~ Extreme Mustang Makeover, Norco, CA 2011 ~
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This page is a running journal of Cindy and her mustang partner as they train for the competition in Norco on May 13th - 15th, 2011. Links will appear throughout the text to pages where you can find out more about anything you see here.

Wyatt has ninety days to go from wild to wonderful - follow his progress through days 1 - 30, 31 - 60, then 61 - 90 on the next pages!

The Extreme Mustang Makeover is a competition/fundraiser/conservation effort developed by the Mustang Heritage Foundation to showcase the trainability and versatility of the BLM Mustang. Trainers must apply and be accepted to participate in an event. If selected, they receive an ungentled BLM Mustang from a holding facility on a set day, then have 90 days to train that horse for a final 2-day competition that involves skill and riding tests on both trail and in the arena.

Cindy was accepted as a trainer for the event in Norco, CA, that takes place in May - she received her horse on Friday, February 11th. Check back here often to see how the pair is doing, and join us in Norco on May 13th and 14th to cheer them on! If you are interested in owning the mustang Cindy trained, all the participating horses will be available for auction following the event on May 15th!

Wyatt, Steve & Cindy, and everyone here at YVEC want to say a special hello to Dale Wallace and everyone in his unit, who have been following Wyatt's progess from their location in Afghanistan. Thanks so much for all you do guys!

Day 1: Friday, February 11, 2011. COMING HOME - See the pictures in the gallery.

The week before the new horse was to arrive, a special pen was prepared where the mustang would live, begin his training, and get used to his surroundings. A large outdoor pen close to the main tack room was chosen for its size and also its placement. The pen is quiet, but allows the horse a close view of nearly any activity going on, from horses being groomed and led to those in riding or turnout. Exposing the new horse to the normal elements of daily ranch life is a good way to begin desensitizing him.

Round pen panels were placed across the corners to 'round out' the pen. The reason for this is to allow the most basic training of moving the horse to take place without any corners for the horse to become trapped in. Once the horse is able to lead, he will be worked in a traditional round pen - but with an untouched mustang there is no telling how long it will take to get to the leading stage!

On February 11, the YVEC Crew left early in the morning for the ~ 3 hour drive to the BLM Holding Facility in Ridgecrest, CA. Upon arriving at the facility, they saw that all the horses for the competition were already gathered into the front holding pens.

Cindy received her draw, a 3 year old grey gelding gathered on September 25th, 2010 from the Herd Management Area in Ely, Nevada. BLM personnel herded the gelding up onto the trailer, put on the rope training halter and lead that he will wear until he is gentled, and he was ready to go home.

The gelding did some walking in the trailer but all in all took his journey in stride and arrived in Yucca Valley in the afternoon. He was unloaded into his new pen and allowed some time to rest and recuperate, and explore his surroundings.

After his break, Cindy did a 'get aquainted session' - entering his pen and moving him around a little bit. After about 20 minutes of work, the gelding was learning to yield his hind quarters (turn to face his trainer instead of turning his back). In short order, Cindy was able to pick up the lead rope, and she made her first touch that very afternoon!

Cindy and the gelding did one more reinforcing session that first day, and progressed to touching the face and neck.

Day 2: Saturday, February 12, 2011. FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Saturday's training sessions involved review of yielding, holding the lead rope, and touching and rubbing. From there, Cindy progressed to leading the gelding a few steps at a time.

The training stick was used to begin touching on the the hindquarters and the legs and fetlocks. Also on this day, Cindy used a rope to begin elementary lifting of the front hooves as well as desensitizing of the back. The as-yet unnamed gelding was responsive but wary, and Cindy began introducing other people into the pen. The gelding was quite willing to allow others to touch him once he realized neck rubbing would always be involved!

Saturday's sessions ended with the gelding leading short distances willingly.

