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2019 Kentucky Extreme Mustang Makeover Rookies and mustangs took over the Kentucky Horse Park


By Matt Manroe, Mustang Heritage Foundation

With approximately 100 days of bonding, gentling and natural horsemanship, Mustangs and their trainers assembled in Lexington, Kentucky for the chance to win $25,000 in cash and prizes. The Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM), held June 20-22 brought together 38 talented adult competitors and 38 skilled youth trainers.  

This may have been Courtney Wexler’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover event, but she did not waiver under pressure.  She and her 4-year-old bay Mustang mare, Kayah, placed consistently throughout the adult preliminary competition, earning them a spot in the Top 10 Freestyle Finals. At the end of the day, the duo claimed the Championship title.

“I’m a bit speechless,” said the Williamston, North Carolina, native. “It feels pretty good! This is my first actual EMM and Mustang. I’ve watched how they work and how they really lock onto you, which is what kind of pushed me over into competing. I’m so glad I did.”

When Wexler went to pick-up Kayah in Lebanon, Tennessee, she really did not want a little bay Mustang. But of all the Mustangs there, that is exactly what she got.

“She was the tiniest of the bays, which is the last thing I wanted,” said Wexler about Kayah, who was gathered from Fox-Lake Range, Nevada. “But after watching her, I realized how smart she was. She was scared and very cautious. That’s also what led us to her name, Kayah which means small but wise. That couldn’t have been more fitting for her.”

Wexler said her mindset was to just do what they knew how to do. Verbal cues and prior event exposure are what helped her and Kayah stay calm and focused.

I just tried to talk to her (Kayah) and tell her what was going on,” said Wexler. “When I started doing that, I felt a huge change in her. I also took her to a lot of places just for the experience. Her fourth ride was at a show and she won Champion in the ranch division. The next day we went swimming while on a trail ride. So, I’ve just tried to expose her to everything I could possibly think of before coming here.”

Wexler won a $4,000 check, a Cut Above belt buckle, a Yeti cooler, Espana Silk products and a Resistol hat certificate for her championship. She also took home a Cut Above belt buckle for receiving the Rookie award, given to the highest scoring first-time EMM competitor. Wexler also purchased Kayah for $4,000 and plans on giving her some time off before using her for her personal and lesson horse.

Cavin Graham, of Lafayette, Georgia, and his 5-year-old Triple B Nevada mare, Sue Tup, took home the Reserve Champion title and a $4,000 check.

 All 38 adult horses were placed into adoptive homes for an average price of $2,002, with the highest selling mustangs going for $4,000.  

Dixie Marrese, of Munfordville, Kentucky, led her 2-year-old gray mare, Piggly Wiggly straight to the captured the Championship in the Youth division. Although it would’ve been easy to be overwhelmed by the big Alltech Arena, Marrese handled herself and Piggly Wiggly like veterans to earn the top spot at their first Extreme Mustang Makeover. She took home a $1,000 check, a Cut Above belt buckle and a Resistol Hat certificate.

 “This is indescribable. It’s been so much fun and I can’t believe I won,” said the 11-year-old. “Piggly Wiggly has been such a great girl and I love her so much. I never thought we would be here winning today. I just wanted her to do the best she could do. This is a dream come true.”

Marrese has been working with Mustangs for four years now, competing in TIP challenges, where she has worked with two Mustangs for each challenge. Now, she has nine Mustangs, counting Piggly Wiggly. Marrese attends public school, but still finds the time to work with her Mustangs and go to horse shows. “She’s a really smart girl - sometimes smarter than I am,” said Marrese “If she doesn’t find the right answer, she keeps trying until she does. She’s just very willing and forgiving.”

Marrese plans on a long future with Piggly Wiggly. She hopes that their win will inspire others to take the leap and participate in an Extreme Mustang Makeover.

Garrett Shanks, of Belleville, Illinois, and his mare, Dolly’s Bold Dream were the Reserve Champions and garnered a $ 1,000 check.

The Mustangs that competed in the EMM for adults were wild mares 3-6 years old that have been living in Bureau of Land Management (BLM) off-range corrals. Youth trainers worked with yearling mares and were randomly paired with their Mustang approximately 100 days prior to the competition.

At the competition, the adult horse-and-rider duos compete in a handling and conditioning class, a pattern class and a trail class.The Top 10 adult competitors then compete in a Freestyle Finals performance, and all youth perform in a freestyle class as well.

The Extreme Mustang Makeover is produced by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse & Burro Program.

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