October 2014
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Mustang Makeover to the Extreme

Taylor McIntosh and his mustang Owen emerged as overall champions of the event. Owen assists in holding the check. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)  

Equine poetry took the stage at Alabama’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover.

Nothing can evoke patriotism, freedom and the unbridled yearnings of the soul quite as well as the sight of a mustang unleashing its full prowess in the ultimate display of elegance, beauty and grace.

Such equine poetry took center stage at Alabama’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover held at the Morgan County Celebration Arena in Decatur August 8-9.

Sponsored by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, the event offered an adult division, in which 24 equestrians worked with assigned mustangs for a 100-day period, before riding them in preliminary classes that determined which competitors earned a spot in the top 10 freestyle finals.

For the youth division of the competition, eight equestrians adopted and trained yearling mustangs and showed them in in-hand classes.

  Taylor McIntosh stands on his mustang Owen and shoots a gun during the freestyle portion. Taylor and Owen accomplished many original feats during their captivating routine.  (Credits: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)

At the conclusion of the competition, all of the adult mustangs were available for adoption.

"The goal of the competition is for the trainers to produce a safe, well-rounded horse that someone can adopt into their family and riding environment," explained Mustang Heritage Foundation Marketing Director Kyla Hogan. "The classes are designed to incorporate horsemanship maneuvers and situations that a horse and rider might encounter during a day of trail riding or working in the arena."

Alabama Extreme Mustang Makeover Champion Taylor McIntosh of Waverly and his mustang Owen both immediately stole the hearts of those whose paths they crossed, were selected fan favorite, and left spectators spellbound with their freestyle routine.

During the freestyle portion, the dynamic pair made a grand entrance into the arena by clearing a jump through a cowboy curtain and did not disappoint in a quest to accomplish original feats.

In a demonstration of complete trust in each other, they cleared a jump while McIntosh shot a gun and rode on a moving panel hauled by a truck around the arena while McIntosh distributed t-shirts into the crowd with a cannon.

Highlights of the ride that also incorporated reining elements included McIntosh’s brilliant and symbolic carry of the American flag, and the pair’s smooth and solid movements, transitions and maneuvers.

McIntosh became involved with horses in college through rodeo and bull riding, connecting him with his current friends and colleagues.

The crowd erupted as Adult Reserve Champion Stan Smith of Athens sat his mustang Alt 6 on a panel during the freestyle portion of the event. Creativity was a major component of the event. (Credit: Mary Katherine Morris Photography)  

He credits his wife Brandy, who is a previous collegiate reiner with invaluable show experience under her belt, for spurring his passion for horses the most.

"I told her after the bull riding career that I wanted to go and learn how to ride horses and learn how to rope. She said, ‘Well, if you’re gonna learn, you’re gonna learn from the best.’ My first formal lesson was with Al Dunning, so she sent me to the top of the top. And kind of the rest is history now."

What McIntosh appreciated most about the competition was what it allowed him to accomplish in training Owen.

"I guess the only thing Owen knew was what I was teaching him, and I think that was the favorite aspect of mine because it was really a tribute to the way I train a horse, and it really showed what we can do at McIntosh Equine," he said.

The name McIntosh chose for the mustang he drew for the competition holds a special meaning.

"The name Owen was picked out because of a childhood friend of mine who died from cancer, and his name was Brian Owen," he said. "And I figured what a way to honor him and his family by naming this special horse after him."

He touched upon the connection formed between him and Owen.

"The bond between me and Owen is something I cannot even really explain all the way," he said. "I had to gain his complete trust from day one, and I had to give him mine. Also to get on something that people call ‘wild’ – it takes a whole lot of trust the first ride. My heart beat a little fast, I’m not going to lie, but I had trust in Owen and I had trust in my flag man, Stephen Freeman of Old South Equine, and he’s flagged me on so many colts, it’s not even funny now."

McIntosh explained the importance of Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions.

"The mustangs don’t have a voice," he said. "They’re just a horse standing in a pen after they’re gathered. This takes the older mustangs, the 5-year-olds and what-not, and, really, it pushes them out into the public eye and says ‘Hey this is a trainable horse that you can actually get something done on.’ We did more with that 5-year-old mustang than what most people can do with their 2-year-old Quarter Horses."

McIntosh related that such a competition frees mustangs from a holding facility, where they might have been for 3 or 4 years, a fact which people may not realize.

‘They think of a mustang running free," he said. "And that’s not exactly how it is. The mustangs are standing in pens in Nevada and Wyoming. They’re just standing there doing nothing."

He further expounded on existing misconceptions about mustangs.

"Most people think of a mustang as something wild and rogue – that it’s going to buck every time," he said. "But these guys are not built to buck, that’s the funny concept. They don’t buck. They run."

The event was a story of redemption for Reserve Champion Stan Smith of Athens and the mustang he trained, Alt 6.

After competing in Extreme Mustang Makeover competitions for the past 6 years, Smith finally drew the type of horse he had always wanted to work with, a mustang that was branded on the hip and deemed unadoptable.

"He was scared to death when I got him," Smith said. "He was fighting for his life. He didn’t know if I was a tiger or not."

Smith formed the analogy of how Alt 6 represents all of mankind.

Everyone has at some point in life felt unwanted or branded, he stipulated.

Like many, all Alt 6 needed was to find purpose and a job to thrive.

Two cowboy churches have used the topic of Alt 6’s transformation for sermons.

Third place competitor Andy Blevins of 4B Horsemanship in Oldfort, Tenn., related how trust was the building block of training the mustang he drew, Nevada’s Cayuse.

It was imperative he touch his horse within the first 24 hours of bringing him home, Blevins said.

"After I think about three or four hours of working him and yielding him and touching him with the rope, I was actually able to touch him with my hands because it was very important for me to get my hands on him that first day."

The mentality of Nevada’s Cayuse directed the course of his training.

"I kind of let him tell me how fast to go. Now, with him being as aggressive as he was, that also worked in my favor."

If Nevada’s Cayuse seemed stressed, Blevins would give him a break and ride him in the mountains.

"I’m fortunate to have a national wilderness within 20 minutes. So we would just let him go be a horse and take the day off."

Taylor expressed his gratitude to the Mustang Makeover Foundation for being an asset to the mustangs.

"I think it’s just a wonderful event to showcase the different trainers in the area and really show off what these mustangs can do," he said. "Without the Mustang Heritage Foundation, none of this is possible."

Jade Currid is a freelance writer from Auburn.