Joslyn is proud to have been chosen for the 2008 Extreme Mustang Makeover!

From September 18 - 20, 2008, I competed with 199 other trainers from across the nation at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Worth, TX. On September 21, the mustangs were auctioned off to benefit the Mustang Heritage Foundation. All trainers received wild mustangs in June of 2008 and we had three months to train them. The competition was aimed at identifying the best trainers from around the nation, although the quality and capability of each mustang certainly played its role. The purpose of this event was to raise funds for the protection of mustangs, and to promote their adoption by exhibiting their trainability.

Scroll down for details on the training of our mustang!

Update: June 29, 2009

I apologize for not emailing you sooner – but wanted you to know that Darwin is doing wonderfully. He is not only the smartest horse we have ever seen, he is the most spoiled baby! I have just completed a three day class with jumping, dressage, and cross country. He was amazing. I am working on re-familiarizing him with these disciplines, since I haven’t had him in the ring in a while. I have been mostly trail riding him until now. I have taken about a years worth of lessons and increased my comfort on his back and it really has made a difference in his demeanor. He is willing to do most anything, but I can see that he will need lots of practice to get him back where you had him at the Challenge last year.

Rick is impressed with everything about him too and we are hoping to adopt another mustang this year at the show! Darwin has been the best addition to my life and I am most grateful to you for his wonderful start! Hope all is well with you – we noticed you haven’t posted anything regarding this year’s challenge. I know it took a lot of your time and efforts last year – I just wanted to THANK YOU – Darwin is amazing due to your commitment to his training! I have attached a couple of pics of us at the classes last week.

Melanie Dunnaway

Thanks to our Sponsors!

Many thanks to Irving and Trude Bennett for their generous
donation towards Darwin's training!

Many thanks to Dr. Mark Meddleton of Meddleton Equine
for donating Darwin's chiropractic adjustments!

Thanks to James Annon for his generous contribution
of Darwin's farrier services and free access to his
riding/boarding facility, Annon Equestrian Center.

Thanks for generous help and contributions from:

Hannah Sherk
Diane Tobin and Chuck Friedman

Hollywood Hoofbeats
Seth and Laura Tobin
Petrine Day Mitchum

Beth and Ed Adler

Warm thanks for the support of:

Cheryl and Steve Hecht
Michele Maxson
Bret Tobin
Michelle Neuman
Carol and Larry Neuman
Audrey and Vic Ronis-Tobin
Jean and Steve Koehler
Joyce Goldstein


Darwin's Photo Gallery

Name: Darwin
About Darwin: Darwin is a 3 year old mustang, large for his age at around 15.1 H. Darwin is sweet, smart and playful. I am truly lucky to have been paired with Darwin for this competition. He has a beautiful build, perfect headset, wonderful movement, great personality and EXCELLENT brain! He is absolutely one of the smartest horses I have ever worked with. He is very loving and you would never know he was once wild. When he sees something new, he is very curious and calm. He is both silly and fancy! His dressage is coming along beautifully and he loves to jump. In fact, he will turn towards jumps and obstacles in the ring if given the choice. His form is perfect for the hunter ring and his strides are adjustable. On the trail, Darwin is calm, balanced and fun. He can go from a walk to a gallop and back to a walk with the smallest cue. He direct reins and neck reins, has a nice Western pleasure trot when asked, and can also move out easily. His lateral work is coming along nicely. Darwin is a great all-around horse who is ready to finish his training in a particular discipline.
Brand Number: 599045
Breed: Mustang
Sex: Gelding
Date of Birth: Fall 2005
Height: approx 15.1 H
Color: Bay
Markings: Star
Health History: Strep/5-way/Rabies/West Nile: 1/19/07, 2/19/07, 5/8/08. Coggins: 6/9/08. Teeth floated 6/25/08
Capture Data: Date: 12 Jan 2007
Location: Wheeler Pass, Clark County, NV

Sunday, September 21

Overview: In the end, Darwin and I ended up in 5th place in the Idols division. I'm thrilled! I wasn't sure an English trainer could compete in a cowboy's world, so it's heartening to know that good training trumps discipline bias, at least to some extent. We had a good finals performance despite being slightly off our timing. I forgot one required element, the stop and back, which was a silly mistake on my part. Our final score was only 10 points away from first place... what a close competition! I'm very proud of Darwin and think he will have an amazing future. I'm happy that he and I stuck it out for the past few months and continued working towards our goal of producing a calm, versatile prospect. I don't have any facilities or help caring for the horses, and we have to trailer 25 miles when we want to work in a ring, so it has been a lot of work. I'm in a year-round night grad school program and I work full-time, so there were many days when I didn't feel like putting the time or energy into training. Our persistence paid off, and I'm confident that Darwin is turing into a wonderful riding horse and companion. Today he went through the auction and went home with his new family, the Dunnaways. They adore Darwin and I have no doubt that they will take excellent care of him. I'm going to miss the big, goofy guy!

I'm very honored to have received The Professional Trainer Sportsmanship Award! All trainers filled out an anonymous nomination for one professional and one amateur trainer, so receiving this award is truly special since it was given by my peers. Thanks to all trainers who nominated me!

