The average horseperson may not know much about the American mustang. Many may wonder, what are mustangs good for? Where do they come from? Can they succeed in English disciplines? The Mustang Classic helps provide answers to those questions.
For three days in September 2024, exhibitors and their purchased or adopted mustangs will gather in Lexington, Kentucky, to compete in the Mustang Classic. The event puts mustangs to the test across the English disciplines of dressage, show jumping, arena cross country and working equitation.
But the event is not just a competition—its goal is to showcase the bond between humans and mustangs and to highlight their potential and adaptability in the equestrian world. The Mustang Classic provides an opportunity to witness the growth of a mustang that has been given a foundation for success on its journey from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) holding to private ownership.
Finding a Mustang
The competition welcomes mustangs 3 years of age and older (as of January 2024) that are adopted or purchased at a BLM off-range corral or BLM satellite event. Mustangs must be adopted during the eligibility window of September 8, 2023 through June 1, 2024. But, how does one adopt a mustang?
“There are holding facilities across the United States,” explained Matt Manroe, executive director of Mustang Champions. “You can go to BLM.gov/WHB—Wild Horse and Burro Program—and find out where the holding facilities are.” A mustang owner himself, Manroe knows the ins and outs of finding and adopting a mustang.
“There’s also satellite adoptions across the U. S. that are more prevalent in the eastern United States. There’s what’s called the ‘online corral,’ so you can go online and look at pictures and videos of mustangs that are available for adoption or purchase.”
As for getting the mustang to its new home, “[You can] purchase online and have the horses shipped as close to you as possible or they could be shipped to a satellite adoption.”
Between Adoption and the Mustang Classic
Mustangs competing in the Mustang Classic must have been in training between 100 days and one year. But, a lot of growth has to happen in that time period. Step one—the “first touch.”
“Mustangs have really not been handled,” Manroe reminded. “They may have been in a chute and into a confined corral for foot trimming and vaccination and castration, but that’s about as much as they’ve been handled. … You take it home, that horse is probably not going to want to associate with you at all. So, how do you start to engage that horse to be curious about engaging with you?”
This process is called “gentling” a mustang. “They are fight or flight. That is what they have been taught. To overcome that is a definite initial hurdle,” admitted Manroe.
And though it takes time and patience, Manroe noted, “[One] thing I want to say about mustangs versus any domestic horse I’ve ever been around—they bond with you differently. Especially if you’re the person who gentles them.
“From that first touch, as the horse starts to trust you, you are able to do more and more with it,” Manroe said. “Like leading with a halter, picking up four feet, loading into a trailer, grooming.”
Sharing from personal experience, Manroe added, “We did a lot of groundwork with our yearlings. So by the time we put a saddle on them, they knew how to side pass. It was a really interesting process. Eventually, you get the [saddle] pad on, and get the saddle on, and then you get on. It’s just like working with a green horse.”
The Mustang Classic stresses that training in preparation for the competition should be humane and compassionate and that the mustangs should be treated with dignity and respect. Any competitor found using abusive or excessive training techniques or actions deemed inhumane toward a mustang in his/her care will be disqualified.
In addition, all exhibitors must complete the online Mustang Training Readiness Curriculum. “We’re really trying to improve training techniques,” said Manroe. “And give people some resources to understand how to work with a mustang versus what you might know working with a domestic horse.”
And before the big event, competitors must show proof that they have shown their mustang in one qualifying event—any organized competition consisting of three or more horses.
Time for the Mustang Classic
From September 13-15, 2024, the Kentucky Horse Park will be home to the 2024 Mustang Classic. $125,000 in cash and prizes will be awarded, with $50,000 going to the champion.
Exhibitors will compete in three of four preliminary classes—Training Level dressage, show jumping, and a choice of either arena cross country or working equitation. Each class is designed to demonstrate the mustang’s willingness under saddle.
Training Level Dressage: Mustangs will perform the 2023 USEF Training Level Test 2 before a single judge.
Show Jumping: Mustangs will jump a course of 8 to 12 efforts, including one combination. The class will be offered at two heights—12 inches maximum and 2-foot-3-inches maximum. Judges will award a score of 0 to 10 for each jumping effort based on:
- Way of moving: balance, stride, adjustability, rhythm, and balance
- Acceptance of rider’s aids
- Straightness between fences and over the jumps
- Relaxation, confidence, carefulness
- Jumping technique
Arena Cross Country: Mustangs will compete over a USEA Starter Level cross-country course of approximately 10 obstacles in an arena. Jumps will have a maximum height of 2-feet-3-inches Judges will award a score of 0 to 10 for each jumping effort based on:
- Between fences
- Form over fences
- Open gallop
Working Equitation: Mustangs will perform a USA Working Equitation (USAWE) Ease of Handling course at the Novice Level with a minimum of 10 obstacles. Judges will award a score of 0 to 10 for each obstacle.
The Grand Finale
At the conclusion of the preliminary classes, the top 10 performing mustang and exhibitor pairs will be invited to compete in the championship finals inside the Rolex Stadium.
The final event is a freestyle performance designed to encourage creativity. Exhibitors are asked to incorporate props, costumes and music to demonstrate the skills and talents of their mustangs through choreographed maneuvers. Each pair will have three and a half minutes to entertain the crowd and demonstrate their horsemanship.
The final score will be a combination of 40% Training Level dressage (carried over) and 60% freestyle performance.
The winner of the 2024 Mustang Classic will be awarded $50,000. But prize money aside, the goal of the Mustang Classic is to champion American mustangs, bring attention to their intelligence and trainability, and ultimately, find them homes.
“I just really want to encourage people to engage at some level, either at the competitive level or come attend the event. We’re really working very hard to make it a party for the finals, whether you’re into mustangs or not,” said Manroe.
To learn more about the 2024 Mustang Classic, click here.
To read the official Rules and Regulations of the 2024 Mustang Classic, click here.