Day 3: Sunday, February 13, 2011. MINIMUM DAY

Sunday was mainly a day off, though one evening session took place. This session was a review of the previous ones, with the addition of allowing hand rubbing of the back and hind quarters, and allowing another person to lead. The little charmer is making wonderful progress as well as capturing the hearts of all YVEC boarders and staff!

Barn cat Lucy has already trained him to be 'cat safe' by repeatedly running through his pen though there are many more convenient routes available. Thanks for all your help, Lucy!

Day 4: Monday, February 14, 2011. HAVING A BALL. See the pictures in the gallery

Monday started with review, and work on respect issues. Having decided that rubbing and petting is a good thing, the little guy thought mouthing and nipping might be fun too, so he needed lessons on proper behavior!

Today his rope halter was removed and switched out for another one, one that fits him properly. The original halter was too large; without seeing him, it was tough to know what size to bring. His new rope halter is green and white, and fits correctly under his jaw instead of being loose. He is leading well at this stage.

He also received his first toy today - a large red bouncing ball. While wary at first his curiosity got the better of him, and he began nosing the ball and pushing it around a little bit. Cindy worked on desensitizing him by bouncing it higher and higher away from his body but where he could see it.

He got his first good view of a horse and rider team close to his pen today - and he wasn't too sure about that! Having a horse ridden past him caused a lot of snorting and starting, but he did come close to the front to see what it was all about.

Today's top pick for a name: Wyatt - but no firm decision yet!
Tomorrow's Plan: leading outside the pen.

Day 5: Tuesday, February 15, 2011. SADDLE UP! See the pictures in the gallery

The little guy still doesn't have an offical name, but Wyatt is the front-runner so far. For his morning session he had a leading review, then had his first experience with the saddle! He was introduced to both saddle and bridle today, and after one bad reaction both tack items were placed on him. He tried to crawl into Cindy's pocket to escape his fate; when that didn't work, he offered 2 or 3 hops with his saddle on, then quit.

His afternoon session was a review of saddling and bridling, and this time, no protests at all! He is taking his new job and lifestyle right in stride, and so far seems eager to progress and learn more!

Day 6: Wednesday, February 16, 2011. BLOWN AWAY

Today was a review day only, because winds of 50mph or more with blowing sand made everything difficult! Still, some rubbing and leading practice was squeezed in before the weather turned, and an official name was chosen today: Wyatt King.

Day 7: Thursday, February 17, 2011. TAKIN' A WALK See the pictures in the gallery

Thursday's progress made up for the bad weather day Wednesday. Today Wyatt came out of his pen for his first tour of the ranch! He led all around the pens and out towards the back patures, seeing for the first time such monsters as the Feed Truck and The White Barrels - he took everything right in stride. He also made a journey down to the round pen for his first official lunging session.

After lunging, Wyatt walked into the riding arena and took a look around, including stepping over caveletti poles.

Afternoon saw Wyatt again in the round pen, with his saddle and bridle. After his workout he took another walkabout, this time gong inside the barn. This was his first time going into a covered space and walking on pavement. The pavement did give him some pause, but after initially hopping over the 'transition place' of dirt to cement, everything went just fine.

Wyatt also received his first real grooming session today, including brushes and his first experience with tying. His first reaction to being tied was to pull back a little, but once he realized the rope would slide and nothing bad was happening, he stood for his grooming like a champ.

Day 8: Friday, February 18, 2011. SMOOTHING IT OUT See the pictures in the gallery

Today Wyatt was very cooperative with his saddling and bridling - this time with reins attached. He was lunged both directions in the round pen, then took another walk for his cool-down. On his walk today he was allowed to explore - and put his front feet into - a two-horse slant load trailer. This was a new experience for him, having been transported in the more open stock trailer previously. The two horse is smaller, darker, and more enclosed.

Today during his grooming session he was introduced to the wire curry - finally, no more of those pesky mats in his coat! The rest of the day was a wash-out - literally. It became quite windy and then poured in Yucca Valley. Who says it doesn't rain in the desert?

