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Mustang Million Extreme Mustang Makeover


by Allison Armstrong Rehnborg

The chance to adopt and train an American mustang is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But what if you could adopt a mustang and compete for $1,000,000 in prize money in the 2013 Mustang Million Extreme Mustang Makeover? On May 4, hundreds of people gathered at the Tennessee Livestock Center in Murfreesboro, Tenn., to bid for just that opportunity.

Starting in late April, one thousand Bureau of Land Management mustangs were placed for adoption at eight sites across the United States, as far east as Murfreesboro and as far west as California. While the mustangs varied in sex, color, origin, and age (1-6 years), each horse was eligible to compete at the 2013 Mustang Million, which will take place at the Will Rogers Equestrian Center in Fort Worth, Texas, September 16-22.

Developed by the Mustang Heritage Foundation and produced in conjunction with the Bureau of Land Management, the Mustang Million is the “richest wild horse competition in history,” according to the foundation’s executive director, Patti Colbert.

Successful adopters of the Mustang Million mustangs can exhibit their horses in one of three divisions at the Million: Legends, Youth, and Specialty. Youth exhibitors will only compete in the in-hand classes, while adults 18 years or older can compete in the riding classes, which will include hunter-hack, dressage, cow work, trail, and freestyle. One million dollars in prizes will be awarded to top-scoring exhibitors in each division.

Lured by the opportunity to adopt and compete with a mustang, horse people came from all over the South to bid on 150 BLM mustangs available for adoption in Murfreesboro.

Teana Hodge, a horse trainer from Rocky Point, N.C., drove ten hours in order to attend the auction. She was accompanied by two of her friends: Crystal Jordan, who also planned to adopt a mustang, and Shelly Schaffer. Teana has been training horses for twenty years, and Crystal is involved in a local equine rescue league. Both women have had previous experience in training mustangs, including Shelly’s mustang, Zeke.

“Both [Crystal and Teana] turned [Zeke] around,” Shelly said. “My mustang was adopted from the wild, then abused and left to starve, so not only was he wild, he was completely fearful of human beings. Crystal had him a full year, rehabbing him and putting ground work on him, and then Teana broke him to ride. Now we’re all three like sisters to him. He follows us around like a baby.”

According to Teana, the attractive part of adopting and training a mustang is the idea of bonding with him or her.
“The trust these horses can give is unlike any domesticated horse,” Teana said. “They’re just so much more willing. Once you gain their trust, they’ll follow you off a cliff.”

Both Teana and Crystal successfully adopted their top picks from among the mustangs. Teana adopted a five year old bay mare from Nevada, while Crystal adopted a five year old mare from Wyoming. Teana plans to document her journey to the Mustang Million at

“My hope is to train her to compete in the Legends division, and then take it from there with the freestyle,” Teana said. “[In the freestyle], you have four minutes to go in the arena and pretty much wow everybody [and do] anything you can think of to really show the talent and performance of the mustang. Last year, Bobby Kerr won the [2012 Extreme Mustang Makeover] when his mustang got in his convertible and rode out of the arena with him.”

Other successful adopters from the Murfreesboro adoption-auction included twelve-year-old Autumn Kammerdiener and her mother, Dominique Kammerdiener, from Lyon County, Ky. According to Autumn, Dominique is the “horse fanatic” of the family, and Autumn followed in her mother’s footsteps by getting involved with horses before she could walk. Mother and daughter both adopted yearling mustangs at the Murfreesboro auction, and plan to exhibit in the in-hand Specialty classes.

“I’m going to train [my filly] for my 4-H project,” Autumn said. “Hopefully, I’d like to teach her some tricks, do some soundproofing, and get her to where someone can ride her. I think she’ll be a good horse.”

Adoption-auction attendees received a rare treat in the form of an in-hand mustang demonstration by the Mustang Leadership Partners program of Chattanooga, Tenn.

The story of the Mustang Leadership Partners program begins with its founder, Sue Anne Wells. In 2009, Sue Anne founded the first single-gender public charter school in Tennessee, the Chattanooga Girls Leadership Academy. The Academy focuses on providing its students with an education based in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In that spirit, Sue Anne founded the Mustang Leadership Partners program that same year in an attempt to teach the principles of leadership and horse science to the students. The program allows the students to interact with Sue Anne’s own herd of adopted and trained American mustangs.

 “The mission of the Mustang Leadership Partners program is to protect, preserve and sustain the wild American horse,” Sue Anne explained. “[The program] is an expeditionary learning part of the [CGLA] curriculum. The girls are learning to be effective leaders by means of the wild horse.”

Sue Anne and three of her students were invited to demonstrate at the event by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in order to show the versatility and trainability of the American mustang. On the morning of the adoption-auction, Sue Anne fielded questions from the crowd while her students, Charlia Johnson, 15, Vinceia Crittenden, 15, and Frida Uwimana, 14, demonstrated their skills by working with three mustangs in the main pen. Each girl calmly and confidently guided her horse through backing maneuvers, turns on the forehand, turns on the haunches, and small circles.

 “I have learned how to be confident and how to speak in front of people from going through the program,” Frida said. “These horses have taught me to always have good body language. The thing I like about the horses the most is they are good teachers to me.”

For more information on the 2013 Mustang Million, visit        

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