Overall, the weekend was a great experience. Everybody had some frustrations with disorganization and inconsistency by the Mustang Foundation, which made it difficult to keep ourselves focused and on track. We had the opportunity to fill out comment cards, so if they hold this event in the future, we hope they will more clearly define and communicate the rules, regulations, expectations and judging criteria.

For me, the best part of the event was the ability to meet many wonderful trainers. Never before have I been around so many people with years of training experience and various training methods. I grew up eventing and am just starting to dabble in Western disciplines, so I have a lot to learn. This competition gave me the opportunity to talk with and learn from some of the best trainers in the nation. I will keep in touch with many people, and I'm sure these folks and I will have opportunities to work together in the future. It was an incredible group of kind, approachable trainers and I'm thrilled to have met them.

I want to thank some people who were a huge help to me this weekend. First, thanks to my husband John. Johnny isn't a horse person, and I know he has been frustrated with the amount of time I have spent with the horses these past few months. I'm very happy he flew in to watch us this weekend. He organized my jump crew and raised the jumps during the freestyle, and was a good sport about being overwhelmed with horses and cowboys all weekend. Thanks also to Bryan who came all the way from Georgia to groom and help me all weekend. Because of his work, I only mucked my stall once all weekend and had lots of help preparing Darwin for all parts of the show. I'm incredibly happy that my Dad came from Kentucky to watch and help out. He videotaped us and helped hold and walk Darwin all weekend. It was great to spend time with him and it was fun to have him in 'my world' for a few days. I'd like to thank Alicia and Joe Romero for all their support throughout these past few months. We met because of this event and became good friends, and I know we will stay close always. Joe trailered Darwin with their mustang Rico when we picked them up in Pauls Valley and to the event in Ft. Worth. Thanks also to all the wonderful people who helped set up and break down my freestyle jumps: Kristin, Greg, Johnny, Bryan, Alicia, Joe, Christina, Paul and Dad. Of course, I'd like to recognize and thank all my wonderful donors and sponsors. With your help, the BLM $500 reimbursement, my winnings and the sportsmanship award money, I have broken even from the event. I'm thrilled! Also many thanks to all the wonderful trainers I met this weekend - you guys made it a fantastic event. Please stay in touch.

Now for the details:

Health and Conditioning: The first part of the competition judged my ability to maintain a healthy horse with good weight, muscling, coat condition and attitude. Two judges quartered him, looked him over and felt his barrel. We got a perfect score of 120/120. I guess all my study of feed, health, nutrition and conditioning has paid off! I have to admit, Darwin looked gooooood.

In-Hand Course: The second part was an in-hand obstacle course than included traversing various simple obstacles. I rode Darwin in the morning so he would be a little sleepy, because his true trot is a lot faster than my short legs can handle. He was very good for this course, and our only big mistake was that Darwin turned towards me while I picked out his last hind foot. This was entirely my fault. I usually tie or groundtie Darwin to pick his feet, but I got nervous out there and held his lead. I accidentally pulled on it, so he turned to me. What a silly mistake! Otherwise he was excellent. We were in 5th place after this course on Thursday.

Horse Course: The third part of the event was the mounted horse course. This part was on Saturday, and Darwin was really tired and cranky. After driving 12 hours to the show on Tuesday, then staying on concrete floors in a strange barn, dealing with the lights on all night and horses kicking the metal stalls, the poor horse was exhausted. He kept nodding off during the day, so I let him romp with Greg's horse in an open ring in the morning, and only gave him 10 minutes of warm-up before our course. Apparently, this was not a good idea. As soon as Darwin got into the ring, he woke up! He was a little energetic and sped through the course like it was a race. We practiced elements like backing the L so many times, he just ignored me and did them on his own. The problem is that he was careless, turning early and kicking the poles. I couldn't get his attention through the entire course, and he was particularly naughty during our 2-minute freestyle. The audience clapped at his trotting sidepasses, and he over-reacted to the noise. Our canter circles were the worst we have ever done, and Darwin's flailing head and flopping tongue were less than attractive. Although I know Darwin can do better, I can't complain too much about his performance - it was pretty excellent for only 60 days under saddle! After the course, we remained in 5th place. Because we were in the top 10, we got to do our finals performance Saturday. Yeah!

The Finals: By Saturday, both Darwin and I were completely exhausted. I woke up sick to my stomach and had a pretty rough morning. Our first warm-up was one of the worst rides Darwin and I have ever had. He was cranky and I was impatient, and there was too much chaos in the warm-up ring. We kept running into people and were unable to successfully run through our freestyle. After we worked through some of our difficulties, I decided not to push it and got off. I got back on about 30 minutes before our freestyle and had a much better ride. Right before our course I had another stomach issue, which was almost certainly a combination of my upset stomach (which, it turns out, is a stomach virus) and nerves. I had the lovely experience of vomiting off horseback, but felt better before going into the ring. The freestyle went well, but my timing was off. This was probably because I had only practiced it a few times and wasn't able to run through it with the music before going in the ring. If I do this event again in the future, I'll spend more time organizing and practicing the freestyle. I ended up forgetting to do my stop and back, which was a required element for scoring. We probably lost a handful of points because of this, and we finished only 10 points away from first. Bummer! Regardless, Darwin was wonderful for his freestyle. He loves to jump and I wish I had put the jumps higher. We played it safe and maxed at 2'9", but he can jump at least 6" higher than that already. I spaced the jumps for his typical shorter stride, but he surprised me and extended in the line. He got 2 strides where I expected 3, so I had to adjust him for our last line so he could get over the larger oxer. It was a nice final ride for us and we ended getting 5th place overall. Not too shabby for an English girl in a cowboy's world!