Wyatt was moved to a regular pen with a semi-roof to keep the rain off; he also learned how to eat out of the metal feeder in the pen, instead of off the ground!

Day 9: Saturday, February 19, 2011. BLAH!

Today's weather made it a basic review of touching day. Icy cold, windy, with some rain and later some hail! But Wyatt certainly didn't mind a rubbing review at all.

Day 10: Sunday, February 20, 2011. CROSSING BRIDGES

Sunday's session began with a walk around the ranch, and Wyatt let it be known that he had energy to burn after yesterday's cold weather. A short lunge in the round pen without tack got his mind back on track, and he then toured the lower half of the ranch. Wyatt entered the Dressage Court at A and took a walk through the center, stepping over a railroad tie to exit at C.

Next it was up the hill to the toy area - Wyatt got his first exposure to a wooden bridge. He hesitated only a little, then walked fearlessly over. When led up to the bridge again there was no hesitation at all - he'd already conquered that beast! He also spent some time following a log that was dragged ahead of him, building confidence for the day he will be dragging the log himself.

Wyatt ended the day with a last lap around the pens, then enjoyed a quiet dinner.

Day 11: Monday, February 21, 2011. TESTING LIMITS

Today was a big day for Wyatt, a day for some heavy-duty break-throughs and a lot of learning. Though at first it may not have appeared so!

Up until now, Wyatt has calmly accepted everything he's been exposed to, with a bare minimum of resistance. This may seem like a good thing, and in part it is - he's had a chance to be exposed to a lot of new experiences in a short amount of time. But the down side to that is that Wyatt has been a horse who has allowed things to be done to him - he's never tried to make a decision to learn and accept. Today changed all that.

Wyatt's 'teenage' attitude kicked in today - he's had some experience, and thought himself capable of choosing what activities he'd perform and how he'd like to do them. It all started with the saddle blanket, which he's been wearing for several days, and seen from both sides of his body. Today Cindy chose to put it on him from his right side - and Wyatt said no.

For the first time today he resisted being tied, really testing the limits on whether or not he'd be able to simply leave the grooming area. He also resisted anything - blanket or training flag - touching him. Cindy patiently continued to apply pressure with the blanket or flag until he choose to stand still and allow them to touch him. The entire process was repeated on the opposite side, until Wyat had learned for himself that not pulling back, and not resisting touch, was the better deal. After that session, he was saddled and bridled with a more relaxed attitude than he had previously displayed!

The day continued with round pen lunging, reinforcing the ideas that wrong moves result in pressure, while correct ones receive reward. Wyatt was then brought into the large riding pasture to observe 2 horses being ridden. He was led and asked to walk over poles and negotiate a path around the jumps while the other horses carried on with their workouts around him. He did a great job at this!

Finally, Wyatt was led up to a mounted rider, and he learned to accept rubbing on his cheeks, neck, and nose from a person above him. He also learned to walk next to a horse bearing a rider, although he is suspicious of this entire activity! He watched a rider dismount next to him, seeing his walking companion turn into two separate beings right before his eyes - quite a revelation!

All in all, his work session went very well once he had been allowed to push his boundaries a little and learn to make the correct desicions on his own.

Day 12: Tuesday, February 22, 2011. GIVING TO PRESSURE See the pictures in the gallery

Wyatt was feeling much more cooperative today after yesterday's sessions! Today was a review of previous lessons, but today when Wyatt was led to the tackroom to pick up an item on the way to the roundpen, he decided to walk right in! After conquering the covered barn, he seemed quite confident about stepping up into the completely enclosure wooden tackroom.

Tuesday afternoon in the roundpen included the idea of giving to pressure on the reins for the first time. Wyatt was asked to give both laterally and to flex at the poll, learning to find his own release from pressure by giving his head and neck when asked. He did very well for his first time responding to this slight pressure - a great sign for his future training sessions!

