After 100 days of hands-on training, horse trainers from around eastern United States worked to tame wild American mustangs for the Extreme Mustang Makeover held Friday and Saturday at the Chicopee Woods Agricultural Center on Calvary Church Road in Gainesville.
Two divisions, youth and adult, competed for cash and prizes awarded to the trainer that demonstrated the horse’s abilities and talent during a short freestyle performance.
Youth competitors ages 8-17 had a 3«-minute showcase to demonstrate the work and training they’ve done with their adopted mustangs.
Lily Verhoven, 11, of Gainesville, was the youngest competitor at the event.
“It was a lot of fun,” Lily said after performing with her mustang Blaze.
Working with the horses is the best part for Lily, who has been riding since she was age 3. She said it is a lot of work that starts with a special bond of trust.
He mother, Laurie Verhoven, said that for Lily it wasn’t about where she placed at the event, but to inspire others who ride at the family’s Sky Acres Farm.
“She wanted to do this to show them that they can do it, to take a horse that has never been touched by a human hand and to go to laying down, that’s something that they can work toward,” Laurie Verhoven said. “It was to help them, for any age, to show that you can do it if you just work for it. It’s all about working hard, determination and respect for the horse.”
Verhoven was impressed by everyone at the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and everyone involved in the event.
“Even though you’re competing against people, they still want you to succeed. It’s not just to succeed for you it’s to succeed for those mustangs, to give those mustangs a good home,” Verhoven said.
After the adult freestyle event, all of the gentle trained mustangs were available for adoption through a prequalified auction.
“Currently there’s 50,000 American mustangs waiting for adoption,” said Kyla Hogan, marketing director for the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
Chicopee Ag Center was chosen for its proximity to the trainers scattered throughout the region. Hogan hopes such events brings horses to people who might not have the opportunity to adopt a gentled horse.
“A lot of people are unaware of the plight of the mustang,” she said. “They’re unaware of the fact there are so many available for adoption. We try to bring them a gentled horse that’s ready to go so they can see that these horses have extreme value, they just need some time and patience and energy and they make incredible equestrian partners after that.”
The Mustang Heritage Foundation partners with the Bureau of Land Management, to increase adoption of the wild horses in the BLM’s corrals and long-term holding facilities