Here’s my story:
Hi, my name is Duece and I am an American Mustang who came from the high desert near Monticristo, Nevada. My name hasn’t always been Duece, but we will get to that in a bit. I was born on May 8, 2005, in a small valley partially protecting my mother, Rose, from the cool rain that was falling. My father, Wolf, a large black stallion with a star, was standing watch on a small hill nearby. He had received his name as a youngster for fighting off wolves that wanted him for dinner. That is why we are called prey animals, because there are always predators in the wild that would make us their dinner. Born without incident, I was a spindly, long-legged black colt with a white diamond on my forehead and one white sock. After spending a couple of days in the valley to let me get my legs under me, we went back to the safety of the band of about 20 mares and 15 foals, of which I was the youngest and would be the last for that year in our band. Looking around, I could see my half brothers and sisters looked like me with several of them black with a white spot on their forehead. Being named Star or Diamond was out of the question, so I became Sock to the rest of the horses.
Summer was a fun time with all the playing and running with my brothers and sisters. We moved around a lot following grass and water. When we moved, it was mostly in a large circle which would bring us back to what we hoped was re-grown grass and refilled water pools. The summer was uneventful, but the fall was full of unexpected events. The first of these was my mother starting to push me away. This weaning, as it is called, hurt my feelings, but as she schooled me on the most nutritious forages and how to find salt and minerals, I began to understand this was for my own good. She also taught me to always be alert to my surroundings, because danger lurks behind every boulder or bush in the form of predators like wolves, cats, bears or humans. The grass was becoming short and then it began to snow. The snow covered what grass was left, but some large strange birds, I later heard them called helicopters, dropped cut grass (hay) from the sky about three times a week when the ground was snow-covered.
Spring came and brought a sense of excitement as the grass began to grow and we began to move more than we had during the winter. As we drifted along, feeding on the new grass, taking our time, some strange horse-like animals appeared. They had two heads and looked almost funny, but my mother explained these were only humans riding horses and they had come to get us. Panic set in, the whole herd began to move faster and then I realized the strange creatures were chasing us. My thought was to outrun them, but the older more experienced members of the band said to just go along because they would eventually catch us anyway.
We were moved into an enclosure with a bunch of openings and smaller pens. Then the yearlings were separated from the others and put into one of the smaller pens. This would be the last time I would see my mother and the other members of the band. After a day or so, we were put in a much smaller alley where we were given shots, the colts were gelded, our hooves were trimmed if needed, we were de-wormed, and we were freeze-branded on the left side of our necks. After these somewhat uncomfortable procedures, we were put into pens with plenty of water and hay and left alone for a day or two. After a couple of days, we were turned out onto pastures with the most grass I had ever seen and we didn’t have to walk a long way to find enough to eat. This would be our home for the next three years and I really hoped I would never have to leave.
Mid-summer of 2009 found me without a care — plenty of food, water and shelter — life was good. Little did we know our small world was about to be enlarged greatly; we were in for a road trip. Herded into pens, separated by number, immunized, de-wormed and then loaded on trailers, we were on our way. We were bound for destinations ending in several different states and ultimately in Texas and Tennessee for the Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) Competition. The EMM pairs selected trainers from all across the United States with randomly selected mustangs. The trainers pick them up at a relocation center and have them to train for 100 days. The trainers must teach the horse specific tasks to perform as well as anything to showcase the trainer’s ability, and the willingness and athleticism of their mustang partner.
A few hours into the trip, we were unloaded to eat, drink and exercise. The next day when we were loaded onto trailers, I learned we would be going to the Adoption Center in Cross Plains, Tennessee, where we would meet our co-competitors. At the center, I renewed acquaintances, greeted relatives, met new horses and learned something about what was going to happen to us. We were to be paired with a specific trainer for the competition to be held in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on October 23-24, 2009.
My human counterpart was to be Dale "Snap" Lively from Nauvoo, a veteran from the competition in Fort Worth, Texas, last year. I was elated because I had heard about this man from a horse that was at the competition in Texas and was impressed by Mr. Dale’s demeanor and the way he looked out for his partner, Uno, during their time at the show. After being uprooted, shipped cross-country and unloaded in a strange place, I could hardly wait until Friday, July 17, 2009, to meet this man.