Day 13: Wednesday, February 23, 2011. REVIEW

As Wyatt's training progresses, he will have more and more 'review' days. He is learning well and quickly, but the more things he's being asked to learn, the more often he will get extra days to learn them. Review days will always consist of going back to the place he is most solid and most comfortable in his training, then building back up to the last thing he learned. This kind of repetition helps to build his mind as well as his body. As his knowledge and confidence in what he knows increases, he will be challenged to move on to the next step - always being properly prepared before he is 'pushed'.

Day 14: Thursday, February 24, 2011. DRIVING ON

After Wyatt's round pen review today, he was introduced to the equipment necessary for ground driving. He got to see and feel the long ropes placed all around his body and touching him along the back and rump.

When Wyatt beings ground driving tomorrow, he will have long ropes attached to his bit like reins. They will run through rings attached to his saddle, then continue out behind him. Cindy will be lunging him by holding the ends of the long 'reins' as he moves forward. Today's preparation gets him ready to pay more attention to what is happening with the ropes, not to just the ropes themselves!

Ground driving gives a youngster his first chance to feel a live person on the reins. He can learn to give to pressure, and start to understand how rein signals can let him know it's time to turn or stop. It's an excellent way to prepare your horse for his first ride - it's also an excellent way to see how your horse is going to respond to your hands! If he is safely giving to rein pressure from the ground, it is a good indication that he will respond to it when you're on his back.

Day 15: Friday, February 25, 2011. REVIEW

Friday was C-O-L-D! Today Wyatt reviewed his previous lessons, with emphasis again on the Ground Driving ropes touching him and appearing on all sides of him. He is progessing well towards his first real driving sessions.

Day 16: Saturday, February 26, 2011. DAY OFF

On Saturday Wyatt got a nice head rubbing, and then was allowed to go back under his shader for the day. This was to avoid the SNOW! Yes, it was a mixture of rain, sleet, and snow, coupled with high winds today. There are so many gorgoues days in the desert, we decided not to mess with this one!

Day 17: Sunday, February 27, 2011. CRUISIN' See the pictures in the gallery

Today was Wyatt's first day of ground driving, and he took to it like a pro. The time spent getting him used to the ropes touching his body paid off, and he didn't spook or get goosey when they went around behind him! He walked, trotted and cantered, and responded perfectly to pressure on the bit: He gave his head and stopped or slowed when asked. He also got the concept of turning around very easily. He's a smart guy!

Wyatt was also switched over to a standard nylon halter for his 'everyday wear' today.

Watch a short video of Wyatt's first ground drive session:
trot and canter
Watch a short video of Wyatt's first ground drive session:
turning around

Day 18: Monday, February 28, 2011. FREEDOM

Monday was a review of Sunday's ground driving lesson, and it went just as well as on Sunday. Wyatt is very accepting of the bit and verbal commands, and he's not having any trouble understanding what is expected of him. As a reward, he was turned loose for the first time in the full-sized riding arena! Wyatt got to run and buck and play like a big horse, and when his time was up, he stood calmly for Cindy to walk up and lead him back to his pen!

Day 19: Tuesday, March 1, 2011. FIRST RIDE See the pictures in the gallery

Yes - today was the day! A review of ground driving showed Wyatt had a good enough understanding of how to give, stop, and turn, so Cindy began patting him all over while saddled in the round pen. Then she laid on the saddle a couple times, allowing him to get used to the feel of her weight on his back. When he accepted all this without moving, Cindy mounted for the first time.

Wyatt's first instinct was to jump forward and offer a little buck, which he did. But as soon as he 'hit' that bit pressure, he stopped, just as he had been practicing with the ground driving! He was definitely feeling frightened, and attempted a couple more sideways jumps or bucking steps, but from Cindy's perspective on top she never felt as though he was actually trying to be rid of her - he was just confused.