The Sale: I was anxious about the sale. I intended to bring home Darwin if nobody bid on him, or if somebody 'sketchy' bid on him. In the end, Darwin was purchased by Melanie and Rick Dunnaway. For a couple of hours after the sale, Melanie and Rick played with and rode Darwin. After talking with both of them, I am confident they will take excellent care of him and will spoil him in the manner to which he has become accustomed. They have other horses, nice fields, good feed and lots of love to give him. They rode and did very well. Darwin will have to get used to different riders, tack, weights and aids, and both Rick and Melanie will have to get used to his sensitivity. They promise to work with an instructor weekly, and with that assistance and consistency, I really believe everything will go well. Congratulations Melanie and Rick! Please have fun with Darwin and stay in touch.

I'm really going to miss Darwin. He is truly the smartest horse I have ever trained and he's a blast to ride on the trail. I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to train this wonderful horse, and I'm honored to have been a part of the EMM. I hope the event fulfilled its mission of showcasing the trainability and versatility of mustangs. I know this event is not the single answer to the issue of wild horse overpopulation, but I'm happy to do my part in helping spread knowledge of these intelligent animals, and I'm glad I could give one amazing gelding a new chance at life.

Saving the world, one horse at a time.

Friday, September 19

It has been an exhausting few days. I'll write details later, but for now this short update will have to suffice. Thursday we had the conditioning and in-hand portions of the competition. We got a perfect 120/120 in health and conditioning! This was based on weight, muscling, coat condition and overall fitness. We also did well in-hand and were in 5th place out of 53 by the end of Thursday. Today was the horse course, a mounted obstacle course and 2-minute freestyle. Darwin was a little speedy but did great. We are currently still in 5th place, which means we're going to the finals round! Tomorrow afternoon we'll do our finals freestyle... Wish us luck! I'll post videos of everything soon, but I've only had about 10 hours of sleep in the past 5 days, so I'm off to bed.

Sunday, September 14

We leave in the morning! Today we decided not to practice anymore and went for a short trail ride instead. Then I gave Darwin a thorough bath (face, tail, sheath and everything) in preparation for Ft. Worth. I coat with sunscreen and fly spray daily, so Darwin was pretty filthy and really needed a bath! It was dark by the time I finished scrubbing so I'm not sure how shiny he is, but I hope he'll be squeaky clean when I see him in the morning. (It's more likely that he'll roll in the mud overnight, but at least the sticky sunscreen residue will be gone.) I tried my best not to get attached to Darwin these past few months, but he has really gotten to me these past couple of weeks. He whinnies every time he sees me, loves attention, is a blast to ride in the ring and on the trail, and is an easy keeper. I wish I had time for another horse because I'd keep him! Well, off to clean tack and pack for the big trip!

Saturday, September 13

We worked in the ring for the past few days, and Saturday we practiced our freestyles. I still have to make some modifications to the music, but I think they're both ok. I'm going to practice a little tomorrow (Monday) and I'd like to go for one last trail ride before the event and auction. I'm really going to miss riding this fellow, and I'll miss his whinnying and following me around. Saturday, he lay down about 5 feet from me then enjoyed a head and neck scratch before napping. Mustang schmustang... He's no wild horse! I'll be sad to let him go, but at the same time, I'm getting excited about the competition! I'll update the site as often as possible from Ft. Worth (I believe our hotel has internet), so check back for details.

Thursday, September 11

The past week has been hectic but productive. Darwin spent five days at Annon Equestrian Center and working in the ring was a huge help. I set up the video camera one day so you can see our progress in the new videos. Over the weekend we did some groundwork and didn't ride due to rain and mud. Wednesday we went to the NM State Fair and competed in three classes. We got 3rd out of 7 in hunter under saddle, 4th out of 11 in western pleasure, and didn't place in the trail class. Darwin did great in trail, but had trouble sidepassing over a pole. His sidepasses are great but I've never done them while strattling a pole, and he was confused about what do it. Unfortunately, I forgot to charge my video camera battery so we don't have videos, but we took lots of pictures. Thanks to Alicia, Joe, Jose and Lorenzo Romero for driving us to the fair, lending me gear for the WP class, and taking lots of pictures!

