The story of the Mustang, Jazz, is a love story…it didn’t start out that way.
As #7244, he was a mud-caked wild Mustang, never touched by human hands. There were 56 wild Mustangs in Ewing, IL, a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding area, waiting to be claimed by horse trainers who paid a fee to compete in the 2008 Midwest Mustang Challenge, Madison, WI.
The horse trainer would risk it all, publicly. She or he would gentle the wild Mustang, train him and then return to showcase their horsemanship and partnership skills together, in front of a sold out crowd, in a loud arena…in 90 days.
The goal of the Midwest Mustang Challenge was to have top trainers from around the country participate in that public way, to train the wild Mustangs, show them in a competition, and then auction them off for adoption to support funding for Mustangs for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
In a pen of wild Mustangs, all with numbers on them…Suzanne Myers, M.S., Ph.D., founder of Next Level Horsemanship™, drew #7244. She named him Jazz.
“Training a wild Mustang peaked my interest,” says Suzanne, still excited about the opportunity. “I thought that this would put the positive and effective training techniques of NLH™ to the test, I was looking forward to the experience and what the results would be.”
The more she thought about it, her excitement continued to grow. “What kind of a Mustang will I get?” she wondered. She was soon to find out.
“Training and competing with a horse that has never been touched by human hands,” Suzanne says shaking her head. “I know my NLH™ training program is excellent, this will prove it. “
Jazz was loaded right from a cattle shoot into Suzanne’s horse trailer.
“I looked at him, covered in mud, as he stood in the trailer, and I thought ’he’s a thinker’ as opposed to a ‘reactor’.” Would this evaluation prove to be right?
The Ride Home With Jazz
When Suzanne and her husband, Glenn, and then Assistant NLH™ trainer, Rhiannon Schneider, stopped in Ohio to refuel, Suzanne looked in on Jazz in the horse trailer and noticed that the lead rope was still laid loosely over his back, even after his first horse trailer ride. Suzanne thought about her evaluation again…”he’s a thinker.”
When they arrived home to NLH™ headquarters in Port Matilda, PA, near State College, they backed the trailer up to a round pen that had been set up in their indoor training arena so that Jazz could be unloaded without being touched.
First Training Steps
“For the first couple of days we just let Jazz watch what was going on inside the arena,” explains Suzanne. “We talked to him, and in a few days we were able to get into the round pen with him. At NLH™, we believe in taking a little more time up front, rather than rushing. This leads to much better advanced training in the future.”
The first week can make or break a successful training process, according to Suzanne. While she says that with each horse they are excited about the training, taking time in the beginning is very important…however, in this case, she was reminded, the clock was ticking. They only had 90 days…and, that included travel time.
“We always feel using NLH™ techniques, that you start with a horse’s mind for training,” says Suzanne. “Taking the time does not mean you are not doing anything.”
The first two weeks, just like with any horse in NLH™ training, Suzanne and her staff established the foundation in groundwork and the training to follow. The horse needs to understand the basic concepts first. This was no different with Jazz.
“We establish mental and physical fundamentals,” explains Suzanne. “With Jazz, this was even more important since he did not come from a domesticated background.”
Groundwork was started. Each horse is different. Jazz was a Mustang, very different.
“We build trust, we coach and have the horse face issues and push themselves to get over obstacles in their mind, “ says Suzanne. “Timing is so important…when to push, when to back off. We worked with the horse to connect with me, trust me, and face its fears.”
“The first breakthrough was exciting,” Suzanne says smiling. “I could touch Jazz with a lightweight pole over his neck and topline. Then I touched him with my hands, the first place was on his forehead. Within days of his arrival, I could touch him all over his body with my hands, brush him, pick up his feet and lead him to walk with me. Sure, it could have been done sooner, but I needed to take the time – for his sake”
The second week, Jazz relaxed with the touching and other desensitizing techniques.
“Touching Jazz became his reward,” says Suzanne.
The third week Suzanne rode bareback…again, her body touching his body through riding became a reward.
The fourth week brought riding with a saddle and riding outside.
“The first time we went out on the trail, we were out for 1 ½ hours. Jazz had no fear, no hesitation, he loved being outside.” Suzanne thought, “This is a truly unique experience.”
From there, Suzanne began advanced horsemanship skills, dressage, trick training, in –hand obstacles, navigating in-halter, riding course patterns.
The time went fast…and, it was time to hit the road for the 2008 Midwest Mustang Challenge in Madison, WI. Ninety days had passed. It was April already. Showtime.
Suzanne was confident in Jazz and NLH™ training, but how would Jazz react in a strange place, to a sold out arena with a loud crowd?
And, another important aspect to training Jazz had developed…Suzanne had been mesmerized by Jazz’s unique character and personality…she had fallen in love with him!!!!
The 2008 Midwest Mustang Challenge Competition, Madison, WI
“Jazz was perfect in the arena with all of the noise, and it being a strange place,” beams Suzanne. “He handled the whole competition so well. I was so proud of him every step of the way.”
Jazz and Suzanne made it to the Top Ten out of 56 trainers. In addition to the competition, they had the opportunity to “wow” the judges and audience with a freestyle that focused on horsemanship. The song “Little Bit of Life”, by Craig Morgan, was the song she chose.
Then, the winners were announced, starting with number 10…
Suzanne remembers thinking as the results were announced one by one, “Wow, we made it to the Top Five…then Top Two…then WE WON!!!!”
“I will not ever forget that experience,” says Suzanne. “Jazz was amazing, using NLH™ training skills was amazing, and winning was amazing!”
For the Love of Jazz…WE WON!
Now, it was time to say good-bye to Jazz. That was the deal, after all.
Suzanne used the $5000 she won for placing first in the competition, and bought Jazz at the auction, the hoped for conclusion to the event. “He would have brought more money, but when people saw that I was bidding on him and wanted him back so badly, I think I got an emotional reaction from them to let me win the bidding, “ she says.
“We were bringing Jazz back home with us, “says Suzanne. “We were wild with excitement, winning the competition, bidding and winning Jazz, a true champion, at the auction. It was a spectacular event all the way around! We were truly Jazzed-up!”
Jazz now appears at demos and clinics for NLH™. From tricks and dressage maneuvers, to freestyle reining and trail riding, he performs willingly to showcase and exemplify what is possible with NLHTM training. Most importantly, Jazz is there to greet Suzanne each and every morning at breakfast time in the barn!
Mustang Challenges Continue
One year later, her then 9 year- old daughter, Brooke, and two NLH™ Assistant Trainers, Lauren Ross and Rhiannon Schneider, participated in the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s 2009 Extreme Mustang Makeover, Eastern Stampede, Murfreesboro, TN.
Brooke was honored to be the youngest person to ever win Reserve Champion, Youth Division, with her Mustang, Jacuzzi. To read more about Brooke and Jacuzzi, click here.
Lauren and Rhiannon placed in the Top Ten from over 100 participants. To read more about Lauren and her mustang Durango, click here.
Another good testament for NLH™ training skills.
T.I.P. (Trainer Incentive Program), Mustang Heritage Foundation
Suzanne has become an admirer of the Mustang breed. She has participated in several Mustang Challenges throughout the United States, becoming a volunteer spokesperson for the BLM and approved trainer for the Mustang Heritage Foundation. She frequently participates in the Trainer Incentive Program, called T.I.P., for the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
“Training these Mustangs for adoption is a good thing to do,” says Suzanne. “They are wonderful horses, and make wonderful riding horses and companions. The more good homes we can find for these horses, the better for the breed…and, for the people who are lucky enough to own a Mustang.”
To read more about Mustangs, click here.
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