Elisa Wallace, an advanced eventer from Jasper, Ga., made big news last year when she won the 2012 South Carolina Extreme Mustang Makeover with Fledge, but this year she took on an even bigger challenge. She trained not one but two never-been-touched horses for the Mustang Million, held Sept. 17-21 in Fort Worth, Texas.
Neither of Wallace’s two project horses this year, Rune and Nimh, made the finals, but the experience only increased her self-proclaimed “Mustang bug.” At the competition, both horses entered in the three preliminary classes: horsemanship, trail and pattern. The scores from these classes were added to determine the top 20 competitors. Those 20 returned with a clean slate score for the compulsory and freestyle finals.
Wallace, 31, said that she'd been spoiled by Fledge last year because he was so trainable and good, so she found this year's challenge with Rune and Nimh a bit more difficult. “I had a lot of expectations. Especially when you do well your first time out, the hardest part was keeping that in check. But I’ve been able to do way more than I did with Fledge.” Both of the sorrel geldings do a variety of tricks, but they have very different personalities.
Rune, whom Wallace intends to keep indefinitely, is a 3-year-old from the Piceance/East Douglas Herd Management Area in Colorado. He was Wallace’s top choice when she went to pick out her project horses. “I went there looking for a horse built to be an event horse,” Wallace explained. “I figured, I’m going to do this thing and pay money for it, I might as well be able to do the job I want.”
Despite being young, Rune already has shown a lot of promise for the future. Wallace said he trots over 3’9” fences and has jumped 5’. As Wallace clips on his halter and gives him a quick brushing, he nuzzles her pockets for treats and tries to follow her in the tack stall. Easily bribed with treats, Rune learns quickly at the promise of food. But sometimes, his sugar-cube craving backfires.
Wallace taught Rune to sit on the sawdust bin at her farm in Georgia, and he knew that once he sat, he would get his sugar cube.
“One day, I was working in the arena on liberty work, and [Rune] trots toward the gate. I could tell he had a plan. He hops over the 3’9” gate, kept going up the hill, went up to the shavings bin, backed up and sat down,” Wallace said with a big smile and laugh. She couldn’t be mad at him for performing his favorite trick, so she gave him some sugar, took him back to the arena and got back to work.
Although Rune now loves to show off his Spanish walk, sitting, laying down and smiling, his curiosity in humans translated into pushy behavior at times. “I had to really work to have him trust me, but when they give that to you, they’ll give you everything,” Wallace said. With the competition over, Rune will do a few demonstrations, trail riding and light “play” work while he continues to grow. He's now just under 15 hands; Wallace expects him to top out around 15.1, or taller than legendary eventing pony Theodore O’Connor, she pointed out.
Nimh, on the other hand, didn’t exactly shine on the day Wallace brought the Mustangs home. “[When I went to choose them], every time I walked past his pen, he would be in between two horses, looking a human and snorting. I thought, 'whoever gets that horse will have a lot of fun!'”
True to form, Nimh, a 5-year-old from Adobe Town, Wyo., took longer to trust, and the training process was slower, but by the Mustang Million, he calmly walked in and out of his stall like it’s the most natural thing in the world, pausing for a neck scratch and getting acquainted with his new owner, a trail rider from Montana.
“I ended up getting Nimh because I wanted a 5-year-old, and I wanted one that was a bit tougher,” Wallace explained. Although she sat on Rune the first day, she didn’t sit on Nimh until Day 3 of her training program.
But all three of the Mustangs Wallace has trained to date have taught her something different, which she has transferred to her string of eventing horses.
“It gives you better tools, more tools and more ways to ask the questions,” she said. Although she hasn’t taught her other horses the tricks like laying down or sitting, she said the experience has allowed her to demand more respect from all of her horses on the ground as well as realize that given dedication, any horse could learn how to do things like trail riding with no tack, an activity she does regularly with Rune.
Wallace’s even bigger goal is to have a string of eventing Mustangs both for herself and clients. “I don’t want it separate. Eventing’s my passion too," she said. “There are 40,000 Mustangs sitting out in pens, eating hay, doing nothing,” she said. The Bureau of Land Management cares for those 40,000 as well as manages another approximately 37,000 wild horses on range land. Programs like the Mustang Million strive to create a market for these horses as adoptable animals and to showcase their talents and abilities.
As for Fledge, the Mustang Wallace trained last year, he’s continuing to grow at home, and Wallace is thinking of pursing reining with him. “It’s a really cool sport, and it’s something I want to get better at,” she said, adding that she will still jump him and work with him in other areas as well. “Fledge was easy in some respects, but he’s still a Mustang, and they still check you and humble you,” she explained. “You learn something from each one, and that’s priceless. It’s addicting, like a drug.”
Watch videos of Wallace and her Mustangs on her YouTube channel.