FFA students show horse sense by training wild mustangs

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Rebecca Wittek and Duke perform in the Texas Trainer Incentive Program Challenge. (Photo by Roy Ortiz)

People are familiar with the Marcus High School Marauder football team and the Marcus Marquette drill team; but, the Marcus Mustangs? Probably not.

Students in the Lewisville ISD Future Farmers of America (FFA) Chapter (Marcus, Lewisville and The Colony High Schools) have the opportunity to train and care for wild young mustangs as part of their Supervised Agriculture Experience project.

Five FFA students competed in the Texas Trainer Incentive Program Challenge at the Young County Arena in Graham, Texas, during the weekend of Aug. 23-25.

The Mustang Heritage Foundation created the Trainer Incentive Program, better known as TIP, to bridge the gap between potential adopters and American Mustangs housed at Bureau of Land Management (BLM) off-range facilities.

The purpose of the competition was to showcase the beauty, versatility and trainability of wild horses. Each student had approximately 90-days to “gentle” and train a 12- to 24-month-old wild horse they picked up in June to compete against other youth trainers from across the nation.

Trevor Moreno puts on a show with Runaway Jr. (Photo by Roy Ortiz)

The student trainers and their mustangs competed in a series of classes showcasing their new skills, such as a conditioning class, a pattern class, a combined trail class and freestyle class. They spent their summer working with horse trainers and ag advisors to learn more about equine training, behavior and management. The horses were stabled at a ranch in Argyle.

“They spent their whole summer, devoting 1.5- to 2-hours each day, working with their horse and each other,” said Melissa Barnett, Marcus FFA instructor and faculty member. “The four seniors and one freshman are completely responsible for the care, feeding and cleaning of the horses.”

All that time was rewarded at the TIP Challenge. Maddie Trussell, Rebecca Wittek, Bri Gutierrez, Trevor Moreno, and Abigail Smith all placed at the event.

“This is the second year of the program and the students are a lot more confident this year,” said Barnett. “And, very much calmer and patient with the horses. They’ve learned to work with the different personalities and individual challenges each horse presents.”

Some of these horses will be available for adoption following the competition, so the students are free to choose and train more mustangs this fall.

Marcus High School student Maddie Trussell and Beau formed a bond over the summer.

Mustangs roam freely on public lands throughout the West, where they are protected by the BLM under federal law. The young mustangs competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge were virtually untouched prior to the June pick-up.

“We’re trying to bring awareness of the wild horses and the overpopulation problem in western states,” said Barnett about the mustang programs. “We’re trying to work with the horses as a transition toward adoption, as well as teaching a good work-ethic for the students.”

Unlike the past practice of “breaking” a wild horse– with a rider staying on its back until it gives up– the students work with their horse only in-hand, not by riding, to train the horses.

“None of them own their own horse, but they’re very interested in learning as much as they can about their horse and ways to correct or change training approaches if needed to get the outcome they want from a horse,” explained Barnett.

The Marcus FFA is a student-lead organization under the supervision of their advisors at Marcus High School. The more than 130 LISD FFA students participate in a variety of opportunities, from animal projects to Leadership Development and Career Development Events.

The Extreme Mustang Makeovers and the Trainer Incentive Program are made possible through a partnership with the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program and the generosity of sponsors.

To learn more about the Marcus FFA, email [email protected]

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About The Author

Lyn Rejahl Pry

Lyn Pry is the Editor of The Cross Timbers Gazette.

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