Wild Mustang Gets ‘Extreme Makeover’ from Harbinger Trainer

Almost everyone has heard about extreme makeovers. On reality TV, almost anything, from bodies to homes to ragged old cars, can be made over.

But unless you’re interested in taming wild horses, there’s a good chance you haven’t heard of the Extreme Mustang Makeover, held in cities around the U.S., including a recent event in Lexington, Va.

Sandee Salimbene of Harbinger participated in the Virginia event, showing off a “made-over” 6-year-old bay roan mare named Foxy Moxie.

The horse, one of thousands rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management each year, had never been handled until Salimbene began training her in April.

Although Moxie didn’t earn a spot among the competition’s top 10 horses, as Samilbene had hoped, the mare didn’t disappoint her.

During the competition, the horses compete in handling and conditioning, a pattern class and a combined leading and riding class, which are all behaviors that will make them more adoptable. Moxie came in fourth, 10th and 16th place in those events, Samilbene said, scoring an overall 11th place.

“That’s awesome,” Samilbene said. “She was scared and just a little hesitant, but she pulled through. She did wonderfully.”

The Extreme Mustang Makeover, presented by the Mustang Heritage Foundation, is designed to showcase the beauty, versatility and trainability of the American mustangs that roam freely on public lands throughout the West, according to the event’s website.

The horses are protected by the Bureau of Land Management under federal law. The BLM periodically removes excess animals from the range to ensure herd health and protect rangeland resources. Thousands of the removed animals are then made available each year to the public for adoption. More than 6,700 Mustangs have been adopted through Mustang Heritage Foundation events and programs since 2007, the website states.

Although Samilbene has been interested in mustangs for years, in the past, she didn’t have the space or facilities to meet the criteria of becoming a trainer for the program. This year she did, however, and in April, she traveled to Knoxville to pick up the horse, which she dubbed Moxie for short.

Samilbene has been riding since she was 3, and training horses for most of her adult life. However, training a wild horse did present some challenges.

“I’m not going to say it was easy,” she said. “I landed in the dirt many times.”

The most difficult part of training was gaining the mare’s trust, she added, but once that was accomplished, everything else fell into place.

“I was riding her by day nine,” Samilbene said. Next came trail rides, followed by a few horse shows in Williamston to get Moxie ready for the ring. “She did wonderfully,” Samilbene said, adding that the mustang placed third out of 10 horses in one of the Williamston horse shows.

Samilbene’s hard work, and Moxie’s determination to please, paid off. The horses that participate in the makeover challenge are auctioned off, earning them a permanent home. When her name was called, Moxie incited a bit of a bidding war, Samilbene said. The mare sold for $3,400, the fifth highest selling price for the event.

The sale netted Samilbene about $1,600 as her portion of the sale price, which offset some of Samilbene’s expenses involved in transporting, housing and training the mustang.

“It’s not about the money for me,” Samilbene said. “It’s just that breed.” The makeover challenge gave her a chance to help educate people about the breed, and allowed her to help a mustang become ready for a permanent home. American mustangs are very versatile, good looking horses, she said, which people often don’t realize.

“I think people don’t give them a chance because they are not a registered, high-dollar horse,” she said. “They are the best horses I’ve ever ridden. They are just a great, all-around horse, and will try their hardest to please you.”

The Extreme Mustang Makeover was held Aug. 25 to 27 at the Virginia Horse Center in Lexington.

On their way back to Harbinger, she and her husband, Bob Samilbene, decided they would participate in the challenge again, to give another horse an opportunity to be adopted.

“The end result was giving a horse a chance, and giving someone a long period of pleasure to ride them and use them,” Sandee Samilbene said. “We gave them a great start.”


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