On March 26th, we made the 10hr trek down to Burns, OR and picked up three adorable yearling Mustangs for the 2021 Washington Mustang Madness 100 Day Training Challenge. The competition gives participants 130 days to train a completely wild and unhandled mustang before returning for a final competition to showcase the trainability of wild Mustangs and for a chance to compete for prizes.
Once home, gentling the three yearlings started bright and early March 27th and within only a few hours all three yearlings were leading, accepting being touched and had their tags removed. We immediately deemed them the easiest Mustangs we had gentled so far and couldn’t have been more pleased with their personality and willingness to learn.
We had a very special opportunity to be able to train and gentle three Mustangs all the same age and from the same herd HMA (Paisley Desert) and compare each of their very different personalities over the four month competition.
Marissa’s Mustang for the competition, Elsie, was the biggest of the yearlings and from the first time we saw her we knew she was going to be the most reactive of the three. Her panicky flight reaction had her running into the 6ft corral panels on more than one occasion that first day home. The first time Marissa entered Elsie’s pen to start Elsie’s training, she had to stand in the middle of the pen and stay super calm and quiet while Elsie frantically paced back and forth, breaking out in a sweat just from nerves. Marissa stood quietly for a long time and let Elsie get used to her. I predicted it would take Marissa a few days or even a week before she would earn Elsie’s trust enough to touch her so I stopped watching and busily began working with my yearling, while coaching my younger sister with the third Mustang yearling. I turned around a few minutes later and to my surprise Marissa is petting, Elsie! Within a few more minutes, Elsie is not only enjoying being touched but moving closer to Marissa for more scratches. Once Elsie realized Marissa wasn’t a threat, she trusted Marissa and not only was Marissa able touch Elsie on the first day of training but picked up all four feet, trained her to lead walk/ trot and took her on her first outing outside the round pen. We were all astonished! Elsie had gone from frantic to a very well behaved halter broke yearling in a single day! I think we all knew Elsie was going to be something very special! Here is a video of Elsie’s First Day Of Training.
Over the four months of competition Elsie had her fair share of challenges and successes. Elsie was a sensitive filly with a huge desire to please which allowed Marissa to really refine a wide variety of advanced in-hand maneuvers. But… Elsie was also very reactive to obstacles. At first even walking between two cones or barrels was extremely nerve-raking and took Elsie several weeks to finally become ok with it. Each obstacle Marissa introduced to Elsie took a lot of patience and time before she was comfortable with it and still by the end of the four months some certain obstacles caused Elsie grief. After 4 months of trying Elsie would still try to jump over a scary blue tarp that she had seen at least 500times…silly filly.
We always try to take are Mustangs on multiple outings to different arenas before competition. With Covid putting a halt on most shows and 4-H functions it was harder than normal to find places to bring our Mustangs. Then our Mustangs all got juvenal warts…Eliza’s and my Mustang only had warts for a few weeks but Elsie got big nasty ones all over her nose that dragged on for months and months. Typically warts aren’t that big of a deal in yearlings, they eventually just fall off and then the horse is immune. But since we were trying to go to a competition we wanted to get the warts gone fast. We tried essential oils and a bunch of different creams but a few weeks before competition we ended up contacting our vet and she came over and crushed her warts and then we had to feed the warts to Elsie….. Not our first choice of treatment but the warts cleared up within a few days.
But by then we didn’t have time to get Elsie out to a different arena before competition. She had gone on outings to tree farms and trail walks but never to an arena so we weren’t sure how she would do at competition in a huge indoor arena in a completely new environment.
On August 4th, we loaded up the Mustangs and headed to Cle Elum, WA to the WA State Horse Park for the final competition. The first day of competition consisted of a simple check in, a trainers meeting and the first of three preliminary classes;The Handling Class. The handling class entailed picking up all four feet, releasing and catching your Mustang in a round pen, brushing your Mustang, trotting between two barrels and loading into a trailer. Everything required in this class, Elsie was practiced up and ready for. Elsie’s pattern started out prefect until Elsie realized she was the only Mustang in the arena and all of her friends were waiting outside. Elsie, in typical yearling fashion, called and screamed to her buddies and pranced about nervously. Marissa did a great job staying calm and helping Elsie through the rest of the pattern but Elsie did not regain focus and continued her nervous banter throughout the entire class. They ended up coming in 9th in that class.
The next morning bright and early was Pattern Class ( think Showmanship). Elsie was much more settled in and was a rockstar! She placed second in this class with only a one point difference between her and first place.
Late afternoon was the last of the preliminary classes. Whoever’s combined score placed them in the top 6 would return the next day and compete for overall champion. Nerves were high for this last class as everyone wanted to do well and make one last effort to secure their spot in the top 6. It was a tough trail pattern with some advanced technical maneuvers including trotting between and around three very tight barrels placed around 3-5 feet apart with poles lining each side so it wasn’t possible to make wider turns. There were long stretches of side passing over logs, a bridge, gate, weird pole configurations and even a campsite complete with tent, rubber ducky’s and every kind or scary water bottle/coffee container you can find. During training Elsie’s biggest struggle has always been obstacles, so we all held our breath as Marissa and Elsie entered the arena for their turn. Overall, Elsie did fantastic! She hesitated for a split second on the barrels, got a little distracted side passing and gave a huge nervous look at the camp site but held it together and performed a very very nice pattern. We were thrilled!!!!
They didn’t announce the placings for the trail pattern or who placed in the top 6 until the next morning. When they announced the placing’s, Marissa placed forth in trail leaving her with a 9th in Handling, 2nd in Pattern and 4th in Trail which snuck her into 5th overall and into the freestyle performance. Marissa and Elsie’s woodland fairy freestyle was beautiful and perfect. Elsie really shined in this class and showed her true colors of what an incredible Mustang she truly is. Elsie placed second in Freestyle which landed her into placing third overall!