countdown started in May as Maryland trainer
Tony Gibbon began the 100-day challenge to
take two four-year-old Mustangs from the
roundup pen to the show ring. Gibbon was
selected by the Mustang Heritage Foundation
to compete in both the Shartletsville, Pennsylvania
and Fort Worth, Texas Extreme Mustang Makeover
competitions. Through the competition, the
organization aims to promote the trainability
and usefulness of the Mustang. At the conclusion
of the event, the horses will be available
for adoption with all proceeds benefitting
Captain McCoy, a dark bay originally from a range in Oregon, was Gibbon’s
assigned project for the PA show to be held August 22-23. Gibbon first
saw McCoy on May 14 at a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) facility in
Elgin, Illinois. Virtually untouched, the gelding had only been handled
during annual vaccinations and hoof trimmings. Before the horse was
run onto the trailer, Gibbon took the opportunity to watch how McCoy
interacted with the other horses in the pen. Where the horse is in
the herd and how he interacts with the other horses clues Gibbon in
on how McCoy might interact with people. This was the first time the
second-generation horseman had worked with a horse that hadn’t
been handled since birth.
going in was that it was going to take everything I
knew about horses to get this done. I wasn’t
sure how quickly it would happen,” Gibbon says.
With his assignment for the September 18-20 competition in TX, he found
that building trust could happen pretty quickly. The bright bay gelding
Gibbon named Rio took quickly to human contact. In the few days after
Gibbon picked him up in Jackson, Mississippi on May 30, Rio was already
allowing people to touch him.
They say all horses are looking for a leader. With
[Mustangs] especially, you see that,” Gibbon
believes. “Hand-raised horses don’t
appreciate the attention as much as these guys
Gibbon should know. He broke his first horse when he was a young teen
on his family’s farm in Silver Spring. Now located in Lisbon,
the trainer has worked in every discipline from hunters to team roping.
Toby’s wife Bobbie Gibbon was named to the Maryland Horse Shows
Association Hall of Fame in 1987, in addition to winning a U.S. Equestrian
Federation Pegasus Medal of Honor in 2003. Several of her horses have
been started by Gibbon. Whether it’s a show horse or a wild Mustang,
his approach stays consistent. It is all about trust.
" When I first got the horses, I was worried I wouldn’t have all the
answers they needed. When I wasn’t sure, I’d take the night to think
about it and the answers would come to me,” Gibbon admits. “Horses
in general are very good at trusting. I just had to make sure I was giving them
the time to build that trust.”
Several hours a day are dedicated to prepping McCoy and Rio for the
challenges they will face on show day. Entrants compete in both a Pattern
Class and a Trail Class in the preliminary round of the challenge.
In the Pattern Class, they are asked to complete a series of basic
maneuvers. This can include walk, trot, lope/canter, changes of direction,
pivots, lead changes and backing up. The Trail Class asks the horse
to maneuver through and over obstacles that could be encountered on
a trail ride.
To prepare for these questions, Gibbon keeps the horses’ routines
fairly consistent, only expanding and pushing when he feels the horse
is ready. The horses are exposed to raincoats, flags, tarps and other
obstacles they will need to conquer the preliminary rounds. Both horses
have reached a point in their training where they have been saddled
and ridden through their paces, but each day, Gibbon always starts
with ground work. Gibbon is patient and consistent in everything he
asks the horses to do, from lowering their heads to be bridled, to
standing stock-still when he mounts.
I just have to keep showing them the right thing.
It’s not about discipline, it’s about
consistency. As far as when they do something
wrong, I just take them back to something they’re
already successful in,” says Gibbon.
In Rio’s case, this was especially important. “When I first
asked him to canter he got spooked so bad he took off, tearing around
the ring. He just didn’t understand, so we went back to the trot
until he got to the point where he was really comfortable doing that,
then I asked again.”
If either horse makes the Top 10 in the preliminary rounds, he will
move on to the finale. There, horse and rider are given four minutes
to show what they’ve got. The routines get pretty flashy, with
props and tricks. Gibbon is working with McCoy on some jumping...and
the horse just might ride a skateboard.
" I think [Captain McCoy] has a real good chance. Any mistakes he makes
are going to be mine, not his. If we have a problem, it’s because I failed
to teach him something,” Gibbon maintains. “It’d be fun to
win, but just the process of picking [a Mustang] up and getting trusted by him
has really been a fun experience.”
Gibbon is already planning to try for the competition again next year,
which will prevent him from being able to adopt either of the horses.
Both Rio and Captain McCoy will be available at the conclusion of the
100 days. For details on how to watch them in action and how to adopt,
visit the Extreme Mustang Makeover’s website.