In 1971, with the help students from across America, Ms. Velma Johnson’s efforts of protecting America’s horse became reality with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. Ms. Johnson saw the American Mustang as an icon of the West and fought to protect them and land they roamed, creating a legacy that lives on today. This act declared the wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West”. Carrying out this task has led to the establishment of the Wild Horse and Burro Program, through which the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages and protects these animals both on and off the range as well as working to maintain the rangeland that they call home.
Fast forward to 2012, the BLM estimates that well over 29,500 wild horses are roaming on America’s rangeland. In an effort to encourage heard health and preserve grazing resources for future generations of horses the BLM periodically removes wild horses from the range. Thousands of these horses are then made available to the public for adoption through trainer incentive programs. Over the past several years the Mustang Heritage Foundation (MHF) and the BLM have joined forces and developed the Extreme Mustang Makeover and Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover events to highlight the American Mustang and gain the public’s awareness of the versatility and trainability of the breed. By demonstrating the ability of a Mustang to be an athlete and nurturing companion, the Foundation is successfully helping the Bureau of Land Management reposition some of the nearly 30,000 wild horses available for adoption.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge events are held at various venues throughout the United States from California to New Jersey. Horsemen and women of all skill levels are invited to apply and compete for the championship title as well as $250,000 in cash and prizes. Contestants are chosen by a panel of experts and randomly matched with an equine partner to gentle and train to the discipline of their choice. After approximately 100 days of training, participants and their Mustangs are put on center stage, showing off their talents in front of a live audience and a panel of judges. All of the equine acts are asked to perform the same skill sets, (1) handling and conditioning, (2) pattern class, and (3) combined leading and riding trail class. The top 10 Mustangs with the highest combined total score get a place in the final round that includes compulsory maneuvers and a freestyle performance.
Traditional reigning patterns, treading over bridges and maneuvering through calvalettis are just a few of the skills that these horses display in front of the audience. The finalist have included horses who jump through rings of fire, and play fetch, there’s even one that gets in a car, sits down and goes for a ride! At the end of the competition, all of the hard work that goes into these horses pays off for both the trainer and the horse. Thousands of dollars in prize money, saddles and silver is offered to winners and runners up. Participants are also eligible for compensation of funds spent feeding and caring for the horses while in their care. The horses earn a place in someone’s heart and ultimately a new home.
On the final day of competition, the event comes to a close with a live auction. Approved bidders strike at the chance to purchase the Mustang of their liking, and take home an American legend. As an added bonus, the horse’s trainer takes home a 10% commission with all other proceeds going to support the efforts of the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Since the inception of the Mustang Heritage Foundation and events like the Extreme Mustang Challenge, over 3,300 American Mustangs have been adopted. This number is steadily rising and the versatility and hardiness of the breed continues to impress horsemen of all disciplines.
Upcoming events include October 21 in Clemson, SC. and November 16-17 in Alvarado, TX. A complete schedule can be found on the web at www.extrememustangmakeover.com.
Information on adoptions is available at www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov.
Details on the Trainer Incentive Program can be found on the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s website.
Watch a video of Bobby Kerr winning the 2012 Supreme Mustang Makeover.