I can't believe we leave for Ft. Worth in 5 short days. Part of me wishes we had another couple of weeks so we could perfect his flying lead changes, pivots and other details here-and-there, but part of me is looking forward to having one less thing going on. Between full-time teaching, grad school at nights, painting the house, training too many horses and taking care of all the critters, I barely have time to sleep. Regardless, I'm definitely nervous! I only have 3 riding days left and I still need to practice my freestyles. Tonight I'll try to get the music together for the finals freestyle, and hopefully I can get to the horse park this weekend to practice the routine. I'll come up with a 2-minute freestyle today and practice it in Los Alamos if the weather cooperates. Darwin's training level dressage is excellent now and he's jumping 2'9" without any hesitation. His form is adorable and he doesn't look at any jumps in the ring or on cross country. Maybe it's because I have an eventing background, but this horse just screams "eventer!" to me. He could easily go to prelim. He'll also be a perfect hunter, a great dressage prospect up to around 2nd level, and darling for Western pleasure events or reining. While he could be good at low-level speed events, I don't think he'll be competative at higher levels (but I could be wrong!). He is the best green trail horse I've ever ridden, is sound as a rock, has straight conformation and the ideal headset, and he enjoys attention. Darwin is an amazing horse and I'm going to miss him!

Monday, September 1

I want to say some things about the EMM auction, which will be held Sept. 21 after the competition. Unlike many auctions, you can find out a lot of information about these horses before bidding. Many trainers post pictures and stories on the EMM blog, and there is also a list of personal blogs on that page. If you're considering bidding, I encourage you to contact some trainers and ask questions about their horses. Trainers may be able to give you specific information and take photos and/or videos upon request. I would be more than happy to talk with anybody who is considering taking home Darwin, to ensure a good match of horse and owner.

For those of you who are considering getting a mustang through the EMM or otherwise, I'll give you my feedback. Before this competition I had never worked with a mustang. Everything I knew about them I had read, and although I had heard that they were smart and hearty, I figured they would be similar to quarter horses with bigger feet. I was wrong! These horses are incredible. I have been very impressed with Darwin. He learns everything quickly, retains things from day to day, and is capable of learning almost anything. After only two months of training, you would never know he was born wild. He loves people, doesn't startle easily, loves his stall and thrives in the daily routine. I have heard that some mustangs are 'one-man-horses' or are bad about their feet, but Darwin doesn't exhibit either trait. He is friendly, easy going, and hearty with great bone and excellent feet. Like any 3 year old he will need to continue his training in his new home, but he has an excellent foundation and is ready to continue in any discipline, English or Western. He will make his next owner very happy! If I was looking for a trail horse, future kid horse, or prospect for almost any discipline, I would now consider getting a mustang.

Darwin had a couple of days off this weekend because of rare continuous rain storms. I did some in-hand work, walking and trotting down the road in the rain. He has gotten strong when I work him on the ground and I need him to follow respectfully at all gaits. By the end of our session on Sunday he was doing much better, and he walked up and over natural obstacles in and around the arroyo. Monday we went to Annon Equestrian Center where Darwin will spend the next week. It's down the street from school and has a nice ring so we will be able to practice for Ft. Worth. I need to come up with a 2-minute pattern for the Mounted Horse Course, and I need to practice the 4-minute freestyle Avery designed for me. Only two weeks left!!

Friday, August 29

Since I last updated, I have ridden Darwin three times at home, once at the SF Horse Park and once at Los Alamos. His backing is coming along although it still needs some work to perfect mounted turns in reverse. He has terrific leg yields and side passes at the walk, and is learning them at the trot. He is catching on very quickly and I expect his lateral movements to be perfected by the end of the weekend. Thursday we went to the Horse Park and Darwin was awful! It is the worst he has been since he has been with me! Right after he unloaded, he saw a pair of belgians pulling a cart with bells. From his reaction, you would have thought the Angel of Death was arriving on a chariot to take him to the netherworld. I was able to tack him up while he sidestepped around, then we danced our way to the indoor. Once I was on, he relaxed and worked nicely, but every time we passed the door he looked out to be sure the Monster wasn't there. After I rode, I taught Darwin to cross-tie (no problem) and gave him a bath. After the bath we danced past a polo match... Again, Darwin was very upset by this new use of horses. In retrospect, it is the first time I have ridden before turning him out, so perhaps he just had some built-up energy. We finally made it back to the trailer where we met Dr. Meddleton to get health certificates and a final back adjustment. The adjustments have really helped Darwin loosen his hips, and I can tell a huge difference in the balance of his canter. Dr Meddleton thinks his tightness probably came from slipping or doing something funny in the wild, and he hasn't been able to work out the stiffness until now. Thanks to the attention to his hips and lots of lateral work, Darwin is nice and supple now. You should see him move - he's beautiful!

Today Avery and I went to Los Alamos to school in the dressage ring. Darwin made up for his goofy behavior yesterday. He was perfect! His ground manners were good and he was very happy and willing under saddle. His canter was slow and more balanced than it has ever been, and his leg yields at the walk and trot were terrific. He knows his leads very well but we're still working on lead changes. He always gets simple changes with only a step or two of trot, but he usually only swaps in front when I ask for a flying change. I really hope to perfect them before Ft. Worth. Speaking of Ft. Worth, I was reading the division specifications on the EMM rules page and I wonder... what is "trot and lope avers"? I'm guessing it's a reining thing, but if somebody could please email me and let me know, I'd really appreciate it!

