Spotlight on Los Alamos: From wild to mild – One trainer's mission

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By Gabriel Vasquez

“From Wild to Mild” is the mission of local horse trainer Joslyn Pretz.

She has only two-and-a-half months left to tame and ride the once-wild Darwin, a Nevada mustang she adopted from Paul’s Valley, Okla., in hopes of taking home the top prize at the “Extreme Mustang Makeover” (EMM).

EMM is a nationwide training competition scheduled to be held in Ft. Worth, Texas, later this year.

“Right now, we’re doing groundwork: grooming, sacking out, leading, picking up feet, introducing him to new things,” she said. “I intend to start him under saddle next week.”

Pretz and her husband John recently relocated to Pojoaque from Maryland as a result of a fellowship opportunity for John at Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Pretz took the reins on evolving her love for horses into “Premium Sport Horses,” a training service specializing in young horses and ponies.

Pretz focuses on developing the equines into successful riders in several disciplines, including eventing, dressage, hunting and jumping. She also offers for sale a select group of talented horses at various stages of training.

Darwin, the two-and-a-half-year old mustang captured from the wilderness in Clark County, Nev., has been one of Pretz’s biggest challenges.

“The only thing that has really scared him is the sight of a person on horseback,” she said. “Before this competition, the only time he saw a rider was to corral him or separate him from his herd, so he doesn’t think very highly of it.”

Estimates from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) puts the count of these “feral horses” in the wild at around 29,000, roaming on BLM-managed rangelands in 10 Western states. The mustangs have virtually no predators and their herd sizes double about every four years.

The EMM competition, which involves 200 die-hard trainers from around the United States, is organized in cooperation with the BLM and the Mustang Heritage Foundation to promote the adoption of wild mustangs whose herds grow too big for the limited natural resources available to them.

Participants compete for the grand prize of $50,000.

“I wasn’t at last year’s event, so I don’t have a good gauge for the competition,” Pretz said, adding that “some of the nation’s finest trainers will be there, so it should be a great experience.”

She has been working with Darwin since June 13, and said she has made significant progress in getting him accustomed to human companionship and the basics of leading.

“The most time-consuming aspect is establishing the initial trust,” she said. “Once a horse trusts you and knows you don’t intend him harm, training typically moves along smoothly.”

She said he is in terrific shape, hasa great feet and excellent conformation. He was named “Darwin” by the Pretzs because of the “survival of the fittest” nature of the animal, who comes from a line of “mustangs who have survived to reproduce over the past few centuries,” Pretz said.

“In general,” she continued, “Darwin is relaxed, curious and smart. He learns quickly and likes to turn things into a game. He had his first bath today, and after the initial nervousness wore off, he wanted to play in the water and swing the hose around in his mouth.”

Pretz has been working with horses for about 25 years; she rode her first pony at age 3 and began taking riding lessons at 6.

She grew up in Kentucky, went to college in Iowa and relocated to Pojoaque, in El Rancho, where she trains various breeds of horses.

She chose to settle in El Rancho because it was a halfway point between Los Alamos and Santa Fe, where she also teaches.

At EMM, scheduled for Sep. 18-21, the public will get a unique opportunity to see the results of Joslyn’s efforts in turning Darwin into a trained mount.

A panel of eight expert judges will determine the event’s winner.

Spectators will also be able to see a trainer talent show and an in-hand show that features 200 youth and adults that have worked with 200 mustang yearlings.

Mustangs participating in the event are available for adoption after the competition by competitive bid.

Pretz is optimistic about her chances, but said local sponsorship of her efforts are key to ensuring her success.

“While I have the time and expertise to train, I could use some help with the funding,” she said.

The money would go toward feed, hay bedding, permission to ride and train at horse facilities in and around the Santa Fe area, and other vital accommodations.

Interested sponsors can contribute via Internet at www.premiumsporthorses.com/mustang.php, or by contacting the Pretzs at 699-3163.

Other New Mexico trainers to compete in EMM include Roeliff Annon of La Villita, Boyd Brodie of Churchrock, Matthew Miller of Roswell and Alicia Romero of Bernalillo.

Additional information on the competition is available at www.extreme mustangmakeover.com.