“We see in the mustangs what we hope to see in ourselves. This, I believe, is what draws us towards them like magnets. At least it did for me.” – Maddy

Extreme Mustang Makeover

I first found out about the Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) as a junior in high school and immediately put it on my bucket list. The EMM is put on by the Mustang Heritage Foundation and is a competition that selects trainers to tame and train a completely untouched mustang in 90 to 120 days before showcasing their skills through a series of events. Afterwards, the mustangs are adopted out to the public through an auction. I finally had the opportunity to participate when the makeover came to New Jersey in spring 2014. But shortly after my application was approved to pick up my mustang, I broke my tibia and fibula after a young horse I was riding slipped in the snow and fell on me, crushing my leg.

“The worst part about breaking my leg meant no riding and no makeover.”

My parents didn’t want me to even think about taking on a mustang anytime in the near future after my injury, but when I learned that another makeover would be held in Pennsylvania shortly after my leg was predicted to be healed I tried again. My application was approved. At six weeks I went back to my doctor. My leg had healed great, although I now had a steel rod going from my ankle to my knee. He told me I could start riding again…”If I was crazy”. Well I was crazy. That day, although I was not yet walking, I had a friend help me get back in the saddle.

Love, Loss, & Terk

When May came, I picked up my Pennsylvania mustang, “Charlie”, and began gentling him, still in my orthopedic boot. He was confident, curious, and brave and I began riding him on the third day. Unfortunately, as time went on I learned he had some sort of neurological disorder and was unable to be ridden. I ended up having to return him to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). I was absolutely crushed about the whole situation. It seemed the dream of competing in the makeover was just not in the cards for me.

That fall I found out there would be another makeover in Virginia. My parents were concerned about me doing the makeover while a full time student at Purdue University, especially considering I brought a crew of six horses, four dogs, and a pig to school with me! But I wanted to try one more time. I sent in my application before they said yes, but luckily they agreed to it afterwards. Although my parents had agreed, I began to have second thoughts upon hearing of my grandfather’s returned illness. He passed away a few days before the pick-up of the mustangs was scheduled.

“I thought about withdrawing from the competition, feeling very weak from grief, but my dad encouraged me to go through with it. He must have known it would help me.”

The first few days I had Terk, a 6-year-old bay gelding out of Nevada, I left him in Lafayette to go to my grandfather’s funeral in Fort Wayne. Upon my return I began to consume myself in working with him. I believe he began to heal me from the pain of my loss.

Terk was an incredibly fast learner from the start. He was smart, sensitive, and athletic. By 30 days he was already riding without a bridle. My training with him was meant to feel and look very smooth. I never try to ask a horse to do something I feel they are not prepared for. We battled a very cold winter and I knew I was pushing both myself and him to our limits. The EMM gave us only about 120 days to prepare for the competition. I was asking him to give me his all, but throughout the entire training process, not once did Terk tell me “no, I don’t want to” or “I can’t”. He met every request with his 110 percent.

Surpassing My Own Goals

Soon enough it was makeover time. I was nervous going into the competition because I knew there would be a lot of other trainers with much more experience than me. I also was agonizing over being judged on something so personal to me and something that I was so passionate about. In the preliminary classes, Terk placed fourth in conditioning and handling and in trail. He was third in the patterns class. We made the top 10, which meant we would go onto the finals and would compete in one more class and present our freestyle routine.

“When it came to the night of my freestyle my nerves were getting the best of me.”

One of the things that made me nervous is that I would be attempting a flying change on the straight without a bridle, which I had only figured out he could do the night before we left for Virginia! It would be risky, but I decided to go for it. I was also nervous because I had been building this moment up for so long in my mind, I was worried that it would not live up to my expectations. Little did I know it would surpass them. I think my nervousness shows a little in the beginning of the video, but once I got into the rhythm of our performance I was able to relax and that meant Terk was able to as well.

“By the end I was in tears. It was a very emotional experience for me to have this formerly wild horse go from a state of complete fear and mistrust to the realization that he would do anything for me. He gave me his heart that night– his whole heart. It was an absolutely amazing feeling as his trainer and teammate.”

A Priceless Mustang

Throughout the night there were streams of people coming to meet Terk, who apparently had been just as touched as I was. “We didn’t have enough points in our score system to give you what you deserve for your freestyle tonight,” Judge Mike Jennings, said. Terk received a 60/60 points for his freestyle on behalf of both judges. He was awarded the Overall Reserve Champion and was voted Fan Favorite. On top of that, he helped me to earn the highest placing Rookie and Young Guns (youth) awards.

Going into the auction, I was planning on using every cent of my winnings if I needed in order to make sure he went home with me. Auctioneer, Jennings, said that if this were a quarter horse he would go for around $50,000, but to me, Terk is priceless. Primarily just one couple bid on him during the auction, but it didn’t take long for the woman to stop once she realized I wanted to take him home myself. Later, when Terk and I were alone for the first time since the freestyle, I took his head in my arms and began crying. I was just so proud of him and all that he had accomplished. At that moment, a lady walked up to my stall and I saw that she was crying as well. I soon learned that she was the woman who had been bidding on him. She said she did not have the heart to take him away from me. We both hugged and I thanked her for what she had done.

A Story to Tell

I had someone ask me after the performance at what point I knew I would go bridleless for my freestyle. I replied that I had decided I would do it before I was even approved for the makeover. The idea of my freestyle had come to me when I was bed ridden with my broken leg. I wanted to go bridleless to the song Diamonds by Rihanna and wear a white dress. The song went perfectly with my primary horsemanship goal, being able to bring out the best in the horse. When we bring out the best in our horses, we often bring out the best in ourselves too. To me, the “shine bright like a diamond” chorus means to be the best that you can be and to recognize your true potential. I believe every horse and every human have a greatness inside of them that they can choose to develop. My work with Terk was aimed, then, at “polishing the diamond” he really was, so that everyone could see him shine–and shine he did! I believe all the trials and tribulations I faced were meant to bring me to the horse that would make my vision complete.

It would take a special horse to perform at such high expectations, and that horse was Mustang No. 3483 that would come to be called “Terk”.

Terk has a story to tell for the other 40,000 mustangs waiting to be adopted. Thanks to the Extreme Mustang Makeover and the Mustang Heritage Foundation, he was able to tell it.