LABELLE -- A group of wild horses from the west coast, including Devil’s Garden, California, have been rounded up and brought to South Florida. Local youth have adopted these wild horses, worked to gain their trust, gentle them, and train them for LaBelle’s 2021 Mustang Makeover Challenge on May 8.
The challenge is an event that is organized and led by the staff and owners at HWLM (Her Wild Little Mustang) Horsemanship, a local, family owned business where Julia Sutherland and her seven children are often found working together.
“We've been around horses and small animals since we could walk, as mom has always been a horse trainer. I would describe our business as a place for families friends individuals to gather and learn about horsemanship, as well as delving into and understanding the negatives and positives of your own personality and behaviors. A place where we can learn to be better people and understand those around us both animals and people,” said secretary and partner at HWLM, Mickaylaa Kimball. “We do offer trail rides and lessons on property and off property. You can purchase individually or catch a deal by purchasing for a group.” Kimball explained, “We also train horses and do an annual youth Mustang Makeover program through our Silver Spurs 4H group.”
This year, eight kids have taken on the incredibly difficult, but rewarding, challenge of gentling and training a mustang. Ranging in ages from 12 - 17, these youth trainers come from varied backgrounds. Most are from LaBelle, a couple are from Arcadia; some of the youth trainers are homeschool students, and others attend public school; some have little to no experience with horses, while others have grown up around them. Five of the youth trainers are from last year’s challenge, and are now riding their horses.
“The kids all chose their own mustangs, as well as came up with names to match their horse,” said Julia Sutherland, one of the the program’s founders, and the group leader. “Most the mustangs came from a prison facility in Arizona that was closed and a few from the forestry department in Devils Garden, California. The mustangs range from 1.5 to 9 years of age. Most the horses are being kept by the trainers and a few will be rehomed to approved homes.”
The event on May 8 will showcase what the youth trainers have taught their horses, from obstacle courses to a themed freestyle competition, complete with costumes. But it’s not all about the flashy decorations and fancy tricks. The value of this experience, bonding with a wild horse, is immeasurable.
Kimball said being around horses can benefit all humans, especially children, with increased confidence, longer attention spans, improved communication skills, stronger motivation, feeling empowered, and becoming more socially open and available.
The relationship also helps the horse. Experts have found that horses in the wild and living in domestication are herd animals. They thrive in groups and can even suffer from loneliness. Often, simply earning a troubled horse’s trust can alleviate behavior problems.
“I hope that we can continue to give people a great experience and continue to help troubled horses and children in the future,” Kimball said. “I invite all the readers to come out and see what we do out here, and to join us for our 2021 Youth Mustang Makeover Challenge on May 8th.”
HWLM Horsemanship is located at 2100 G Road, in LaBelle.