Taming the American wild mustang

Two sisters tackle a 100-day training challenge

Ashley Hunter
ECB Publishing, Inc.

For many years, the wild mustang has served as a symbol of the American West.
Believed to be the descendants of horses that were brought to the Americas by explorers and conquerers from Spain, wild mustang herds have roamed over several western American states since as early as the 1500s.
Throughout the years, America's wild mustangs faced changes from their free-roaming lives as extreme hunting (called “mustanging”) became a sport and livelihood for many who captured the horses as either household pets or to be killed as meat in the pet food industry. As the once wild west became domesticated and populated in the 20th century, advocates began to speak for the mustang herds. The movement feared that the ruthless hunting, capturing and butchering of America's wild horses would lead to the elimination of the once thriving herds.
The advocacy of these groups led to the 1959 Wild Horse Annie Act, which ensured that wild mustangs on federally-owned lands would be provided with humane treatment, and in 1971, the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM) initiated the National Adopt-A-Horse and Burro Program.
The program allowed those passionate about horses to adopt mustangs that had been rounded up from areas where the herds were overpopulating their resources or endangering humans or other wild species.
Since 1971, there have been additional efforts to conserve and safely control the herds of wild mustangs, and today, it is estimated that a little over 71,000 wild horses (and 16,000 wild burros) live on the 11 states that comprise the land that is managed by the BLM.
Controlling the herds has proved difficult, and many wild mustangs remain in holding facilities after being rounded up – for years, many of these horses would be sold to slaughterhouses or put down through euthanasia.
But the Mustang Heritage Foundation (established in 2001) has a mission of seeing more of the beautiful and wild creatures adopted out to American families and horse trainers.
Through the foundation, two local sisters, Grace and Haley Paul, are looking to do their part in helping preserve the beauty and spread awareness on America's wild mustangs.
Earlier this year, Grace Paul obtianed a painted mustang named Apache, who she broke, gentled and trained in order to enter him into the foundation's 100-Day Mustang Makeover Challenge.
16-year-old Grace (who was only 15 at the time), ended up returning home from the September challenge with high-rankings and placing second in her and Apache's overall score.
With the dust fairly settled from her previous training adventure, Grace was looking to go through the mustang-training process again and on Saturday, Nov. 16, Grace and her family traveled to Marianna, Fla., where they picked up the transported mustangs from the Jackson County Agriculture Center.
While this will be Grace's second year training and competing a wild mustang, she will be accompanied this year by her younger sister, 14-year-old Haley Paul.
As the two sisters brought their mustangs home, they settled quickly into a routine of introduction and training with the horses.
Training starts in November and the two girls have 100 days to train their wild mustangs in order to bring them to the challenge conclusion in February.
Grace's horse, a black mustang named Makin' Me Famous (shortened to just “Fame”) and Haley's horse, a brown mustang named Daring to Dream (shortened to just “Dream”) are both yearlings and have only been handled in the few days that they have resided on the family's plantation.
Despite that, the Paul sisters are optimistic due to the quick advances which their mustangs are making when it comes to training and taming of the two equines.
Grace notes that after only a few hours on the family's plantation, the two trainers were able to already begin handling their mustangs – a stark contrast to her first mustang, Apache, who jumped fences and resisted training for days.
With now less than 100 days to their final competition, the Paul girls are eager to get to work training Fame and Dream.
“It's 100 days for us to train them to do tricks and other fun stuff,” explains Grace, who plans to teach Fame to lay down on command, sit and do a Spanish walk.
Haley plans to plans to teach Dream how to lay down, roll over and rear – along with some special tricks that will be sure to wow judges when this first-time competitor shows her horse in February.
While this will be Haleys first time with the 100-day challenge, she does have some experience with horse-handling and has grown up alongside different equines.
“I grew up with horses, and I've trained horses before,” says Haley, but this, she says with a laugh, is a new experience. “Mustangs are...a little different.”
On February 7, 2020, the two sisters will travel to Columbia, Ala., in order to show and compete their horses against 13 other trainers.
Last year, Grace competed against others in her age division, but this year, due to the fact that the competition had less applicants, she and her sister will be competing against adults as well as youth.
“I'm not really worried about the competition,” stated Grace. “I'm just looking to do my best and whatever I score, is what I score. But with these guys, I feel like we have a pretty good chance of winning.”
Grace adds that during her time at her former competition, she watched the adults compete, and says she doesn't feel it will be any more difficult to compete against this year's mixed-age division.
“It really just depends on how much experience a person has and how well they do at the competition,” says Grace. “The person might be super experienced, but it depends a lot on the horse.”
And the Paul girls feel like their horses are already winners.
Dream and Fame were rounded up in 2018 from the Nevada Horse Range.
“They've been in holding pens for a year,” says Haley as she overlooks her family's horse field, which her mustang now gets to run freely.
While the two girls have their sights set on scoring high in the February competition, they are also looking to enjoy the training journey which they have bonded over, but also raise awareness to the plight of the American mustang.
According to Haley, thousands of wild mustangs are secured in holding pens out west after being round-up. While new rules are going into effect that will prevent the slaughter of wild mustangs, the practice of killing off excess mustangs has a long history.
She says that while the training experience has been a lot of fun, it has also provided Dream and Fame with a good and safe home outside of tight holding pens.
“I think that everyone should adopt a mustang,” adds Grace. “They are only $25, and they will change your life for the better.”
The sisters' mother, Amy Paul, admires the strength of her two oldest daughters when it comes to tackling the incredible task of taming a wild mustang within 100 days.
“At their age, I wasn't doing anything cool like this,” Amy laughs. “It is so cool to see them doing something that adults are doing,”
Amy Paul grew up with horses herself and her children have had access to horses for many years, but Amy herself has never been as hands-on as her daughters are when it comes to training horses – especially wild mustangs.
“Being able to give them this opportunity is what I love,” states Amy. “Giving my kids this opportunity for growth, letting them face a challenge and seeing them being able to go over that hurdle...it has made them grow.”
Outside of their wild mustang endeavors, the Grace owns a horse training business, with several local clients, and has been invited to do live demonstrations at the Honey Lake Clinic in Greenville, Fla., which uses horses to help clients heal from mental and emotional trauma.
The clinic also uses a horse which Haley previously trained in its therapy sessions.
“I feel extremely proud that my kids are choosing to do something that is so outside of the box,” concludes Amy.