Sixth-grader trains wild mustang for national competition

Published 9:59 am Friday, May 24, 2019

When her parents brought her a toy Ford Mustang, Olivia Warner was nothing short of confused.

Her mother, Nikki Warner, asked Olivia to think about what it could mean. And after much thought, Olivia still didn’t get it.

Finally, her parents broke the news: Olivia could compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover-Youth division June 20-22 at the Alltech Arena at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.

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According to its website, the Mustang Heritage Foundation created the Extreme Mustang Makeover event to recognize and highlight the value of Mustangs through a national training competition that showcases the beauty, versatility and trainability of the rugged horses.

“The more we looked into the mustang situation … out west, the more interested that we got,” Nikki said. “And the more I think just as a mom watching her, she felt called to try to help them because there are like 90,000 free horses and there’s like 60,000 in captivity, and they’re just standing there. And they’re extremely smart. They’re very trainable.

“The Mustang makeover and things like that are supposed to help people understand that. Basically, like a rescue dog that you don’t have to pay thousands of dollars for a horse. There’s some out there that are just as good, if not better.”

Olivia, 12, and her family first heard about the competition after watching the adult division compete last year. After watching it, Olivia said it was something she wanted to do.

“I’ve broken a miniature to ride when I was much younger,” Olivia said. “And I was like, ‘Well, I think I can do this.’ And I wanted to see if I could do it and see if I could challenge myself to be able to train a horse for a timed event.”

They soon discovered there was a youth division, and Nikki promised Olivia she could enter once it returned to Lexington, which, at the time, she thought would be a couple years away.

“I said when it comes back to Lexington, you can do it because I just knew it was going to be for a couple of years,” Nikki said. “And then like a month later, they announced they were coming back to Kentucky, so we were stuck.”

Olivia applied to compete and will go up against about 40 other youth from across the country.

In the youth competition, for ages 8 to 17, youth trainers receive an 18- to 24-month-old mustang with a goal of halter breaking, trailer loading, picking up feet and leading the horse through obstacles and maneuvers. The first-place winner receives $1,000, and other participants receive $100.

Olivia, a sixth-grader at Baker Intermediate School, picked up Gypsy, her assigned wild mustang from Maverick-Medicine Nevada March 2. She has until June 20 to take the virtually untouched by humans mustang from wild to mild. She will compete against youth from all over the U.S. in several different classes including a freestyle that showcases the horse’s ability to be trained as well as Olivia’s ability to be a trainer, set to music and costumes.

Olivia said Gypsy, the less than two-year-old horse she is training, is sassy but sweet.

“She’s a typical teenager,” Nikki said. “She would be a teenager, I think, in horse years. And their personalities match. They can be the sweetest things ever, but they can have an attitude.”

But seeing Gypsy’s progression has been worth it. Olivia has trained with Gypsy nearly every day over the past two months, taking baby steps every day.

“It’s cool to see how they’ve changed,” Olivia said.

Last week, Olivia showed Gypsy at a competition in Owingsville, and they earned a first place title.

Through training, Olivia said she learned how to be more patient and calm, not only with horses but with people, too.

Olivia plans on keeping Gypsy after the competition ends.

“(Gypsy is) extremely bonded to her,” Nikki said. “I think it would be detrimental to the horse to take her away from Olivia because she’s bonded hard to one person.”

Olivia has always been good with horses, though. She rides them, trains them and loves being around them.

She started showing horses at 5 years old and trained her first miniature at 6 years old.

She even started reaching for and wanting to be near horses at 9 months old.

“And it has not stopped,” Nikki said.

Olivia’s parents owned a couple of trail horses when Olivia was born, but neither had trained horses before. Nikki said her family showed horses before she was born and her grandmother trained horses at that time, but Nikki wasn’t ever involved much with horses.

“It must skip a generation,” she joked.

Now, the family has about six horses and dozens of other rescued animals.

Olivia said her end-goal is to rescue and train kill pen horses, which are horses being sent to slaughter.

“She would like to rescue one and rehab it and sell it,” Nikki said.

She also plans to run a horse training business when she’s older, aspiring to be like Dan James, a famous horse trainer.

In the meantime, Olivia said she plans to keep working with Gypsy, especially perfecting their freestyle routine, an ‘80s-themed showcase. Olivia competes at 2 p.m. June 20; 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. June 21 and the awards will be announced June 22.

Olivia said she hopes to place in the Top 10, but she’s mainly just happy she gets to compete and train her first mustang.

“Not be 40th,” Olivia said of her goal placement in the competition. “I’m fine with 39. I don’t want to be last.”

About Lashana Harney

Lashana Harney is a reporter for The Winchester Sun. Her beats include schools and education, business and commerce, Winchester Municipal Utilities and other news. To contact her, email or call 859-759-0015.

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