In 2015, my now-husband, Dan, convinced me we were ready to compete in our first Extreme Mustang Makeover. If you are not familiar with this, it is a wild horse training competition where you pick up a wild, untouched, BLM mustang and have approximately 100 days to gentle and train it. These horse and rider teams compete in classes such as handling and conditioning, maneuvers, and trail to highlight the train-ability and willingness of the horses. Finally, the horses are auctioned off to adopters. In our case, the competition was held during the annual Reno Rodeo.
We were lucky enough that both Dan and I were selected to compete after sending in our applications which meant we were bringing home 2 mustangs! The horses for these competitions are randomly assigned to each trainer to keep it fair and we had no idea what we were getting until just before they were loaded onto the trailer. I ended up with a lanky little solid black gelding, just under 15 hands tall and 5 years old, and so nervous. Dan's tiny bay gelding seemed much braver at first so I was pretty apprehensive about the whole thing! We got them home and for the first couple of days, the little black gelding would kick the panels viciously anytime his tail touched him. When I put too much pressure on him, he would shove his head into the corner of the pen and swing his hindquarters like a turret on a gunship, ready to fire at anything that came too close!
By the fourth day, with patience, consistency, and a little creativity, I was able to get a halter on the black gelding. It is worth noting here that there was an option to have the BLM wranglers place a halter and lead on our horses for us before bringing them home. Dan and I elected not to do so because we felt it was important for our budding relationship with each horse to allow them the dignity and freedom to choose to allow the halter to be put on. We found out later that out of nearly 40 competitors that year, we were the only ones to do so. I decided to name my gelding Indomitus Legato, or Legato for short. It is Latin and translates to "Untamed Legacy", a fitting moniker for such and elegant and proud mustang. Legato progressed quickly after accepting the halter, learning all the tools and skills needed to successful navigate his new life of domesticity. We truly bonded over the next few weeks spending several hours of every day together. Legato came out of his shell more and more, revealing a sweet, funny, playful and loving nature.
35 days from the day he walked off the trailer, Legato not only let me sit on him for the first time, he saved my life as far as I was concerned.
It started out like any other day of training for us... revisiting things he had learned and teaching him new things as well. We had a quick run at lining up to pick me up from the mounting block/fence and he was getting himself into position almost immediately with little support from me. Then I was able to lay across his back for the first time ever and Legato was perfect! After that, we went for Legato's second walk outside the yard. He was so brave, and we went 3 full blocks around from the house! He was fascinated by the first garbage can he saw and struggled with cars passing him but tried his heart out. About halfway back to the house, a HUGE intact male pit bull came out from under a broken section of fence along the road. He started coming towards us (as most dogs do) and I did my usual method of telling him "no" and "go home" while flicking the end of my lead rope towards him. Rather than stop, he let out a deep, menacing growl and started coming across the ditch directly towards us. Bearing the mental and physical scars of having been aggressively attacked by a large dog just two years prior, I immediately panicked and froze, but luckily, I had Legato with me! Legato does NOT like dogs and when that pit bull came across the ditch, Legato's ears went flat back against his neck and he lunged after that dog with all the fury of a stallion protecting his herd, snaking his head low and striking with his forelegs, maintaining his position between me and the dog the whole time. I think the dog was so caught off guard that he backed down and Legato and I quickly walked away. I was still shaking by the time we got home and checked in with Dan. Legato was rewarded with some quiet grazing time on the lawn while I caught my breath and marveled at his willingness to protect me. On our way back to his pen, I got back on the mounting block and Legato did me the honor of allowing me to sit on his back for the first time ever! To be the first person to sit on any horse is always a special experience, but after what we had just been through, it meant so much more to me. I told myself I may not be able to let him go at the auction after that and Legato cemented his place in my heart that day. Even though our story took some unplanned turns along the way, he has always found his way home.
Legato's next chapter does not include me, but I know he will be exactly where he needs to be doing what he loves...protecting a girl who truly needs him.