Friday morning brought an air of excitement to the whole facility as trucks and horse trailers began to arrive. I was in the first pen, so I saw everyone as they parked in the field out front. We were to be loaded in the order people arrived, which put me to be loaded third. The first to be loaded were five or six horses going to Pennsylvania, second was a horse going to North Carolina (I think), and then it was my turn. I was removed from the pen and the safety of numbers, run into a very small pen and fitted with this head gear called a halter that had a long thing attached that looked a lot like a snake. Back in the alley, as I began to move, the snake thing began to chase me. If I stopped, the snake didn’t move and then I realized it wasn’t a snake at all. I could hardly control myself, I was ready to go, but I had to make a good showing. Instead of just jumping on the trailer, I ran up and down the alley almost getting on the trailer three times before I allowed the humans to shut the gate on the trailer.
The truck was pulled away from the chute and parked, and an older gentleman began to talk soothingly to me and gently pulling on the lead rope (that is what I learned the snake was). As I gave to the pressure of the pull on the rope, he would release and relax. This procedure was repeated a couple of times and was the beginning of the bond of trust and partnership that was to form between us. On the trip to Nauvoo, we stopped a couple of times with Mr. Dale repeating the process each time.
Upon arrival at Mr. Dale’s farm, I was unloaded into a large comfortable stall with hay, feed and fresh water. He spent about another hour with me just talking, moving me around and putting the lead all over my body to show it wasn’t going to hurt me. Mr. Dale is a fun-loving, kind, gentle man and it was clear to me he and I were going to be good for each other. We were going to be partners with each contributing the willingness to succeed in the task set before us.
The first day or two was spent on ground training, good manners (mine), flexing, picking up each of my feet and saddling. Then he worked me with him sitting on the top panel of the round pen and the next thing I knew he was on my back and I remembered the strange animals of my youth. Not moving at first, he just sat on my back for a minute, got off and then got back on nudging me to move a little. I have been exposed to just about anything you can think of from flags, logs, bridges and barrels to buffalo, dogs and chickens. I am still a prey animal, but I have learned to control my fear, realizing that most things are not going to hurt me, and I can trust Mr. Dale to keep me safe.
The competition we are getting ready for has specific things the judges will look for like overall condition, in-hand ground work and a sort of trail course. The conditioning score will come from body condition, hair coat, grooming and overall appearance. This will not be a problem as I am groomed and bathed every day with my hooves trimmed as needed. As far as nutrition, I am fed Alabama Farmers Cooperative Champions Choice 12% and supplemented with AFC Minerals, which provides me with all the nutrients I need to look my best and perform at the highest level. The in-hand ground work will consist of moving shoulders right and left, moving hips right and left, backing, picking up all four feet, loading in the trailer, and using manners. The horse course will include required tasks including walk, trot, lope, stop, back up, lope left and right with correct lead, and turn 360 degrees in both directions. Then there will be a four-minute freestyle where the trainer can do anything to showcase the horse’s athletic ability, willingness and what the trainer has accomplished in the allotted training period.
Well, it is going on 60 days I have been in training and, let me tell you, I am a changed horse. I am doing things due to Mr. Dale’s tutelage I never dreamed of doing. We have been constant companions and friends as the bond of trust continues to grow. He has been patient, but also firm in his teachings, and because of this we have accomplished so much. I can comfortably load in a trailer, walk a bridge, bow, stand on a pedestal, pull from the saddle horn, side pass and a host of other tasks with ease. The competition in Tennessee will be held October 23, 24 and 25 and I am so looking forward to showing what I have been trained to perform. The only thing bothering me is the possibility of not getting to come home with Mr. Snap because the horses will be auctioned on the 25th and you never know what will happen. If it works out that I go to someone else, Mr. Snap will be carried in my heart and I am sure that due to him, I will be a willing partner.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover was formed by the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management to showcase the wild mustang. These competitions show the versatility and willingness of the American Mustang, and that they can make a valuable equine partner.
We at Quality Co-ops are proud to sponsor Duece and Dale with 12% Champions Choice in their quest for mustang perfection. Remember your local Quality Co-op store has your animal’s needs from feed to animal health. If we don’t have it, we will order it for you. We appreciate your business and strive to earn and keep it.
For more information on mustangs or Duece, Dale can be reached at (205) 275-9138. Information on Extreme Mustang Makeover, adoption sites and dates, and training opportunities are available from the Mustang Heritage Foundation at (512) 869-3225 or the Bureau of Land Management at (202) 452-5125.
Don Linker is an outside salesman for AFC.