Ky. Teens training wild mustangs for national competition
On a farm in the south end of Marshall County, three teenage girls are doing their best to tame and train wild mustangs ahead of a national competition in Lexington in June.
Stephanie Frost, 17, Kristin Frost, 14, and Abby Gray, 15, picked up their horses in Cross Plains, Tennessee on March 2 and have until mid-June to get them in shape for the 2019 Youth Extreme Mustang Makeover. The judges will score contestants on their handling and conditioning, maneuvers and their freestyle performance, which is broken down into the categories of overall horsemanship and entertainment value. They’ll compete against 41 youth contestants from across the U.S.
The girls have already been working on the basics so they can begin working on their performances but first, they had to bond with the horses and get them used to human contact. Kristin’s horse, Sky, a 1-year-old came from Kansas near the foothills; Stephanie’s horse, Tori, and Abby’s horse, Poppy, both almost 2-years-old, came from Nevada where they were rounded up as part of a federal program aimed at managing the overpopulation of herds of wild horses and burros. The horses are then paired with their adopter at random.
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM), wild horses are defined by federal law as unbranded, unclaimed, free-roaming horses found on public lands in the U.S., most of which are descendants of those who were released by or escaped from Spanish settlers, the U.S. Calvary and Native Americans. The Wild-Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, which was passed by Congress in 1971, declares wild horses and burros are living symbols of the historic pioneer spirit of the West and stipulates the BLM and U.S. Forest Service have the responsibility to manage and protect the herds. One of the many ways in which they do so is gathering the “excess animals” and placing them into private care.
Stephanie said she’s been riding horses as long as she can remember, recalling her mother “strapping her on her back” to ride when she was too small to ride on her own. She began training horses when she was 9, starting with ponies and working her way up; Tori makes the fifth wild mustang she’s trained—of the five, she’s kept three (including Tori) and trained the other two for close friends. She is also a professional trainer who works with other people’s horses as well.
She described working with a wild, completely untrained horse like starting a new video game.
“They’re usually pretty afraid and have no idea about things like a fence,” she explained. “It’s like starting a new video game—you have a clear canvas to start with and whatever you teach them is what they’re going to know.”
Stephanie said what she aims to do is demonstrate the versatility and abilities of the mustang breed.
“I just want people to know and see the breed is very versatile. They’re not just running wild and need to be killed (slaughtered),” she said. “No, they’re not highbred show horses but they have a lot more to offer than people give them credit for.”
Kristin, who is Stephanie’s younger sister, said she started riding horses by herself when she was around 3-4 years old. She said she trained her first horse, a 3-year-old Hancock-bred Bay filly, a quarter horse, she rescued who was three hours from slaughter, last year. The second horse she trained is an off-the-track thoroughbred and now Sky makes her third horse in training.
What Kristin enjoys about training the horses, she said, is the work in itself and she feels as if she learns something new from them every day.
“Sometimes you have two horses that are the same but you have to work with them completely differently and they learn at different speeds,” she said.
For instance, Kristin said Sky is learning at an advanced rate when compared to Tori and Poppy.
“She learns faster than the other two. As soon as you teach her something, you show her once and give her a treat, and she’s got it from there on,” she said. “Sometimes it gets hard but you have to work through it with them because they’re babies so you take it one step at a time and it gets easier.”
Kristin also said she believes the mustangs are undervalued, saying they’re a little like underdogs of the horse breeds—but also noted in her experience have more endurance and ability than the other breeds. She said Sky already has about five tricks mastered including bowing, rearing and side-passing in both directions.
She said she hopes her story and the competitions like the one they’re planning to attend in Lexington will help get the horses adopted out and “show people they’re more than just horses that just run wild their entire lives.”
Abby is a newcomer in the world of horses who met the Frost sisters while looking for horseback riding lessons in the summer of 2018. She said she had never considered interacting with horses as a possibility but when her mom heard horses can reduce stress, she thought it might be a good fit for Abby. The search for riding lessons led them to the Frosts, who Abby said are now her family.
She recalled when she started lessons last year, Stephanie was about two months away from the 2018 Youth Extreme Mustang Makeover. Then, when it came time to decide to participate in the 2019 competition, she said Stephanie invited her to take the challenge along with Kristin and she accepted.
“Some days are good and some are not as good but it’s important to stay positive,” she said. “It’s been rewarding being able to interact with Poppy in ways no one else could. It’s a blessing to be here and have a horse of my own and connect with her.”
Stephanie is sponsored by Chaudet Creek Farms LLC of Grand Rivers, Kristin is sponsored by Triple H Farm of Marshall County and Abby is sponsored by Realtor Mary Lou Childs with RE/MAX of Benton.
By Rachel Keller Collins
Marshall County Tribune-Courier