I want to say thanks again to all of our sponsors. Your help has been instrumental in allowing me to properly show Darwin all the sights and sounds to make him an all-around, versatile horse. With gas and feed prices so high, your donations have been put to good use!

Saturday, August 23

Today we went on a 15 mile endurance "fun ride" and Darwin was a doll. He went on a loose rein the whole time and was great leading, following and going by himself. We used saddle packs for the first time... big ones that go under the back of a western saddle and attach to the D-rings. I filled them with water bottles, my camera, a hoof pick, snacks and other goodies, then trotted Darwin by hand to get him used to them flapping. It took him about 5 steps to learn to ignore them. He was great with the packs flopping on him at the walk, trot and canter, and he was even ok with me unzipping them, getting stuff out and drinking from crinkly plastic water bottles during the ride. What an amazingly calm boy! When I was tacking up I realized that my comfy dressage saddle doesn't have back D-rings! I didn't bring a western saddle and the only other saddle I had with me was the close-contact. Since it does have D-rings, I rode in it. Bad idea. After the 3rd mile I had to get rid of my stirrups because my knees were hurting, and by mile 10 my butt was in pain. I spent most of the last 5 miles sitting on my hands. It's a good thing Darwin could auto-pilot. Now I can hardly sit on a pillow without hurting. Ouch. Anyway... Darwin was terrific and his post-ride vetting was perfect. He wasn't remotely tired from the ride and could have easily gone another 15 miles. Please see our photos from the ride!

Friday, August 22

I started school meetings this week so I had less time to work with Darwin. Next week I will be even busier because both schools start (teaching HS and fall grad school classes). Regardless, Darwin and I went to the ring in Los Alamos twice, took two trail rides, and worked in our ring at home twice. Darwin is working on his leads and lead changes, leg yeilds, and backing. All still need work but are coming along. We also worked on our groundwork and in-hand work. Darwin gets distracted sometimes and needs to work on maintaining attention. He also needs to practice his in-hand backing. Saturday we're going on a short endurance ride which should be fun. I started thinking about a freestyle and didn't get very far. I asked student and friend Avery to choreograph one for us. Thanks, Avery! I'm looking forward to seeing what music and movements she chooses for us!

Saturday, August 16

Today Darwin and I went to a schooling show at Annon Equestrian Center. It was storming this morning so few people came to the show. Although the turnout was disappointing, it gave us the opportunity to school a lot. This was Darwin's third time jumping and first time doing a whole course. He did great! He was calm and happy the entire time, hanging out like a seasoned show horse. We warmed up, did a couple of crossrail courses, then raised the jumps to small verticals and a couple of oxers. Darwin didn't look at a jump - not even the barrels. He was truly incredible. He did knock down one vertical because he misjudged the height, but he cleared it on the second try. By the end of the afternoon I could tell a huge difference in his overall balance, especially at the canter. I will be posting videos from the show soon so be sure to check them out. After the show Darwin ran some errands with me... he hung his head out the trailer window and watched the cars go by while I ran from store to store. He happily and patiently munched on hay from his haybag, occasionally enjoying a pat from a kid or two.

Sadly, Hannah left today. She's heading home to CA to visit her folks for a couple of weeks, then is going on a bike trip up the East Coast. I tried my best to convince her to stay! We'll really miss her around here, both for her help and her friendship. Hurry back, Hannah!

Thursday, August 14

Alicia forwarded me this link with pictures of all the mustangs in the event. There are some nice looking horses in that lot!! I really lucked out with Darwin though - looks, brains and personality all in one big package. Yesterday I worked Darwin in our new ring (neighbor's field) and hopped him over a few little fences. He had trouble maintaining his right lead at the canter, but luckily we had already scheduled his chiropractic check-up for today. Dr. Meddleton worked on his back this morning and said his hip muscles are tight. He worked on loosening them up and then I rode him at the w/t/c. What a huge difference! Darwin was able to bend to the right much easier and cantered on his right lead just as well as the left. Before this summer, I had never had chiropractic work done on horses, and now I truly believe in its benefits. Dr. Meddleton has done an amazing job. Darwin and I worked for about 45 minutes in the indoor arena at the horse park. This was Darwin's first experience in an indoor and he was a little goofy about it! He jumped every time a noise echoed, and was nervous passing doorways. Every time we went past the door where we came in, Darwin tried to leave the ring. He side-stepped towards the entrance with every pass, and bucked when I insisted he maintain canter circles instead of running out the door. I certainly know what to work on now! I can just imagine Darwin dashing out the door in the middle of his horse-course at Ft. Worth, ha ha. This weekend is our last weekend of freedom before school starts (I teach high school chemistry and am also in grad school working on my Masters). I hope to do more trail riding and trailering out before my time becomes much more constrained.

Tuesday, August 12

I finally went to the post office* and got many more sponsorships! (*The post office closed so we now have a "mobile post office" truck that's open every so often and tends to lose half of our mail. Grr.) Thanks so much to our new sponsors! I will update the sponsor part of the website shortly :o).

