and it highlights our beautiful wild parks, with a focus on conservation for future generations to enjoy. The film followed these four friends as they traversed the West, from the border of Mexico to the border of Canada – all on the backs of Mustangs that they sourced and gentled themselves. Sounds dreamy, right?
Ever since watching that film, I have been wanting to gentle my own Mustang, but I had to wait for the time to be right. A little backstory on me: I live on a small “farmette” of four acres, and have done some breeding to produce horses for the Adult Amateur market. I have produced a few lovely dressage horses, out of my Hanoverian mare Grace (by Pointmaker) and my Oldenburg mare Rhea (by Rosenthal). But since retiring my mares, my barn was full, and I simply had no room to take on any new horses and I was going to have to wait until a stall opened up.
After several years of enjoying her retirement, last winter I lost my matriarch mare, Grace, and her loss, as hard as that was, allowed me the space in my barn, and my heart, to bring on a new horse. As it worked out, the Mustang Heritage Foundation was putting on a competition in my own backyard. So, on a whim, and with the blessing of my husband, I was able to enter the competition last minute, selecting my top ten favorites from the photo gallery of Mustangs that had been hand picked for the competitors. Boo was my 7th pick. It’s hard to say what made me pick him from just a gallery of photos and a super quick video, but he seemed brave and thoughtful in that little video clip, and that sounded like something I could work with. Pick up is an experience in its own right. Since these horses are wild and unhandled they are driven into your trailer from their corrals with the help of a series of chutes and flags, and then they are all yours and you’re on your way!
Without going into all the details of gentling and training a Mustang, from a wild animal to a willing partner, let me just say – there is NOTHING like it! Domestic horses are wonderful, and are my first love, but after making this bond with my Mustang, they just might not be “enough” anymore! Those special qualities I was able to get a glimpse of in the video clip translated to a bold and curious horse, and our training milestones were met easily. I can’t wait to see them translated to under saddle work.
Boo is so smart, and has a drive to learn new things. His trust in me has been the most special part of our partnership, and is something I think you only see, at this level, with the wild horses.
Being my 7th pick, Boo was absolutely a happy accident and he quickly became “the one” for me. I can’t even remember the rest of my list now, except for maybe two other horses that were on it. Being a Rookie (that means having no previous competition experience), I truly didn’t know what I had with Boo and, looking back, I wish I had pushed us both just a little bit more. We (the competitors) all picked up our Mustangs on the same day and we had about 90 days to gentle them, before showing them in three different classes.
All classes were done in-hand and the first class was a basic handling class, where we had to showcase our Mustang’s ability to go through the motions of everyday life, like being caught, leading, grooming, picking up all four feet, and loading into a strange trailer. It might not seem like much, but it certainly can get interesting fast! The second class was a trail class, where we had to navigate obstacles like bridges, small jumps, precision maneuvers, and flags flapping in the wind. Our third and last class was both the most fun and the most anxiety-inducing! We had to create a freestyle showing off any special skills our Mustangs had learned, set to a 3-minute music clip of our choice.
Out of 60+ adult competitors Boo and I placed 6th overall, and in our Rookie Division we placed 4th! It was such a fun and uplifting experience. Once in a lifetime…except I had so much fun gentling Boo that I signed up to do another challenge back-to-back! So, now I have two special young Mustangs; one for myself and one for my husband. A white one and a black one; a salt and pepper set!
This experience has taught me so much about reading horses and learning how to open a dialogue with them, instead of a dictatorship. I think that’s where my success with Boo lies. He knows that I listen to him, and that he can look to me to make the safe decisions. I know what he knows, and I know when we are pushing a threshold, and that’s where learning and growth happens. The most special takeaway I have from this experience is that it’s never too late to learn and grow as a horseman (or woman). Horses are such a special passion, and I look forward to continuing my journey with them!