After about a half an hour, he was walking quietly in the roundpen on a loose rein with Cindy aboard. A successful day for Wyatt and Cindy, a good day for the entire ranch as ranch friend Helen brought in a chocolate cake to celebrate Wyatt's first day of riding! If only Cindy was having more success in finding some kind of treat Wyatt would enjoy (he still turns his nose up at carrots), he'd have had his own treat today!

Here is a series of short videos taken over a half hour period of Wyatt's first ride:

one: getting on, and a first surprised bucking reaction three: smart horse! He's smoothing it out
two: it's been said that a mustang, growing up in the wild, learns NOT to waste energy. A nervous horse that starts and runs all the time is a tired, vulnerable horse to predators. You can really see this theory in action here, as Wyatt tries to understand what's happening while not moving! four: now we've got it! Wyatt is into the groove now!

Day 20: Wednesday, March 2, 2011. REVIEW

Wednesdays are often quiet days at YVEC, and today was no exception. Wyatt got to review his driving lessons, and then spent the rest of his lesson working on the mounting/dismounting process. Since getting on and off were the 'scariest' parts of yesterday for him, Cindy took the time to desensitize him more fully today.

She worked on hopping up and down next to him, letting him feel weight in the stirrups, and mouting and dismounting several times until he could handle the process quietly. He did not get any riding time today; with no one else on the property during his workout times, Cindy wisely chose to wait until a safer time.

In late afternoon Suzette did come in for her riding lesson,and while she rode Wyatt received a tying lesson. He was tied in the round pen and left alone for the first time. Cindy kept her eye on him from the arena above, and found that not only did he not mind being tied - he got bored with it and laid down to roll and scratch his itchy back!

Afterwards Cindy took Wyatt to her 2-horse slant load trailer, which had the divider removed. Wyatt hopped straight into it without hesitation, despite having had only one trailer lesson, on 02/18! He found there was hay in the feeder in front of the trialer, and he dug in eagerly, not even phased by the noise of the clasp on the lead rope clinking on the feeder. He then backed neatly and expertly out when asked, as though he's been doing it all his life!

Day 21: Thursday, March 3, 2011. GETTING TO WORK

After a 5 - 10 minute lunging and ground driving review, Wyatt got right down to work on his second day of riding. Cindy was able to mount with very little fuss today, and no sign of bucking or 'scooting' this time. They trotted in both directions in the round pen, and even tried out a couple of unplanned rollbacks! Wyatt even backed up two steps today when asked from the saddle.

With the warmer weather and that workout, Wyatt was hot and sweaty so he was introduced to the horse 'shower' today! He fussed a little when the water first ran over him, but soon settled down and enjoyed his little bath.

Day 22: Friday, March 4, 2011. THIRD TIME'S THE CHARM

For his third ride today, Wyatt was a perfect gentleman. Today he reviewed walking and trotting both ways of the round pen, and stopping and backing. Today Cindy stepped it up to three to four steps of back, progressing up from two, and he did very well. He even rode past spectators today without a single spook!

Day 23: Saturday, March 5, 2011. LOPIN' ALONG See the pictures in the gallery

Today was of a course a review of previous days, but today saw the addition of loping to Wyatt's program. Wyatt was asked to walk, trot, and canter both directions of the round pen today, and he did a great job. He seems to be settling in and enjoying his work, and he did enjoy his second bath as well!

Day 24: Sunday, March 6, 2011. DAY OFF

A nice, warm and sunny Sunday, Wyatt gets a day off to relax.

Day 25: Monday, March 7, 2011. WINDY

Another of our famous desert high-wind days, but at least it was warm this time. Wyatt and Cindy took a quick 20 minute review ride at the walk and trot - no canter today.

Day 26: Tuesday, March 8, 2011. OUT IN FRONT

Today Wyatt got a 'big horse' forty-five minute workout. He went through his paces at walk, trot, and canter in both directions. Today he also worked on circles, stops, and turns, with backing up to five steps included.

