Horse training as an arena sport. Who'da thunk it? But here we are in the years when the big growth in public awareness of horses might not be coming from a racetrack or a horse show ring. It's coming from an arena where a group of horse trainers you'd never heard of a year or two ago demonstrate their skills on horses that were running wild on the Nevada desert or the infinite back 40 of the Four Sixes Ranch in West Texas.
Whether it's the Mustang Million or The Road to the Horse, the crowds turn out to cheer on horse trainers who have transformed wild mustangs in a few months...or untrained but well bred Quarter horse colts in two days.
The phenomenon is popular enough and unusual enough that National Geographic is airing a three-part mini series on the Mustang Million. The cable network's "Wild" division is applying the label to horses this time. "Mustang Millionaire" premieres this Saturday at 10 pm ET; be sure to check your local listings to find out when it airs in your area.
Here's National Geographic's description of the show:
"Following a government round-up of Mustangs some find controversial, our five horse trainers have only four months to tame a wild mustang and turn it into a show horse. They risk everything they have for the chance to win the grand prize and bragging rights. It is a journey of transformation not only for the horses but for the trainers themselves. Along the way, they face the risk of injury, strained relationships with loved ones and an on-going crisis of confidence.
"And it all leads up to the final event, which occurs over five days in Fort Worth, Texas, where one misstep could spell defeat and kill any hope of winning a piece of the grand prize. On game day, each mustang and its trainer must execute a complex feat that highlights the horse’s journey from unbridled animal to disciplined arena performer."
Let's make one thing clear: not all trainers are created equal. North Carolina's Mary Miller-Jordan comes with an aura that is earning her a rising-star reputation in the natural horse training world. "MMJ" is part equestrian, part animal communicator, and many parts free spirit. Watch for the National Geographic series to add to her following. Her mustang, Flying Colors, is a horse you'll love to watch on the show.
The theatrics of the Mustang Million finale seem to fly in the face of natural horsemanship and the spirit of the wild horses, in the opinion of many. What was very recently a wild and free horse is not only now a riding horse who partners with his trainer; he's also a bit of a performer. The stakes will rise in the future to please and "wow" the crowd in the finale; is the dignity of the mustang at risk?
You'll be able to decide as you watch Mustang Millionaire. Let me know what you think.
These are the mustangs "before" they ship off with the trainers. The tv series will focus on what happens next, right up to the final competition.
As I write this, I'm at the American Association of Equine Practitioners Convention in Nashville. I ran in Dr Glenn Blodgett, Four Sixes Ranch horse division manager, this morning and asked him about what it was like to turn over a group of his stock to Road to the Horse. He reported that the Four Sixes had had a very successful year of breeding, and that the Road to the Horse had been a source of a lot of publicity for the ranch. The downside, I asked? "No, there really isn't any," he assured me. "I don't know how many years we can continue to provide the stock, but it's really been fine."
Four Sixes breeds a lot of racing Quarter horses as well as ranch-bred stock. The huge ranch is the American Quarter Horse Association's All-Time Leading Breeder of Performance Horses and Race Money-Earners and Winners