Steve Bauhr: Mustang Makeover 2

May 6, 2009
Steve Bauhr and the mustang he's training, Tonopah Ora.
Steve Bauhr and the mustang he's training, Tonopah Ora.

The Extreme Mustang Makeover returns for its second year at the Western States Horse Expo in Sacramento, which will be held June 12 to 14. The Extreme Mustang Makeover will showcase 30 trainers who have each had just 90 days to gentle and train a mustang. The Extreme Mustang Makeover was created by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in cooperation with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The purpose of the event is to help bring recognition to the mustang and to show the public how trainable and versatile these horses are. Last month, we met Steve Bauhr, who is one of the trainers competing in the event. Here, he talks about his first month of training. -Editor

The First Month of Training
By Steve Bauhr

The First Three Days
Day One. We picked up our mare on Saturday, March 14th at the Litchfield Corrals. She’s a four-year-old mare (we were supposed to get a gelding), and she foaled in 2005. She’s from the South Shoshone Herd management area, which is located 30 miles south of Battle Mountain, Nevada. She was brought into the corrals in January 2008. She is a very pretty young lady and is listed as a brown horse but is actually a bay. We named her Tonopah Ora, in memory of Carolyn’s Uncle Ora.

Tonopah Ora rode quietly home with us on the seven-hour drive. Once home, we backed into the round pen, opened the trailer doors, and tossed out some hay and water. Then we went to bed. It had been a long day, and we were ready for some shut eye. It didn’t matter much to me if the mustang came out of the trailer or not that night. The trailer was the only thing she could count on not hurting her.

Day Two. I walked out to feed at 6:00 am. She was still in the trailer. But she saw me and jumped out casual as could be into the round corral. I spent five long hours that day before we were able to touch her for the first time. Nothing went right! I eventually had to rope her to make contact.

Day Three. I worked in four one-hour sessions to get a halter on her and start with some leading. That wasn’t pretty either. This mare is wild! We have had to use most of the tools in our box with her. I’ve learned over the years that even the best laid plans might need to scrapped now and then. I’m not afraid to stop, sit down in the dirt, draw a breath, and think things out.

The First Week
The work that first week was slow, due to her fear of being caught and staying close to me. Not having lots of time, I decided to go about our day as I do with any horse here I’m starting. That means just being extra careful not to get hurt or to put Tonopah Ora in a position where she feels trapped or to over-expose her to anything. I don’t want to build in a spot now that will take years to get over later.

The First 18 Days
We’ve been able to saddle her, teach her to lead and longe, and make inside turns in the round pen. She’s starting to wear a headstall with a snaffle bit, too. We can brush her in most areas of her body, and we have begun to wash her with the hose--which can be a project. We have not yet handled her feet with our hands, only with an extension stick. The work itself has helped our relationship and helped her to build some trust.
I’m not one for isolating a horse, so we keep her in a turn-out area next to the round pen so she’s right in the middle of everything. I also bring her in the round pen at times while we are working with the other horses in training. She has no fear of the other horses, and I think the exposure to the work is a good thing.

I’m amazed at the wildness in her and her total lack of interest in us. My wife Carolyn calls her “The Faraway Horse.” She stands and stares out onto the open country behind our ranch for hours, maybe longing for the time when she could go where she wanted.
I left a saddle in the corral with her one afternoon. A domestic horse would have smelled it, chewed on it. And drug it all over. She never went near it all day. I guess in the wild, too much curiosity will get you killed.

The mare seems to be very bright and is working hard, trying to hold things together, even though I know she is scared at times. She has only struck at me twice with her front feet. She had already been grinding her teeth for a few minutes when it happened. I should have backed off by then; it was my fault.

My Thoughts
Frustrations. One frustration is how long it takes to catch her each time we work, and how far backward she seems to go each day. Another is that we have to revisit the work done the day before or even an hour before and then move into a new project. Also, she’s reluctant to let me get very close; I have closed the gap quite a bit, but a big bear hug is out of the question!

Victories. The whole project is a victory! It’s going to be a long 100 days. I don’t know that we’ll get this mare rode or ready to compete at the Expo. Only time will tell. But the experience to work with a horse this wild has already been worth the price of admission.
A close friend told me “She is gifted at lots of things; you just don’t know what they are yet.” He’s right, and I’m looking for them as we move along.

I want to thank my sponsors Sweet River Equine Veterinary in Modesto; Scott Gulley Farrier service in Oakdale; and Andastango Ranch in La Grange.

Learn more about Steve Bauhr of Bauhr Ranch Horsemanship at

The Extreme Mustang Makeover
by Patti Colbert, Executive Director of the Mustang Heritage Foundation

Mustangs have had a bad rap in the horse industry. They often are seen as a “less desirable” horse. It was the job of the Mustang Heritage Foundation to prove to the general public--and particularly the horse industry--that the Mustang was a trainable and athletic horse, in addition to being a historic legend.

I like to watch reality TV. If trucks, houses, and women can have quick makeovers, why can’t we do that with a Mustang? In 2007, corporate partners Fort Dodge and Western Horseman magazine funded a $25,000 Extreme Mustang Makeover. One hundred trainers from across the country were invited to pick up a wild Nevada Mustang in either Nevada or Oklahoma. Trainers then had 100 days to work with the Mustangs and bring them back to Ft. Worth, Texas to compete for prize money.

The response was overwhelming. Dedicated horsemen and women from all walks of life came to Ft. Worth. The crowd and media were blown away by the ability of wild horses to adapt so quickly to domestic life and to perform so brilliantly.

The Mustang Makeover events started there, with four more events following in 2008. This year, the Mustang Heritage Foundation and our partner, The Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Program, are offering 10 events across the country. It’s easy to be successful when you have a great product and people who are willing to work and prove the value of the American Mustang.

I’m also Competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover
by Sue Watkins

As an avid mustang trainer, I knew I needed to try my hand at the Extreme Mustang Makeover. This is a great program for showing the usability of wild horses once they are tamed and trained. With my well-rounded background in horse and exotic animal training, I feel I have a great understanding of how to work with these flighty animals.

My horse, I’ma Your Horse, is a four-year-old, 14.0-hand, solid bay mare. She was gathered in January 2008 in an emergency gather of the South Shoshone HMA, 30 miles south of Battle Mountain, Nevada.

I’ma is very sweet and willing. When I was able to pet her within the first hour out of the wild horse corrals, I knew I had been given a great animal.

Since coming to the ranch, I'ma has made incredible progress. She learns quicker then any other wild horse I have ever trained. Within 20 minutes of unloading her, I could pet her face and shoulder. By the third day, I was able to easily take her halter on and off. I saddled her on day 6, and I rode her on day 21. Within the first three weeks, she could load and quietly ride in the trailer. She stands tied at the rail and on a highline. She saddles and bridles, can be ponied, and will allow her feet to be worked on. She likes her baths and even lets me wash her face with the hose--as long as I let her drink out of it first. I can even clip her with electric clippers.

I am very proud of how hard she works to figure out what I am asking her to do. She has even started to learn some tricks. At this point in her training, she is still a little sticky under saddle, she needs to move forward better, and she also does not like to canter.

Sue Watkins owns and operates Kigers de los Californios, a training facility near Lincoln, CA. Learn more at Check out I'ma’s blog at