HANOVER TWP., MI — When Jackson resident Hillary Holman rode a mustang in 2012, it ended with her on the ground wearing a cracked helmet.
That didn’t faze her, though. Because on Aug. 25-27, she’s competing in the 10th annual Extreme Mustang Makeover in Lexington, Va.
That first go-around was unfortunate luck for Holman and the wild horse, she said. The female mustang was battling cysts on her ovaries, which caused her to lash out.
This time, Holman is riding a healthy 6-year-old female named Star.
“She is just a really trainable, really laid-back horse and I found that to be true with a lot of the mustangs,” she said. “She is being trained as a dressage horse, sort of like horse ballet.”
The competition helps re-home wild horses, Holman said. She said there are currently 50,000 mustangs in holding facilities through the Bureau of Land Management, and the BLM’s website states another 67,000 horses currently roam western states freely.
The populations of wild horses are rising and with limited grazing space out west, cattle farmers are starting to find the horses to be a problem, Holman said.
“The Mustang Heritage Foundation, which puts the competition on, is actually a nonprofit,” Holman said. “They started it as a means of showing how trainable the mustangs are so that more people would adopt them.
“They are not like a feral cat. Mustangs can learn very well. I actually think horses have a larger capacity to learn than dogs.”
Trainers in the competition, who must apply and be accepted, are given 100 days to train their mustang. About 25 trainers received their horses in Tennessee this year, Holman said.
And when it comes to picking them, it’s not exactly a walk in the park.
“They bring them to a loading area and we all pick them up at the same time,” Holman said. “And we just go and we get handed a number and it is associated with a tag that is on the horse, and you don’t know what your horse is going to look like until it is in your trailer. So it is kind of exciting to see them run down the chute and onto the trailer and you get to know who you are going to work with for the next 100 days. It’s pretty cool.”
The trainers compete in handling and conditioning, a pattern class and a combined leading and riding class. The top 10 then compete in freestyle finals.
The winner of the competition receives a check for approximately $20,000, and all horses go up for adoption through an auction on Aug. 27.
Since 2007, the competition’s website states 6,700 wild horses have received homes.
“It means a lot of different things, just to start the horse and finish it, and for the mustangs to be a part of the selection,” Holman said. “It means a lot to me as a social thing to create positive change in my own little way.
“There is too much of a stigma on mustangs. People aren’t knowledgeable enough.”
Holman trains Star at her parents barn in Hanover Township, which she also uses for her horse training, boarding and for-sale business, Gaia Equine LLC.
Her parents are 49-year owners of the property, but the barn itself is older than the state of Michigan.
“Barn will be 200 years old next year,” Holman said. “It was a Christmas tree farm, dairy barn with cattle and then 50 years ago my parents bought it and turned it into a horse barn. Some of the local subdivisions used to be a part of this farm.”
Her parents, Tom and Joanne Holman, actually met because of horses.
“We started with ponies, that’s how we met,” Holman’s mother said. “Tom’s sister gave us a horse for a marriage gift, so we had a horse before we had a farm.”
They named the farm “Harmony Hills,” and for years invited local schools over for field trips. Now, they are just happy their daughter is following her passion.
“We are happy our daughter is able to be back here,” Holman’s father said. “It is kind of breathing new life into it. There is purpose and direction in recreation.
“If you can master a horse, it gives you courage.”
on August 19, 2016 at 9:00 AM, updated August 19, 2016 at 9:13 AM