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100 days with a wild mustang


To do it right takes time.

That’s why Lance Dixon and Dennis Cappel, both of Silex, Mo., spent the summer in the arena training for a competition called The Extreme Mustang Makeover.

The competition gives each rider 100 days to train and tame a wild mustang. At the end of those 100 days, the trainers compete to see who has best broken their horse, and horses are auctioned off for adoption. Dixon is 18 years old and in his first year of eligibility for this competition. Cappel is a seasoned veteran. Dixon watched Cappel take home the championship last year. Dixon was drawn to the challenge—the work, the end result.

After a long run in the competition, Cappel wasn’t going to compete this year. But Dixon asked Cappel for help. The ask was all it took.

In his 30 years of experience, Cappel has sought to work with some of the best hands in the world. “I get more enjoyment out of watching him (Dixon) do well, than doing so myself. That’s where the reward comes from,” Cappel said.

Cappel has a philosophy: he teaches riding with a clear mental picture. “It’s everything,” he says. Like an artist with a canvas, he first constructs an image in his mind—down to the finest details. “If you don’t have a clear picture when you start working with a horse, pretty soon the horse is telling you what to do and it doesn’t work. It’s dangerous.”

By the third day of training, Dixon and Cappel were able to saddle the horses. They were both thrown from those saddles on the fourth day. That’s when Dixon’s horse, Starbucks, earned her name. It’s more of a sentence really: Star bucks. On the fifth day, Cappel found himself in the air again. Cappel said he’s learned something different from every mustang he’s competed with. “This one’s taught me an understanding of what the majority of people I’m helping are going through, because most of them are scared. She’s taught me what it is to be fearful and that was a new experience for me. In that aspect she’s been really good for me because she’s made me a better teacher.”

The competition lasts for three days and takes place in 10 states. Because the goal is adoptability, judges want horses to demonstrate a variety of skills to ensure they are standard use. Horses are evaluated on appearance; performance in a series of agility tests; cattle management; and trail obstacles. If a horse makes the top 10 in these categories, it goes on to compete in a freestyle competition. At the freestyle competition in Sedalia, Mo., a rider came out of the gate, rode past two balloons, pulled out a pistol, popped each of them, fired two shots into the ground next to his horse’s feet, herded a calf to the back wall and then at full gallop, the horse leapt into the back of a pick-up truck with rider still in saddle. When the dust settled, that rider won the competition.

Cappel came in second and the horses he and Dixon trained were sold to new owners. As the sales were processed, trainers led their horses back to the stables, patted them on the neck and gave them hay for the night.

Dixon left the arena for college in Oklahoma this fall with a new outlook for success. “This journey has really been about the mind, establishing our goals, writing them down, focusing on them. I’ve learned with all of that done, everything just seems to fall into place. The mustang is really just a tool that we’ve used to better ourselves, our mind, and determine what we want out of life. The biggest thing is to stay on track and follow through and I can use that toward anything.” Dixon said.


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