A mother-daughter duo in Troup County is transforming two wild mustangs into competition horses in just 90 days.
The competition is part of the Extreme Mustang Makeover, a program by the Mustang Heritage Foundation that gentles and trains wild horses before they compete and are adopted.
“It’s really changed my life,” trainer Tracie McVay said. “I used to go for the expensive horses used for competition, but these mustangs are really incredible.”
When McVay brought two mustangs back to Georgia from Nevada, in her second year participating in the program, she saw what they needed and went to work.
The horses, named Red and Seven, both had bruises and were significantly underweight. Besides feeding and training them twice a day, she scheduled massage therapy sessions to ease tension and increase muscle movement.
“You know you’ve hit a spot of tension when you see them release anxiety,” said Amie Yates, massage therapist at Equine Performance Kneads. “He tells me what he needs with movements like blinking, chewing and lowering his head.”
McVay begins daily training with lunging, a technique where a horse is asked to work at the end of a long line while responding to commands from the trainer holding the line. Desensitizing exercises expose them to things that look, sound and feel foreign so they are not spooked in their new surroundings.
“Horses are naturally reactive animals, she said. “We want them to think instead of just react.”
Walking across a mattress or standing still at the sound of a paper bag are big steps for the mustangs, she said.
It usually takes a month of lunging, desensitizing and ponying exercises before the mustangs move onto learning tricks, she said.
After four weeks, 11-year-old daughter Madeline led Seven through a cowboy curtain. She is training her first mustang, named Mighty Mouse, to compete with her in the Youth and Yearling Mustang Competitions in October.
“He’s so curious that it doesn’t feel like I’m teaching him anything,” she said.
McVay said the curtain stunt is a big breakthrough because it requires trust and respect for the trainer.
“I like the horses to always be ready for the next step,” she said. “Sometimes, people rush into things too fast and don’t have that foundation.”
The first sign of trust, she said, is when she can take off the horse’s neck tag. Removing the tag, a collar used for identification at the holding facility, requires a level of calmness and comfort that wild horses do not naturally have.
She keeps twelve special tags in a horseshoe display made for her by a friend at home.
“That’s all I have as a souvenir of the horses I’ve adopted after they go to new homes, she said.
All competing mustangs are available for public adoption through a live bid process at the end of the event.
McVay will showcase the two mustangs’ value and train ability at the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition in Clemson, South Carolina October 19-21, where the Youth and Yearling Competitions are also held.