September 2015
In the News

Extreme Makeover: Up for Adoption

  Although Tango kicked Josh Hellums three times when he first got him, now the animal is gentle and well-accustomed to being touched. Hellums asserted that now anybody can ride him.

Trainer Josh Hellums will be one of 50 competing in the national Extreme Mustang Makeover event this month, which culminates with the adoption of the horses in the competition.

The Bureau of Land Management is responsible for more than 50,000 horses in its care. The animals are in need of adoption by people who will care for them. In an effort to publicize this need, the Mustang Heritage Foundation has several programs designed to initiate adoption. One such event is the Extreme Mustang Makeover.

This year’s Extreme Mustang Makeover scheduled 10 events around the country. The 10th and final event will be held in Fort Worth, Texas, Sept. 10-12. Fifty trainers will be showcasing their assigned mustangs. Among them will be Josh Hellums, one of two Alabamians competing in the event.

Hellums, 32, is from Cherokee in Colbert County in northwest Alabama. He is employed by Lee and Caren Reaves. Caren is a self-described horse fanatic. She currently has four other mustangs and 15 horses on the Reaves Ranch.

During the selection process, Hellums was paired with "Tango," a 6-year-old American Mustang gelding that stands just over 14 hands high. Tango was found with his herd in the Muskrat, Wyo., area. He is the property of the BLM and will be available for adoption after he competes in September.

All animals acquired through the BLM have a tattoo or brand that tells their stories such as herd information, etc.  

Hellums picked up Tango from a BLM holding facility in Jackson, Miss., May 1. In the competition, trainers and horses are paired through a drawing. The animals come from various herds in Wyoming, Nevada, northern California and other areas.

As part of the Makeover, Hellums has 100 days to prepare Tango for the competition. In the preliminary rounds, some of the requirements are that mustangs must withstand touch from head to hoof, must be loaded into a trailer, and must be ridden and handled accordingly. These are the basic necessities for the animal to be adopted out after the competition.

The top 10 qualifiers will compete in a freestyle round. Trainers can display their skills and their horses’ abilities by preparing tricks or stunts.

Following the competition, the trained mustangs will be offered at auction. Last year Hellums saw a range of $1,200-$7,000. Monies raised at auction benefit the Mustang Heritage Foundation.

This upcoming event will be Hellums’ first time to compete, though not the first mustang he’s trained.

"It’s been an experience for sure," he said. "I’ve had a blast doing it."

Hellums said Tango kicked him three times when he first got him. Now the animal is gentle and well-accustomed to his touch.

"Anybody can ride him," Hellums asserted. "He likes to be petted and rubbed on."

To demonstrate how laid-back Tango is, Hellums cracked a whip several times directly behind the horse. The animal never flinched.

He has worked with Tango tirelessly over the summer and is pleased with the mustang’s progress. Now that the initial gentling of Tango is over, Hellums is free to focus on the fun stuff.

Tango is calm enough that he can practice his tricks and stunts for the freestyle portion of the competition. Hellums is tight-lipped with specifics about what we will see from Tango at the competition.

Tango’s diet consists of oats, alfalfa hay and Bermudagrass. He has gained weight since being in the care of Hellums. It took almost two weeks before Tango would eat grain, recalled Hellums. Tango has adjusted to his domesticated life.

A typical day for Hellums and Tango involves morning and evening rides lasting for 30 minutes to an hour each. Tango is a great trail rider, lacking the hesitation most domesticated horses display on changing terrain.

"He’s probably the best trail horse I have ever ridden, because it’s natural to him," Hellums explained. "He came from the mountains of Wyoming."

The American Mustang has an unclear past. According to Hellums, many people believe the mustang was brought to America by Spanish explorers and settlers. He noted, however, that now some historians are trying to prove that Native Americans were using the mustangs long before the Spanish arrived.

The mustangs come in all colors and sizes, though many of them are smaller than popular show breeds. The herds were probably infiltrated by outside breeds at some point, but have been left untouched for generations. One major difference between mustangs and domesticated horses is that most breeds of horses were designed by man and have been selectively bred for certain characteristics and purposes. Mustangs, however, have been designed by nature.

In a nod to domestication, Hellums shoed Tango’s back hooves because they were starting to splinter. The animal’s front hooves, however, were in good shape. Hellums admitted it wasn’t an easy task to shoe the horse.

"When I first got him, he was like a deer in a pen," Hellums recalled. "But in eight days I was on his back. He took to it like a duck to water."

The Fort Worth competition will offer a $20,000 pay-out to the winner. Second place will earn $10,000 and third will garner $7,000.

Persons interested in more information may visit the Extreme Mustang Makeover’s Facebook page or the website

You may contact Reaves Ranch via email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 256-762-9248.

Susie Sims is a freelance writer from Haleyville.