We've had an action-packed few days! I took Darwin on a few more trail rides by himself and he has been the perfect trail horse. On Saturday, we went on a 2 hour ride during which we saw jack rabbits, coyotes, joggers, ATVs, a motorcycle, trucks and cars, a kid on a dirtbike, 2 teenagers making out in a canyon (hehehe), another group of teenagers drinking beer in a different canyon (more hehehe), steep cliffs, narrow passes, a junked swingset (which we walked through), and lots of other trash. We did a lot of cantering, including cantering up about 6" of water in the stream, and enjoyed our first full-out gallop. We both had a terrific time! Over the weekend Mike brought over his and Larry's tractors and we turned our neighbor's junk-filled field into a ring! YAY!!! We can now start our serious dressage training and master leads/lead changes. Monday we went to visit Alicia and we had a good time. Darwin didn't look at any of the obstacles in their ring, and he *loved* their bridge. Every time I dropped the reins, he went towards it. He must have walked and trotted over that bridge 15 times. What a goof! He wasn't fond of Alicia getting on and he reared her off - what a bad boy - but we think it was because I was holding him from going forward and we didn't properly prepare. After I finished working him we dressed him in a western saddle and did some western pleasure jogging... or at least tried to. Then he loaded in Alicia's trailer (as did Rico - woohoo!). Today we worked in the ring for the first time and discovered some holes and soft spots to fill. We also worked on picking up things from horseback, like the shovel and bottles, and we also opened and closed the gate from horseback. We need to do more jumping to prepare for this weekend's hunter show. Should be fun!

Thursday, August 7

Today Darwin, Bailey, Hannah and I went to Annon Equestrian Center to work in the ring. Darwin was very very good! He listens well to leg commands but still falls out through the shoulder at the canter. We need to work on our lateral movements to fix that. He was nice and forward today, and was more free and balanced at the canter. I think cantering on trails has helped tremendously. He also went over his first few jumps, only about 12" - 18" high, and he did great! At first he just stepped over them, but by the end he was jumping like a real hunter pony. He's learning to neck rein and is chomping less at the bit. He's also a million times better about putting the bridle over his ears. As for obstacles... he looks at nothing. I need to start introducing him to new things, like the rider holding a rope, picking up things off his back, opening gates, etc. He loads pretty well and travels perfectly, and his ground manners are excellent. Since Sunday he has gone on 3 trail rides and he is learning to enjoy being ridden. Due to time, truck and vet issues, I wasn't able to visit Alicia yet, but we're planning to go Saturday. Hopefully nothing will come up this time!

Sunday, August 3

Mom visited this week, which has been fun. She rode Bailey and I rode Darwin on a trail ride, and everybody did really well. Mom has ridden a little but hasn't been on a horse in years, and she did great (as did Bailey). Darwin was a good boy too, although he walked about twice as fast as Bailey so we had to circle back a bunch. Saturday Johnny and I unloaded a hay shipment so I walked Darwin on the flatbed for fun. He hopped right up. Then I rode Darwin on his first solo trail ride which we both enjoyed. I always like the first time I'm able to take a horse out on the trail by himself. It marks a point at which I trust him enough to know he won't try any 'funny business' and it gives us an opportunity to relax, enjoy the scenery, and get to know each other a little better in a fun environment. Darwin did excellent! We rode down the river bed to the sand dunes and up on top of the mesa. We walked, trotted and cantered with lots of transitions. Darwin was calm the whole time except when some horses in a nearby field started up a conversation... Darwin got pretty excited and jigged a bit, so we did some circle work and he calmed back down. By the end of the ride he was walking on the buckle.

I've read some blogs of other EMM trainers and enjoy seeing how far people have gotten and in what disciplines they're training. One theme I've seen a few times is that mustangs tend to become "single-person" horses... they trust the person who trains them and nobody else. I find this interesting because Darwin isn't that way at all! He loves, listens to and respects everybody. Even Mom worked with him and picked out his feet without any trouble, as if Darwin was an old school horse. This Tuesday we're taking a trip to see Alicia Romero and her EMM mustang Rico. Alicia has offered to work Darwin over new stuff and I'm interested to see how he does in a new situation with a 'new' person (they met when we picked up the mustangs, but Darwin hasn't seen Alicia since then). I'm really looking forward to visiting Alicia and the fam, seeing Rico's (and Angelito's) progress, and riding Darwin through their obstacles. Should be a fun day!

Wednesday, July 30

Darwin's doing sooo well. Since I last wrote we have ridden a few times at home, Darwin got his first bath with shampoo, I have worked on touching his ears (he's a bit of a pill about putting on the bridle!), practiced standing still for mounting, he was ridden by our barn kitties, and he has been trailered some more. Over the weekend he got some time off when we went to Carlsbad Caverns and Roswell (thanks Hannah for pet sitting!). I've been letting the dogs join us outside while we're working and Darwin lets them run all around and through his legs without any problem. Today we went to Annon Equestrian Center where we rode in the ring with some camp kids. Darwin saw lots of new stuff and never spooked. He did buck a couple of times when I asked him to stay at the canter. He's still really tight in his lower back and perhaps that's why he has trouble staying at the canter for long periods of time. I'm going to condition him a bit to help build some muscle, and we've been doing the exercises Dr. Meddleton recommended. In a couple of weeks we'll be seeing Dr. Meddleton again, and hopefully we'll figure out why he's still so stiff in the hind end. If you haven't already seen them, take a look at Darwin's videos from his first week under saddle. As of today, he is 9 days under saddle. We're getting there! Only 6 weeks left until Ft. Worth!

