A few weeks ago, 55 trainers from across the country descended upon Will Rogers Equestrian Center in Fort Worth, Texas for their shot at Extreme Mustang Makeover Champion. After a spirited competition, it was an unassuming, 4-year-old bay mare, Vienna, and EMM veteran trainer, Camille McCutchon, that would take home the title.
This week, we catch up with Vienna’s new family, the Ogiers, to hear their journey and maybe, just maybe, inspire the next person looking (or not looking!) to bring home a mustang.
Q&A with Jackie Ogier
MHF: Your family adopted your first mustang from Camille, isn’t that right? Can you share a little bit about that experience and how you two connected?
JO: Yes, a little over a year ago, we adopted Ambassador from Camille, a then 8-year-old gelding from Fifteen Mile, WY. After having a grade horse that someone mentioned could’ve been an unbranded mustang, I began some casual research into the breed by following some mustang pages on Facebook. My oldest daughter was outgrowing her fabulous lease pony at a local barn and we were ready to ride together as mother/daughter at home. I searched countless pony sites and found nothing that was a fit; too speedy, too unbalanced, too green, too small, too athletic for a kid, etc. I happened upon Camille’s video ad for Ambassador and, although he was marketed as a western horse and we were looking for something to go English, he had the most beautiful floating trot and a rhythmic canter that looked rideable for anyone. Even better, she was just 2 hours away from us and it would be easy to try him. So we reached out, loaded up the family and went to see Camille and Ambassador. I rode him first and was sold almost immediately, but I had to make sure my daughter would feel confident on him. When my normally timid kid cantered him, I knew they’d get along. We headed back home without him and told my daughter we weren’t sure, but we secretly knew we’d be back to buy him. My daughter left for summer camp and while she was away we did the reassignment paperwork, performed a PPE, and picked him up. My daughter came home from camp to a surprise in the backyard – her first pony, Ambassador, a formally wild stallion who was just 6 months out of holding. I know that reads a bit risky, but you’d have to know Ambassador to understand what a safe and special horse he is and how he has always taken the best care of his handlers and riders.
MHF: Had you been planning to get another horse?
JO: After we bought Ambassador, I sold my personal riding horse, who was a wonderfully talented dressage and large hunter pony. That left me sharing Ambassador with my daughter. Due to HOA restrictions, we are limited to 2 horses so, between Ambassador and my retired heart horse, we were at capacity until I could find the right place for my retiree – thus putting my active search on hold.
MHF: What interested you in the EMM horses and/or Vienna specifically?
JO: I had always been so impressed and amazed by what these trainers and horses accomplish at the EMM. I followed more as a fan than anything for a few years, and more so once I saw Camille competing. She did so great at the Oklahoma EMM last year with Yoshi, so it really piqued my interest to see how Vienna would turn out. I’ll admit, as a friend and mother, I was nervous for her as she was very pregnant when she picked up Vienna and I was so worried about injury/exhaustion, how she’d continue training her with a newborn, etc. But, I clearly underestimated her! When Vienna was just a few weeks under saddle, I visited with my family and I got to take her for a spin and my oldest daughter cooled her out. I loved her laid back personality and nothing seemed to phase her despite the busy ring that day. From that point, I watched her training unfold and it was impressive how well Vienna took to everything. My last meeting with Vienna was a few days before the EMM when I joined Camille and her sister, Ellen, for a trail ride. While I didn’t ride her, I was able to observe her over 5 miles of hill country trails, through the river, obstacles, etc., and she never hesitated. Her pace was in step with Ambassador, which was also important for me in a next horse, as we trail ride a lot. Again, I wasn’t even thinking about buying her at that point though. Not on the radar, since my land was full.
MHF: Did you attend the Meet the Mustangs events throughout the competition?
JO: We did attend the Meet the Mustangs event on Friday evening. My kids brought notebooks and got autographs from as many of the adult and youth trainers as possible and enjoyed asking questions of them. We asked about the biggest challenges, the easiest parts, etc. I loved seeing them engage with such great role models. Again, we weren’t real shoppers at that point and more fans/spectators (no bidder number, catalog, etc.), so we always stepped away for those that did.
MHF: Did you follow their progress/journey via social media?
JO: Yes, we joined the EMM Facebook group followed the competitors’ training pages. It was wonderful to follow along with their journeys and I will say to competitors, if you’re not creating a Facebook page to share your EMM journey, you’re truly missing out on some great pre-event exposure. I already knew many of the horses and if they’d be a fit solely from following their progress on social media.
MHF: Share your Finals night with us. What turned you from “spectator” to “bidder?”
JO: Well, about 2 hours before the finals, I received a text from a dear friend of mine that owns a small boarding farm 30 minutes from me. Usually full, she said a boarder just gave notice and asked if I knew of anyone needing a retirement spot. I knew Vienna was the right horse for us but until I received that text, it just wasn’t the right time. Now with the perfect spot for my retiree, it felt so serendipitous and it was now the right time to make a real play for her. The finals? Wow. Everyone blew us away! All the horses and riders were phenomenal. I was sweating for Camille and Vienna because they had some tough acts to follow. I knew nothing about her performance beforehand and it was all a surprise. Her compulsory class was incredible and as good as anyone else’s, but would her freestyle be enough? Well, she came out and not only dropped the mic, but threw it down and smashed it! It was incredible. Electric. Magic. I was so proud of this young woman who, while pregnant and then with a newborn, created this amazing horse and with such confidence and showmanship delivered a performance of a lifetime. During the auction, I just knew we had to have her. Not so much for the horse, but for everything she and Camille accomplished in such a short time. For what it would mean for the success of the trainer, the horse, the foundation, and the breed. I just knew we wanted to be a part of something good that night. I think it was one other bidder really coming for us and I’m super thankful they cried “uncle” before I needed to take out a second mortgage!
MHF: What was the feeling when you realized Vienna was coming home with your family?
JO: We were elated! I think I almost fell over the balcony bidding jumping up and down in excitement. My girls are so excited because they have had a special bond with Vienna and adore Camille as a big sister.
MHF: After purchasing your first EMM horse (the Champion and high seller at that), share your thoughts behind the experience, the program, the trainers, the horses and the mission as it spoke to you throughout the process.
JO: I wish I could shake the hand of every trainer who attempted or competed in the EMM and thank them individually. To attempt to take a wild horse and bring out the best in them in just 100 days is such an enormous commitment and undertaking. The work ethic and love for the horses these adults and kids have is incredible. These beautiful creatures are a victim of circumstances beyond their control. Regardless of how/why they got there, we need to work on getting this breed more mainstream so that the horses in holding have a chance to know love, safety, the best healthcare and nutrition, and an all around happy life. I’ve heard a few rumbles of “I’d never pay that for a horse.” I wouldn’t either. I invested in the future success of a phenomenal horsewoman who is dedicated to helping this underserved breed shine and find domestic happiness. I invested in my kids seeing dozens of adult and youth role models, who put their horse’s needs first and who exemplify hard work and good character. I invested in Mustang Heritage Foundation and their dedication to bringing mustangs home and getting them out of holding and off the taxpayer teat. And I invested in a little plain bay mare with a heart as big as Texas who has shown everyone what a great mustang can be. I got a whole lot more for my money than just that horse.