Dunn eyes $10,000 purse in mustang competition

Mustang Cinnamon Girl follows Guffey-area horse trainer Justin Dunn without a lead rope in the arena. (Photo by Flip Boettcher/The Flume)
Mustang Cinnamon Girl follows Guffey-area horse trainer Justin Dunn without a lead rope in the arena. (Photo by Flip Boettcher/The Flume)

Guffey-area horse trainer riding without bridle in Jan. 24-26 Texas event.

(Reprint by permission: Mike Potter: Dunn eyes $10,000 purse in mustang competition.)

by Flip Boettcher

Cinnamon Girl, a five- year-old wild Nevada mustang mare, and Justin Dunn, a Guffey-area horse trainer, will be a team competing in the upcoming Mustang Magic event sponsored by the Bureau of Land Management and the Mustang Heritage Foundation in Ft. Worth, Texas, on Jan. 24-26.

The Magic event is part of the BLM Adopt-a-Mustang program, which it undertakes in partnership with the MHF. The program showcases the adaptability of a wild mustang and what it is capable of doing, as well as showing what a trainer can do with that mustang, said Dunn.

There are 20 competitors in the Magic event, he said. All of the competitors had to place in the top 10 of one of the BLM Mustang Makeover events held this past summer all over the United States, and then they had to be invited to the Magic event, said Dunn.

In the Makeover event, the trainers had 90 days from mustang pick-up day until the competition to take a wild, gelded mustang fresh off the range and train it into an auctionable, adoptable horse.

In the Magic event, the trainers have 120 days to train their wild mustang mares for the competition. The Makeover and the Magic events have similar categories of competition, including handling and conditioning, a trail class, compulsory maneuvers, and a reining pattern, according to the MHF website:www.mustangheritagefoundation.org. The top 10 then go on to the three-and-a-half-minute freestyle competition, where the trainers can really show off the abilities of their mares, said Dunn.

$10,000 purse.

The purse for the Magic event is $10,000, split between 10 competitors, with first place getting $3,500 as well as the prestige and recognition of being a trainer in the Magic event, said Dunn.

He plans on being in the top 10 and said he will be riding Cinnamon Girl bridleless in the freestyle competition.

Going bridleless means just that – no connection between the rider’s hands and the horse’s head, according to Dunn. All is accomplished with leg and seat pressure only, he said. He started that from day one of training.

Picked up Sept. 17.

After Dunn picked up Cinnamon Girl on Sept. 17 at the BLM mustang holding facility east of Cañon City, where she had been for the past two years, he had to be away for three weeks with no training for the mustang.

Even with the late start, Dunn said, he was riding Cinnamon Girl by day six and then got bucked off on day eight.

By day 23, when The Flume interviewed Dunn on Dec. 5, Dunn said that Cinnamon Girl was 100 percent bridleless at a walk, 80 percent bridleless at a trot, and about 50-50 bridleless at a canter, using only leg and seat commands.

Cinnamon Girl demonstrated that, bridleless, she can back up, walk, stop, spin, turn left or right and do a rollback, which is a back step and then a hard left or right. Currently, Cinnamon Girl is working on cross stepping side-to-side left or right while straddling a log, which is part of the competition, said Dunn.

Cinnamon Girl also follows Dunn around without a lead rope and will follow hand signals from Dunn while walking and working around him in a circle.

Dunn attributes a lot of his success with Cinnamon Girl – and why he feels he is so far along in her training – to the equine massage therapy she is undergoing.

Equine therapeutic massage therapist Bill O’Connell – of Pike Trails Ranches subdivision west of Guffey and owner of Ranch Hand Services – has been using Cinnamon Girl as part of his case studies leading up to his certification the first of the year as a Level I equine therapist from the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage, located in Carbondale, Colo. He said he started his studies on Sept. 1 of this year.

O’Connell said he uses a therapeutic Swedish massage, just like that used for humans. He stressed that his massage therapy isn’t a treatment, but is more for overall health and well-being of the horse.

“Massage benefits horses in many ways, including, but not limited to, increased circulation, increased lymph movement in the muscles and boosts the immune system,” said O’Connell. Therapeutic massage can also increase flexibility and range of motion, help release tightness in tissue and muscles and also help the horse become accustomed to the human touch, which was lacking for the wild mustang, he said.

O’Connell, who always wanted to be a human massage therapist, decided he wanted to help and give back to the horse and all animals for all that they do for us. He plans on starting his Level II – deep tissue massage this spring. And he will start Level III – performance horse class next fall.

Cinnamon Girl will be getting a series of four therapeutic massages three weeks apart, said Dunn. Mustangs are always on high alert with constant concern for their surroundings, he said. The equine massage therapy seems to calm them down and make them more open to learning.

Dunn said that horses are far more sensitive than people realize, and a 50-minute massage helps integrate their mind and body.

Dunn said that Cinnamon Girl is the smartest, most sensitive horse he has ever trained, but he will not be keeping her if he can sell her for more than $5,000 at the auction.

Dunn also said that the BLM and the MHF have added another mustang event starting next year: the Mustang Million. It will have a $750,000 purse split between 10 people, with $200,000 and a truck to the first-place winner.

For more information, visit the MHF website or the BLM website: www.blm.gov/.

Visit YouTube to see Dunn’s freestyle competition last July in the Mustang Makeover in Ft. Collins. It is called “He’s freaking Zorro” because Dunn was dressed as Zorro.

Contact Dunn at www.dunnshighcountry.com, or Justin@dunnshighcountry.com.

Contact Bill O’Connell at ranchhandservices@hughes.net, or 719-479-4013.

Contact the Rocky Mountain School of Animal Acupressure and Massage at http://www.rmsaam.com/index.html.