For the first time today Wyatt had a good grasp of 'forward: He stayed in front of the aids today, with no kicking needed to get him going. Cindy was able to simply close her calf on his sides, and he took the hint each time! He's really getting the hang of it all!

Wyatt also went naked for the first time today - no more halter left on all night!

Day 27: Wednesday, March 9, 2011. FREEDOM! See the pictures in the gallery

After his roundpen ride today (review of both directions, all three gaits), Wyatt got some freedom! He and Cindy went up to the 125' x 300' arena for today's workout. For his first time being ridden in a much larger space, Wyatt worked at the walk and trot in both direction and performed splendidly.

The pair then ventured out for a 'ranch ride'. Cindy and Wyatt went down through the dressage court, then up the slight incline to the 'toy box'. The toy box is an area behind the arena that contains step-over poles as well as downed Joshua Trees, back-through obstacles, and a wooden bridge, among other things. Wyatt made his way around and over everything he was put to without hesitation.

From the toy box Wyatt took the walk between the arena and the larger reining/jumping arena, and out around the pens. He also walked through the barn with Cindy aboard, was challenged with cars pulling past him and even a moving horse trailer going by. It was so much fun the first time - he did the ranch ride a second time so Amamnda could take some pictures (coming soon!)

New apparel today: Splint boots on the front legs.

Day 28: Thursday, March 10, 2011. THE PROBLEM OF THE VEST...

Wyatt had another great day out today, working in the arena at all gaits and in both directions. The big excitement came when Cindy decided to bring her vest in after the ride.

It was a very warm day today, so Cindy left her vest hanging from a standard in the arena. When it was time to go in, she rode Wyatt over and picked it up. Wyatt found this type of movement to be unacceptable for a vest. Because he expressed his displeasure by trying to leave the vest behind, he had to settle for several more "Take the jacket off. Hang it up. Put the jacket on" new karate-kid style lessons.

He had finally accepted the vest as part of Cindy's life when the truly unthinkable happened. Cindy dismounted to walk Wyatt in, and the hateful vest somehow attached itself to his saddle for him to carry in. This was a real struggle for the poor boy - no matter how he resisted, that vest wouldn't budge. He got so upset with it he actually lost his feet - he fell down, recovered, got up - and STILL that vest was attached to his saddle. He accepted its presence after that, going back to his pen feeling a bit foolish!

Day 29: Friday, March 11, 2011. REVIEW

Today was a review day for work, which went very well. It was an exciting day for beauty, though!

Today Wyat willingly picked up all four feet when asked, for the first time! He also enjoyed a 'trim', his mane was trimmed and evened out with the scissors and he behaved very nicely. Pretty soon...the clippers.

Day 30: Saturday, March 12, 2011. PLAYING CHAIR See the pictures in the gallery

Wyatt's challange today was...to stand still! He had another workout in the arena, and then he was invited to play 'chair' while Cindy gave riding lessons. He was asked to stand still or walk where directed while the other horses swirled all around him, and he handled this task very well. Towards the end of the lesson Cindy showed him the crossrail jump, and took him over several times. He was a very willing jumper!

As a reward for his good behavior today, Wyatt had a play date. Shelby the mustang was at the ranch for his lesson with Amanda, and both boys were turned out together in the arena afterwards. Wyatt thought he was too tough for Shelby (who is easily 3 times his size), and he tried to initmidate him. Shelby did the horse equivalent of a smirk and just cocked his legs at him, which set Wyatt back in his place as herd youngster!

Today's apparel: splint boots on all four feet!

This is the end of Wyatt's first thirty days of training.

Wyatt has ninety days to go from wild to wonderful - follow his progress through days 31 - 60, then 61 - 90 on the next pages!

Yucca Valley Equestrian Center - 7429 Avalon Avenue - Yucca Valley, CA 92284 - (760) 365-4433