Breaking a mustang with a gentle hand

October 27, 2010 

WINTON -- In a small pen in Winton on Tuesday morning, a mustang horse that spent six years of his life being a wild animal on the range was breaking Gary Wedemeyer.

The horse, a dark palomino, snorted through his nose while Wedemeyer quietly walked around the animal, a lead rope in his hand and only one thought in his mind: Make this horse trust me.

He wants to break the horse. And the horse seemed to have the same idea about the man.

Wedemeyer has only had the horse, that he calls Mr. Dillon, for 30 days. And in January, he will take the once wild mustang to a competition in Texas, where they will compete for money, a custom-made silver buckle and the satisfaction of bringing a horse from the range to the show pen in only 90 days.

Wedemeyer will be taking Mr. Dillon to the Mustang Magic event at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo on Jan. 21-22.

Jennifer Hancock, marketing director for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, sponsor of the show, said the events were started in 2007 for one reason: To showcase the talents and abilities of wild mustangs.

"This is a way for some of our top horse trainers to display their amazing ability with these horses," Hancock said. "It's very similar to our other events, except it's invitation only."

Wedemeyer got started with mustangs when a Merced resident bought one and brought it to Wedemeyer to train. The 66-year-old cowboy was born in Wyoming and has trained horses full-time for more than 30 years, but that was his first mustang.

"The owner heard about the mustang makeover and told me about it," Wedemeyer said.

Wedemeyer was intrigued by the competition, and decided to get his first mustang. People who compete with the mustangs have no choice in what horse they get -- they show up at a Bureau of Land Management holding area and are shown which horse is theirs. Wedemeyer got his horse, worked with her for 90 days and then took her to a competition in Sacramento.

"I was hooked," he said.

Then he decided to go to an event in Norco in Southern California. He got a 6-year-old mustang and started working with him. Ninety days later, the cowboy and the mustang went to the big city. "I didn't realize what all we had to do at Norco," Wedemeyer said.

Some of the chores the horse and rider had to do were to go up steep hills, pass trees with people revving chain saws in them, walk quietly past llamas and goats and deal with tractors racing back and forth next to the horses.

Then the horses and riders had to ride through the city streets of Norco.

"We had to wait for stoplights, and we had to tie the horses up outside a tavern and go inside and leave them, and the whole time the horse was being judged," Wedemeyer said.

Wedemeyer said his horse took everything in stride. In fact, they did so well, Wedemeyer walked away with first place.

That win in Norco got him an invitation to the Fort Worth event. Hancock said in 2010 there were seven events across the nation, and only 25 people were invited to the one in Fort Worth.

After the show, the horses will be up for adoption, Hancock said. The minimum bid is $125, although most of the mustangs sell for much more. For horses whose adoption bid is higher than $200, their trainer will get 20 percent of the adoption price.

While working with Mr. Dillon on Tuesday, Wedemeyer threw a rope over the tawny horse's back, then picked up a shiny yellow rain slicker. Although the horse snorted a bit, he let the cowboy throw the slicker all over his muscular body.

Wedemeyer said the trust the mustangs place in him amazes him. "No matter what I ask, once they trust me, I've got them."

With Wedemeyer's hand on the horse's neck, Mr. Dillon reached out and sniffed Wedemeyer's cowboy hat, and then sighed. Wedemeyer smiled.

"He just has to learn that life is all right," Wedemeyer said. "He's learning that nothing's going to hurt him."

Sounds as if Mr. Dillon's not the only one who got broke.

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at (209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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