Tuesday, July 22

This weekend we did a little trailer training and 20 mins of riding but no other work because I spent way too much time writing papers for grad school. Tuesday we trailered to the Santa Fe Horse Park for a trail ride and to meet Dr. Meddleton. Darwin trailered perfectly in the two-horse next to Bailey, and was great at the park. We tacked up and went on an hour trail ride with Hannah, Jill and Elizabeth. Darwin was wonderful, mostly plodding along like a seasoned horse. When we got back to the park we rode in the ring for about 15 mins and Hannah took a short video of us walking and trotting around. He also took his first step of canter with a rider (in video), but I wasn't ready to really canter since his back was bothersome. After our ride Darwin went into the main barn and got hosed off in the washrack, then hung out at the trailer for a while. Dr. Meddleton then worked on his and Bailey's backs. Darwin was very tight and really needed an adjustment! Hopefully he will move more freely and be less ouchy now. Dr. Meddleton was kind enough to donate his services, and will be doing a re-adjustment in three weeks. Thanks, Dr. Meddleton!

Friday, July 18

Darwin must have felt really sorry for his bucking spree yesterday because he was perfect today. We rode in the field and did walk/trot/halt work. He is almost able to turn exclusively from the leg, and his turns are getting smoother. He also had a more dynamic trot today, which means he's getting used to a rider and will move more freely. He was much better for mounting and didn't even flinch at the fly spray. He is still a little goofy about putting the bridle over his ears, and he seems a bit ouchy in his back, so I made an appointment to see a vet/chiropractor next week.

Thursday, July 17

These past few days we did more groundwork and some riding. On the ground, Darwin walked over the bridge and the tarp for the first time, and he didn't even look at them. Then we went into the front yard to walk around the stinky trash trailer, over piles of horse blankets, over logs, under the carport, down the road, beside cars, to the river, etc. Darwin did everything I asked without hesitation. Then my 8-year old neighbor came over and she groomed him, fly-sprayed him, and picked out his front feet all by herself. I've now ridden him at the walk and trot, and he understands halt, walk, trot and turns. He is heavy in the bridle but lightness will come with time. He walks and shifts away from me when I mount, so we have to work on that. Once I'm on he's pretty good, athough he did have a bucking fit on Thursday when I accidentally whacked his rear with my hand. He was standing so well I forgot he was barely started, so I leaned back and put my hand on his rump... oops. He must have thought something bit him and off we went. After about 10 huge bucks I realized he wasn't going to stop, so I bailed out on the manure pile (stinky but soft!). Unfortunately this was when the newspaper reporter was here (doh!) so she got an exciting and unusual show. This was the second time I've ever seen Darwin buck, and hopefully the last! After that, Hannah, Bailey, Darwin and I all went for a 30-minute trail ride down the road and on a trail beside the river. Darwin was excellent! The only thing that caught his attention was other horses, so I'll have to expose him to many more horses and riders soon.

Sunday, July 13

As of tonight, Darwin has been with us for exactly a month. He has certainly come a long way! I remember his first day like it was yesterday... peering into the stall at a terrified horse, standing with his head to the wall, eyes wide open. In just 30 days, that untouched scaredy-cat has turned into a giant puppy, following me around begging for a good scratch on the neck.

These past few days have been eventful for us. I introduced Darwin to the bridle, which he accepted with ease since his teeth have been done. Before I start a horse under saddle, I like to get them used to seeing something over their heads, so I stand on a bucket next to them and wave my arms around. It typically takes horses about 30 seconds to get used to this, especially since they've seen ropes and flags over them before. Not Darwin. Seeing somebody over his head was a BIG DEAL and took us days to get over! I was surprised by his response, especially since I've tossed all kinds of things over his head, and I stood on a shorter bucket last week to pull his mane. When he finally accepted seeing me up there, things progressed smoothly. I got on him for the first time Saturday, first bareback then under saddle, and he was perfect. Sunday we solidified directions and did a little trotting. We're getting somewhere!

Wednesday, July 9

Darwin had almost a week off when I went to visit family for my grandparents' 70th wedding anniversary. It was great to see everybody, but now we have a lot of catching up to do! Since my last update, Darwin has learned to stand still for baths, worn front woof boots, and walked over some jump poles. He is great wearing the saddle and is ready to wear the bridle. Yesterday I gave him a good bath then groomed him, started pulling his mane, and brushed out his tail. He really enjoyed all the attention, and is looking more and more like a hunter everyday! I also tied him for an hour to learn some patience, and once he realized he was tied, he didn't even try to escape. He will need front shoes soon so I can take him on trails when I start riding him, which will be in the next couple of days.

