In six hours (9:30pm), we are leaving for Kentucky. After 100+ days, it is time for Cat and her yearling mustang, Beau, to have their moment in the spotlight.
It’s been a long haul. Cat says that time has flown by. For me, it seems as if Beau has been part of the herd for much longer than three months.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation has done a wonderful job of creating a program to rescue, train, and regime these amazing creatures while educating people about the true majestic nature of these horses that roam free in the west of the United States. And I’m proud to announce that both Cat and I have become lifetime members of their organization.
I can honestly say that breast cancer led us to the mustangs. It was during my post cancer treatment when I took Cat to her dream place (cough cough—Los Angeles) when we learned about the Mustang Heritage Foundation. On a trail ride that took us through the hills outside of LA, our guide told us about the program. Cat listened intensively, never saying a word. But she researched it and a few months later asked if she could apply for the Youth Division of the Extreme Mustang Makeover.
Little did I realize how much that moment would change our lives and cement her future.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management work together to create these exciting programs for adults and for youth. I can speak about the transformation in Cat from first hand experience. Taming and training these mustangs is no easy feat. There have been tears, arguments, moments of defeat. But through it all, faith has brought both of us through it.
I’m not going to try to deny that going to these competitions isn’t stressful. On the one hand, you only want what is best for every single horse and competitor. It’s sad when you see horses that haven’t reached their full potential. Some horses are harder to train than others. And some trainers don’t really know what they are doing.. A few train for the competition instead of training the horse properly. But, for the most part, the trainers really do love these horses and focus on training them in a way that they can be placed in forever homes.
I credit the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management for continuing to support these horses and trainers through the programs they offer jointly. It’s a wonderful experience for anyone fortunate enough to participate. What I hope that each trainer learns is what we have learned.
First of all, mustangs are not like every other horse. They need to be trained with patience and by developing trust. Methods that include hog-tying them or “breaking” them right away can be disastrous. Most horses could not survive in the wild. Mustangs can. They have developed a sixth sense about survival. And a seventh sense about not trusting people. Trying to force a mustang to be trained right away is not “training” but “breaking” a horse in the most literal sense of the word.
Second, being able to gain that trust can be life changing. Over the years, I’ve watched several youth trainers overcome self-esteem issues and learn to grow as confident individuals. Horses do not judge based on size, shape, color, or the size of a trust fund. If they are loved, they will love back. They are the most loyal animal that I have ever met and been fortunate enough to include in our family.
Third, good mustang trainers learn that you need to give in order to get. In today’s society where so many young people are takers, living a life of entitlement with helicopters swooping into the rescue whenever the chips are down, a real mustang trainer learns that you cannot expect anyone to owe you anything. At the end of the day, it comes down to what YOU are made of. What is YOUR true character?
And with that comes the realization that you cannot blame others for your failures. Too often young people blame others for how they feel or if they fail. No. In the world of mustang training, you have to look at yourself at the end of the day. If the horse learns well, you did a great job. If the horse doesn’t, well…what could you have done better?
This program is not one that is for the faint of heart. It’s a commitment. Not just in the 90 or 100 days of training, but in the creation of life long possibilities for that horse.
And isn’t that a great lesson for people to learn? It’s not something taught in high schools or even college. But through the hard blood, sweat, and tears of accepting this responsibility to tame and train these mustangs, the trainers learn the true meaning of giving back. It’s not about them, but the mustangs.
So as we get ready to embark on our journey to Kentucky, I’m reminded that it’s not about who wins the competition but how the horses have already won…and their trainers along with them. For that matter, the parents have also won by supporting their children while letting them take their lumps. It does no one any good to have parents swoop in to rescue their children at each obstacle along the way. Only through facing these obstacles will they be able to overcome them.
Hopefully these young trainers have learned this important lesson and, in the process, taught their mustangs that you don’t have to have wings to soar.