Earlier this spring, 15-year-old Kylee Lukefahr of Perryville traveled to Ewing, Ill. to pick up a mustang. The horse was one of 15 mustangs taken from a herd at Antelope Valley, Nevada by the Bureau of Land Management.
Since that time, she has been training Jade, a two-year-old mustang, at Evans Equestrians at Horseshoe Lane on Highway O, just west of Millheim.
Lukefahr, a sophomore at Perryville High School, was chosen to compete in the virtual Extreme Mustang Makeover. This is a program through the Mustang Heritage Foundation which takes place June 24-26. Participating trainers have 100 days to train a previously untouched mustang prior to competing for cash and prizes.
Lukefahr was notified toward the end of February that she had been approved
She was given options on where to go and pick a mustang. They chose to go to Ewing, since it was the closest to southeast Missouri.
Lukefahr is excited about the opportunity as well as optimistic about the chances of success with transforming Jade into a more gentler horse.
“It is huge,” she said. “I’ve always been told since I started training horses, ‘You can’t do it...You can’t do it.’ This is one of the biggest challenges that every horse person (faces). You think you’re good, train a mustang, see what happens. I did it on a whim because my horse got sick and passed away.”
Lukefahr trains the mustang in 15 to 20 minute increments daily. The weekend training is more extensive, with Lukefahr working with Jade multiple times.
Initially, the training was simply sitting inside the animal’s pen.
“She would go in (the pen) and sit on a bucket and just hang out with her, feed her some grain, get her used to being in her space,” said Misty Abbott, Kylee’s mother.
Eventually, she progressed to placing a halter, or roped headgear, on the mustang.
“She wasn’t a big fan of the halter,” Abbott said. “She didn’t like it to be tied. She didn’t like when her hands went over her. She struggled with that. That was probably the most challenging task, so far. We’re not near done, yet. She’s accepting that now.”
Lukefahr is a little more than a third of the way through the 100 days of training leading up to the virtual event. The mustang was brought to Perry County March 6.
During Monday’s training session, Lukefahr worked on having Jade lift each hoof off the ground. Abbott pointed out when the mustang begins licking her lips, it’s a way of showing relaxed understanding, and is part of building trust.
Lukefahr has spent about 10 days with Jade using a lead rope.
As for putting a saddle on her mustang and riding her, that’ll have to wait.
“She’s not old enough,” Lukefahr said. Plus, attempting to ride the horse disqualifies participants from the makeover competition.
In a little more than a month that Lukefahr has worked with Jade, she has started to develop a connection.
“She’s really lovable,” Lukefahr said. “If she did not want you in her space, she would let you know, get out of my space, quit touching me,” Lukefahr said.
The animal is not aggressive in terms of bucking or kicking, Abbott said.
Part of the training process is fostering respect and, according to Lukefahr, to “go with their progression.”
Humans can be viewed as threatening to the untrained horses.
“We are predators to them and doing this is difficult,” Lukefahr said. “You’ve got to work at their pace and not act like a predator. If they get tense, you want to back off and read them, respect their space.”
When attempting to get the halter on, Lukefahr said she slipped it on and off Jade’s nose probably 30 times.
“It’s repetition, that’s a lot of it,” she said. “I have to teach her a lot of desensitizing of load and unloading from a trailer.”
A total of 20 individuals from across the United States are part of the June 24-26 event.
There are two other challenges later in the year that youth can apply for.
Prior to competing, the applicants are required to complete a selection process that provides evidence of their training ability and equine knowledge.
All participating mustangs are essentially untouched prior to being picked up to begin training for the program.
By June, horses will have made a complete transformation from untouched to gentled, rideable partners.
Lukefahr has been working with horses for about eight years.
“When she was 7 she was having a rough time with family stuff and told me she would like to learn to ride,” said Misty Abbott, her mother.
Abbott contacted Krystal Evans about riding lessons.
“She loved it from the first ride,” Abbott said.
Lukefahr’s goal is to one day become an equine veterinarian.
Those interested in the competition later this year can track it at facebook.com/ExtremeMustangMakeover.