Lance Dixon and Dennis Cappel, both of Silex, Mo., spent the summer in the arena training for a competition called The Extreme Mustang Makeover sponsored by the Mustang Heritage Foundation. This 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. Cappel won the competition in 2015.
Dixon performs a trick-roping move he has been working on during a training session with Cappel. He plans on integrating this move into the free-style portion of the competition in July.
Dixon is 18 years old and in his senior year of high school. He does leatherworking and has been around horses most of his life. Dixon watched Cappel win the competition in 2015, but it is the first year he has been eligible to compete.
Dennis Cappel is a seasoned veteran of this competition. He has participated the last four years and won first place last year. Cappel trains and shoes horses by occupation and he’s trained with some of the best hands in the world. After warning Dixon of the trials and bittersweet nature of this competition - all the effort ending in adoption - and much more consideration by Dixon, they agreed to work together.
Dixon trained in multiple arenas with his horse Starbucks to prepare for the event. “It helps for when they’re in a new environment during the competition,” he said. “They don’t get as nervous during hauling and from being in a new arena.” He is working with a friend’s miniature horse that needs the exercise. During the competition, the horses are put through a series of tests including ones that involve herding and handling.
By the end of a day of training, Dixon is dirty and his hands are calloused, but it’s worth the effort, he said.
During the competition, the horses are also put through agility tests. Each quarter of the horse should be able to move independently. Dixon often has Starbucks walk sideways crossing her front legs then her back legs demonstrating how much she has learned in the course of a month.
Cappel waits in the line-up as others participate in the free-style portion ahead of him during the competition. He is intensely focused on the mental image he has developed for what will happen in the ring. “Using a clear mental image – it has to be very detailed just like an artist. An artist has a very clear image of what’s going to be on that canvas and then it comes out through his implements onto the canvas and it starts to take form. When you do start to utilize that, all of a sudden you’ve got a tool that tells you when to do what.”
The competition lasts for three days. Scores in the first two days determine whether a participant moves on to the free-style portion on the third day. Only the top 10 participate in the free-style portion. Cappel remained in the top 10 throughout and went on to earn second place. Starbucks faltered during some of the earlier tests and Dixon didn’t end up making it into the free-style portion.
At the end of the night, all of the horses are auctioned off to new owners. After 100 days with these horses, this can be tough for their trainers. “I wanted to buy her back originally,” Dixon said, “but I’m leaving for college and I won’t be able to bring her with me.”
Over 3,000 mustangs have been adopted at these events. After the auction, the trainers meet with the horses’ new owners and exchange information.
Dixon feeds and pets Starbucks one last time at the end of the night. All the horses will be trailered to their new homes in the morning.
The Bureau of Land Management monitors the populations of wild mustang herds in the west and when a population becomes too large in a given area for the land to support it, they capture the horses and bring them into holding facilities. Holding facilities exist all over the country and The Extreme Mustang Makeover aims for adoption out of these facilities.
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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