Wild mustangs and burros made their appearance on the Missouri State Fairgrounds Thursday, providing the opportunity for some to adopt a living icon of the American West.
The America’s Mustang Celebration Expo opened Thursday in the MSF Coliseum for a three-day event that includes wild horse adoption. Extreme Mustang Makeover and America’s Mustang are produced by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Program.
The event continues through Saturday, ending with a live auction event of approximately 26 trained horses at 7:30 p.m. in the Mathewson Exhibition Center.
Mustang Heritage Foundation Marketing Director Kyla Hogan said untrained burros and mustangs could be viewed in the Donnelly Arena directly behind the Coliseum. Trained horses were being kept in the horse stables next to the Arena.
Hogan added the event is a family-friendly expo and also has a “kid’s zone” upstairs in the Coliseum.
“We produce the event in partnership with the BLM,” Hogan said. “We have different clinicians and speakers. We have some people from the BLM’s national office here that are going to talk about the wild horses that are on the range, the current state of the range lands, and we have people who will do a first-touch demonstration with a wild horse.”
Hogan said people are welcome to come out and watch or adopt.
“They can visit with the trainers,” she added. “Everything is free except the 6 p.m. finals on Saturday evening.”
The cost for the Saturday evening finals is $15.
Many of the horses competing are from Wyoming. Hogan added that horses not only come from Wyoming, but also Nevada and Oregon and often from all 10 western states. Last year, through the program, 942 horses found new homes. This year, Hogan said the goal is the adoption of 1,200 mustangs.
The American’s Mustang provides eight to 12 events across the country each year.
“We try and involve the BLM as much as possible, because the whole goal is adoption and education,” she said. “That’s really our main focus.”
This is the first time for the program to come to the area. They are pleased to be in Sedalia.
“This is a really neat place,” Hogan said. “It’s like a little hidden gem, I love it. We went to St. Louis last year and found out about your facility and it’s really nice.”
Leslie Dixson, 15, and her sister Jenna Dixson, 17, both of Omaha, Nebraska, were watching the burros inside the Donnelly Arena Thursday morning. Leslie said she was there to participate in the youth competition with her adopted horse Copper, who came from Salt Wells Creek, Wyoming.
“I went to a facility in Illinois to purchase her,” Leslie said. “I’ve had her for 100 days, (and) she’s learned a lot and I’ve learned a lot from her.”
Leslie plans to be in the competition ring with Copper today from 2 to 6 p.m. and from 1 to 3 p.m. Saturday.
“I’ll be doing a freestyle, where I can do anything, and I’ll be doing a trail class, which is like obstacles,” she added.
Jodie Bentz, 13, was busy looking over the wild mustangs in the Arena with her grandmother Cathy Davis-Berends, of Baldwin City, Kansas, Thursday. Berends said the trip to the event was a birthday present for Bentz.
“We have horses at home,” Berends said. “I have a Quarter horse and she has a Pony of America. We’ve done shows before, but we got out of showing and we’re trying to do more trail riding, but she’s always wanted to train her own.
“We’re just observing this weekend,” she added. “We want to watch the youth training (Friday) and Saturday.”
While they were looking, Berends said Bentz had fallen in love with a white-and-red mustang.
“It has such expressive eyes,” Berends said. “Yeah, just really kind eyes.”
BLM Ewing, Illinois Holding Facility Manager Marty Neugebauer cited the benefits of adopting a wild mustang.
“In terms of the burros, they can either be a pasture pet or they can do predator patrol with cattlemen,” he noted. “As for the wild horses, most people use them for trail riding.”
He added that the adopted horses could be taken to horse shows, the rider could rope from them or use them for endurance riding.
“The biggest thing that people like about these horses is there’s a variety,” Kristen Fontaine, BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program Horse specialist, said. “Whatever discipline you are in or that you like, you can find a mustang to match. There’s a lot of variety there.”
The horses brought to the event range from yearlings to age 7. Both Neugebauer and Fontaine agreed that the mustangs were like any horse. Once they are accustomed to people and trained they ride like domesticated horses.
“The bottom line is even with a domestic horse, that horse ain’t going to let you do anything unless it’s ready,” Neugebauer said. “Your domestic horse, if its never been in contact with a human being, it would act the same, if not worse.”
He said the horses were picked up in April and have calmed down considerably.
“Once they have bridged that fear and changed their look on humans … they’re no different than any other horse,” Fontaine added. “It’s just they have a lot to learn from the beginning, they know nothing.”
“The horses are protected by law,” Derek Strohl, a BLM natural resource specialist, said. “So, horses taken off the range are held in long-term holding facilities at a huge expense to the government. Adopting a horse is getting all the benefits of having this animal and reducing the cost to the government.”
In the MSF horse stables trainer Greg Reynolds, of Calvert City, Kentucky, was preparing to give his 4-year-old horse Sereno a bath Thursday. At present, Reynolds has adopted two wild mustangs and trained 13. Sereno was number 11.
“The trainers are selected,” Reynolds said. “Anyone can apply to train for the Extreme Mustang Makeover. Typically it’s people who have a love and passion for horses, but it doesn’t have to be someone with experience, as I’m living proof of that. I started off doing this without a whole lot of experience and I’ve enjoyed it.
“It’s not magic, it’s not rocket science, it’s just learning to see things from the horse’s point of view,” he added. “Once you do that, you start to have some real doors open up.”
He noted that the horses are assigned to the trainers and they have 100 days to see how well the horse responds.
“What’s really fascinating to me is that you can take a wild horse, and in that time period, and have them as quiet and responsive as these horses are,” Reynolds said. “It’s pretty amazing.”
He said they promote the trainability, versatility and adaptability of the wild mustang.
“They are so healthy, and they are so smart,” he added. “These horses just want to get along with people, once their confidence is built.”
Hogan said during the event they would live stream some of the speakers and clinicians at americasmustang.com/expo_sedalia.
America’s Mustang Celebration Expo continues today and Saturday. Untrained mustangs and burros may be adopted for $125 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and Saturday. A second animal may be adopted for $25. Trained horses will be available for live bid auction at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Mathewson Exhibition Center. For more information, visit www.wildhorseandburro.blm.gov or americasmustang.com.
Faith Bemiss can be reached at 530-0289 or @flbemiss.