Wyoming horse trainer sets record at Extreme Mustang Makeover competitionWritten by Natasha Wheeler
In 2009, horse trainer Tom Hagwood was doing day work without a horse of his own to ride.
“I went to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) corral and picked out a big, stout, four-year-old mustang. I had plenty of day work, but I didn’t have any other horses to ride, so I rode that horse every day for seven months straight,” says Hagwood.
From corral to competition
The mustang performed well, and after some encouragement from a friend, he decided to participate in the Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover in Fort Worth, Texas in 2010.
“I got my horse real broke on our little place in Torrington. I branded calves on him, and I drug irrigation pipe. I used him on my ranch, doctored my cattle, trained for the competition and basically lived with that horse,” he comments.
The training paid off, and Hagwood saw his efforts yield rewards at the Mustang Million.
“Year one, I did really well and ended up tied for second. The tiebreaker judge moved me to third place, and I won $10,000,” he notes.
Hagwood has gone to Fort Worth, Texas to compete in the Mustang Makeover competition every year since 2010 and has never failed to make the finals.
“We get a mustang straight out of the corral that has never been touched, and we have a four-month period to start and train that horse,” Hagwood describes.
Mustang Makeover competitors have approximately 120 days to get their horses ready for a number of trials that exhibit their animal’s usability. The preliminary round includes a handling and conditioning class, a pattern class and a trail class.
“They use these three classes to determine the top 10 finalists,” Hagwood explains.
In the final round, competitors first complete a compulsory pattern, worth 40 percent of their final round score.
“We have to complete 10 maneuvers in a 90-second period. It’s one of the most difficult things I’ve tried to do while showing a horse – especially a horse that’s only had four months of riding,” he comments.
But for Hagwood, the compulsory round is the key for success.
“Each year I have won the whole competition, I have managed to win the compulsory,” he remarks. “Without the compulsory pattern, someone can have the best freestyle there is, and they’re not going to place as high. We have to have those overall points.”
The second finals event is the freestyle, with 30 percent of the final round score awarded for horsemanship and 30 percent awarded for artistic expression.
“I like to work a cow and rope for my freestyle, and that’s what I’ve done every year. It’s worked out really well for me, and the judges really like seeing a broke horse,” Hagwood continues.
In 2013, Hagwood won the Mustang Million in Fort Worth, and in 2014, he won again.
“A lot of people have won two makeovers, but I am the only guy who has won Fort Worth twice. This year, I went back for a three-peat, and I got to make a little history,” he says.
Hagwood credits the horses he’s been able to work with and his past experiences.
“My cowboy background and my horse show background came together at the right time when we really needed it,” he comments.
Prizes from the events include a new pickup and enough money to buy some land for running cows.
“These mustang horses are the reason my wife and I were able to buy a little ranch. Four years ago, we only had an 18-acre hay field and a canvas range teepee with our 16-month-old daughter. That’s where we started,” he explains.
On the home ranch, BLM mustangs are the only horses Hagwood has today.
“These old horses sure make good horses for me,” he says.
Managing wild mustangs
When Tom Hagwood picks out a BLM mustang to train, he looks for a horse with a good mind.
“If they’re not going to be worth my time, then they’re probably not going to adopt out very well, and truthfully, those horses aren’t going to do much for the name of the mustang,” he says.
Hagwood hopes that the Mustang Makeover competitions will bring more awareness and better management for wild horses on BLM land.
“We manage our feral dogs and cats, our wildlife and our livestock. We need to manage these mustang horses. That means keeping those horses at or below appropriate management levels,” he explains.
Hunters, stock growers and other people who use BLM lands would all benefit from better mustang management, he argues.
“Promoting these horses and getting some of them out of the corral is one way to help. But, there are a lot of these horses that just aren’t going to make it,” he remarks.
Hagwood continues, “I sure owe these horses a lot. I want to see the animals do the best they can. I do want to see them left out on the range but not so many that they are starving to death.”
He sees the mustangs as an American icon reminiscent of the days they were trailed West with the settlers.
“They won the West. I think we all want to see the horses out there, but we want to see them in good shape, well cared for and well managed,” he says.