Tuesday, July 1

In the past few days, Darwin worked more on leading, got his first bath and wore the saddle with the girth. The bath was scary at first, but he soon enjoyed drinking from the hose and playing in the water. He was a little nervous about having his rump sprayed, so we'll work on that again the next hot day. When I first saddled him, I turned him loose. He ran around the field once, bucking a few times, then he realized "the monster" wasn't coming off and he walked back to me. What a good boy! He was haltered, groomed and led by Hannah, and he was perfect for her.

Saturday, June 28

Darwin had a great past couple of days! His leading is improving a lot, and he now lets me hold and pick out all four feet. I tied him for the first time today and he acted like an old pro at it. I also introduced him to the saddle pad and saddle, and after sniffing and biting them, he let me toss them all over and under him. I didn't girth him up yet but I did tie and rub a rope around his middle. He didn't flinch. Darwin is going to be the kind of horse who will love being dressed up for Halloween and ridden around the neighborhood. He is truly a kid's horse in the making!

Thursday, June 26

Today we named the mustang! We've decided to call him Darwin because of 'survival of the fittest,' and because we have a "science nerd" thing around here! This afternoon I walked him for about 45 minutes, broken into two sessions. He's doing well but isn't staying right beside me all the time. He resists halting when he wants to rejoin his friends in the barn, so I continued walking/halting him until he paid full attention to me. He enjoyed romping in the field today and gave us quite a show, cantering and bucking. When I groomed him today, he let me hold his front hooves for over a minute, and he let me hold his hind hooves for the first time.

Wednesday, June 25

These past few days have been less productive than the previous ones. The mustang never really understood lunging because he wants to turn towards me and follow me around. Since I don't have a round pen in which to teach him, I decided to change tactics. He is now comfortable enough with me that he started being pushy on Tuesday, so we went back to basics and re-established "who's boss." As of today, he is leading very well at the walk and is halting more promptly. He's almost back to where he was over the weekend, despite our little setback Tuesday. He still isn't sure about trotting beside me. He is great picking up his front feet, and lets me hold them and pick them out. He still has trouble trusting me with his hind legs, but he does lift them for a few seconds each time I ask. This afternoon he had his teeth floated and wolf teeth extracted. It turns out he's only 2 1/2 years old, so he was born in the fall of 2005. This makes sense because his knee joints aren't fully closed, so I figured he was younger than 3. After he had his teeth done, I introduced him to the clippers and he took to them very well. I clipped his face and front feathers, and he didn't flinch. He wouldn't let me clip his ears but he does like them scratched. In the next couple of days, I will introduce him to some obstacles on the ground and to the saddle pad.

Sunday, June 22

Over the weekend, we worked mostly on lead training and started picking up the mustang's feet. He's doing very well with leading and is solid on walk, turns and halt. He's still learning to trot beside me without trying to canter. Today I started his lunge training and I'll work more on that tomorrow. Saturday I let him into the field for the first time to get out some pent-up energy, and he enjoyed cantering around. I plan to let him out for a few hours each day from now on. He's perfect about being caught, haltered and groomed, and he lets me brush his face now. I picked up his feet with a rope and then my hands today for the first time, and he was very good about it. I only held each front hoof for about 3 seconds before setting it back down, and despite some anxiety, he lifted all four feet for me. He wouldn't let me hold his hind hooves, but he did lift his legs when I asked. Please check out our videos from this weekend's work!

Thursday, June 19

Between having strep throat, hanging out with my visiting sister, and painting the kitchen, I was a bit too busy to work with the mustang much these past couple of days. I did spent about 30 minutes with him each day, and in that short time he let me brush him from head to toe, including the belly and all the way down his legs, and I taught him the basics of leading. While his leading isn't perfect, he does understand that he should give to pressure, and he is intent on following me around. He went for a short romp around the field with his halter and lead to get out some pent-up energy, and he let me catch him easily. This weekend I hope to solidify his leading and teach him to pick up his feet. I have scheduled an appointment with the dentist to float his teeth because he has trouble eating grain and he coughs/chokes on his hay.

Monday, June 16

I worked the mustang in two 30-minute sessions and two 15-minute sessions today, and we made a lot of progress. He accepted the pole on his legs and belly, and the rope on his neck and back. He learned to give to the pressure of the rope and let me pet him for the first time. I've touched him all over his neck and back, and he loves to be scratched behind his ears and on his poll. He was much less nervous today, and is realizing I'm not out to get him. Our 95-degree weather also helped to calm him down. My sister is in town from Cincinnati and she took lots of pictures.

Saturday, June 14

We arrived home last night at around 6pm with our mustang. He moved easily from the trailer into the stall, where he will stay for the next few days as we begin gentling him. This morning I got a good look at him for the first time. He is a lovely dark bay with a small, centered star. His conformation is straight and headset is wonderful. He has a very kind and honest eye.

We did about 30 minutes of work this morning, after he ate breakfast and was comfortable in his surroundings. I was able to rub his backside and down his legs with a pole, and he never kicked out. He is starting to understand to stand still while I work with him, and he is very attentive to simple movements and cues. This big guy is attentive and nervous, but not frightened or panicked. I can already tell I'm going to have a lot of fun with him!

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