By Bana Jobe
When it comes to training wild mustangs, this isn’t eighteen-year-old Lauren Overy’s first rodeo. A 2016 graduate of Fair Grove High School, Lauren has been working around horses since she was barely out of diapers. For four years, she’s been participating in the nonprofit Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) event, which challenges trainers to transform wild horses into gentle, adoptable companions in just one hundred days.
But 2016 is a special one for Lauren: It’s her first year to compete in the EMM’s adult category. But it’s also her first time to compete since finishing a series of surgeries after a 2014 horse-riding accident, when at sixteen, she was barrel racing with a horse who slipped and fell on top of her.
After the accident in 2014, Lauren had reconstructive surgery just two weeks before that year’s EMM. But that didn’t stop her, because she retrained her assigned mustang to deal with her crutches—and still went on to place second, crutches and all.
Fast-forward two years later: She just finished a second surgery to repair that old injury, and she’s ready to take on a new EMM challenge.
For the past three years, she’s participated in the EMM’s youth category, having worked with yearling mustangs whose temperaments were more manageable. Now, as an adult, she’ll get to do things in the competition that the kids don’t—like actually riding the horses and working with older, bigger, and more challenging mustangs. For a teenager whose world has revolved around all things equine—dressage, stadium jumping, cross country, western pleasure, endurance, trail rides, reining, sorting—it's an exciting feat.
This year, Lauren was paired with a five-year-old mare who was virtually untouched by humans. Lauren named her Nola and is training her in advance of the EMM event at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia from July 14 to 16. The competition is a chance to show off Nola’s skills to potentially help her get adopted—even though Lauren may want to keep the mare as her own after the event.
“I would like to get her back, but I feel that would be selfish of me because the whole purpose is to get her ready for someone else,” says Lauren, whose stepfather owns BC Stables and Training Center in Fair Grove where Nola stays.
At first, Nola was a little scared. Lauren was too, as her surgery this year left her with bronchitis and anemia. The training, however, with Nola has come a long way.
“She’s doing very well,” Lauren says. “We trail ride, and we’ve done some tricks with her. I got really lucky with her. She’s really level-minded and eager to learn.”
Some say training wild American mustangs is impossible, but Lauren disagrees. She says it just takes grit, a love for horses, and an understanding of a mustang’s mind—and a special kind of gusto needed to train a wild horse into a gentle giant.
"They're not that much different than people,” Lauren says. “You can relate what you learn from them to everyday life and how you deal with other people and society, and it makes you a better person as well, because they teach you just as much as you try to teach them.”
Lauren plans to intern with some professional trainers during her gap year between high school and college. After that, she plans to attend Ozark Technical Community College in pursuit of a business degree, while continuing her horse training activities
Sedalia is one of three cities that are jointly hosting the America’s Mustang tour, which helps attendees discover who the American mustangs are while learning about the rangelands they call home. In 2015, the program’s signature expo, held in St. Louis, resulted in sixty-three mustang adoptions.
"Last year, we had more than 16,000 people attend America's Mustang events, and were humbled to see engagement from local communities. With three expos this year, we're hoping for an even bigger 2016," says Kali Sublett, executive director of the Mustang Heritage Foundation, a Texas-based nonprofit that facilitates mustang and burro adoptions.
Both programs—Extreme Mustang Makeover and America’s Mustang—are produced by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in partnership with the US Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse & Burro Program. It’s open to the public to help locals learn about and interact with wild horses to ensure healthy herds and rangelands for the future.