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Mustang: From Wild Horse to Riding Horse by Vivian Gabor (Trafalgar Square Books)

By Vivian Gabor

Neither starting a young horse over the course of three months nor preparing for a clinic or show is out of the ordinary for me as a trainer. The special thing about the challenge I write about here, however, was that the young horse I was training was an American Mustang, born in the wild and completely unused to humans, unlike our domestic horses.

I became involved in the “Mustang Makeover” in Germany, which is organized by “American Mustang Germany” (, a group that is working to bring attention to the plight of the Mustang in the wild, as well as those in holding facilities. For the Makeover in Germany, between 15 and 20 Mustangs are imported from a holding facility and made available to trainers who have been vetted and selected to work with them.

For 90 days, the trainers have the challenge of helping their wild horses become accustomed to the new environment, to people, and to the process of saddle training. At the end of this three-month training period, there is a large competition with almost 6,000 people in the audience to experience the event live, and at the end, maybe bid for a Mustang in a special auction.

The Makeover in Germany is also watched by approximately 40,000 fans on social media, so not only are a number of Mustangs given new homes, but many new people are introduced to the problems Mustangs face and how different organizations are trying to solve them. Those interested can follow along with all the participating trainers and experience the exciting progress made with each Mustang over the 90 days. So the Makeover is an event that shows a variety of training methods and encourages thought and discussion regarding the kinds of techniques you would like to use with your own horse.

When I first heard about the Mustang Makeover, I was interested to work with a wild horse, not only as a horse trainer, but also as a behavioral biologist and equine scientist. I like to teach others about horse-appropriate training methodology, but I also like to educate myself and face new, intriguing tasks and challenges. I consider myself fortunate to have been given a chance to be involved in this special adventure.

A Totally New Experience

Was working with a Mustang really a completely different experience? This is something people have often asked me, both during and after the project. My spontaneous answer is and always will be, “Yes!”

The 90 days with “my” Mustang mare was a very intense time, during which I learned an incredible amount, because even when I wasn’t actually training her, I was very closely involved with her and the issue of Mustangs as a whole. As well as learning about the background and origin of these horses, my time with one of them, above all, taught me about the true, unadulterated nature of horses. I realized that unlike our domesticated horses, Mustangs have not been bred with our interests and desires in mind. Nature’s external influences are responsible for which in their wild herds survive.

The Makeover also taught me to look at some aspects of horse training and how we deal with horses from a completely different perspective—the horse’s perspective. I had the opportunity to experience the pure nature of my wild horse, with all the good qualities and difficulties that came with it.

(Photo credit to Juliane Fellner)
(Photo credit to Juliane Fellner)

In a Heartbeat

Would I do it again? “Yes!” is my unequivocal answer. The 90 days I spent working with a Mustang were special. They opened my eyes in many respects, and took me farther along my path toward species-appropriate treatment of horses and allowed me to further explore their nature. It wasn’t an easy time, physically or emotionally. Nevertheless, I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I’m so glad that I had the opportunity to get to know “my” Mustang, Mona.

I had never thought that I would change and grow so much as a result of an encounter with a horse. I am very grateful for the time that I spent with Mona. I definitely have more to learn from what we experienced together. During the time with the Mustang, my awareness intensified, especially for how horses think and how they see things. It also encouraged me to rethink common training methods.

And I would like to encourage you to do the same!

Even if not everybody has the opportunity to work with a Mustang, I would like to advise all horsemen and women to keep broadening their horizons, questioning their actions, and thinking beyond existing boundaries and norms. I would also encourage you to support projects that help animals—no matter what species. I put my time and energy into the cause of the Mustangs of North America, whose fate I will continue to champion in the future. I am very happy to have been able to help some wild horses onto a path toward a happy home, even if it was just a few. Makeover events have put a spotlight on these very special horses. I hope that they might inspire more people to get involved and help the Mustangs.

(Photo credit to Juliane Fellner)
(Photo credit to Juliane Fellner)

This excerpt from Mustang: From Wild Horse to Riding Horse by Vivian Gabor is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (

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