Tuff the mustang did not earn his name because he will be tough to tame.
The 4-year-old gelding who once roamed the hills of Nevada is now in a new home in Archer under the care of a professional horse trainer.
“He just needs to get his confidence up,” said Cat Zimmerman, 20, of CZ Mustangs.
Zimmerman is a champion horse handler and has been working with wild mustangs adopted out by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) since age 13.
“He’s a little bit of a chicken,” she said about Tuff while fussing with his uneven mane—evidence that other mustangs have bitten chunks out of it.
Zimmerman and Tuff were 10 days into the Extreme Mustang Makeover (EMM) when Mainstreet Daily News visited them at the ranch.
According to the EMM website, the makeover competition “challenges horse trainers to take a wild horse ‘from wild to mild’ through approximately 100 days of training. Trainers then compete for cash and other prizes at events across the country to display the trainability of America’s wild horses and to promote their adoption.”
This will be Zimmerman’s 50th gentling of a mustang and third adult mustang she has entered into the EMM competition. She will compete with Tuff in the contest, since it is in nearby Ocala at the Southeastern Livestock Pavilion on April 29-30. She said spectators usually come to watch the second day of competition as the final 10 compete for the crown.
The contest will involve three classes of competition in handling and conditioning, trail and maneuvers. The top 10 finalists will compete in a freestyle competition for $40,000 in prizes and the horses will then be auctioned off to find new homes.
The Mustang Heritage Foundation which sponsors the contest has placed more than 15,000 wild horses and burros in homes since the makeover program started in 2007, according to its website.
Zimmerman’s organization CZ Mustangs, is a nonprofit dedicated to training wild mustangs, retraining surrendered and rescued mustangs, and promoting the responsible adoption and care of mustangs.
CZ Mustangs also works with other organizations and venues to provide information and educate the public about the importance of protecting mustangs both in the wild and in captivity.
Every horse she trains, or “gentles,” is so different, Zimmerman said.
“When they are born in the wild, you never know,” she said about what each mustang has experienced or even exactly how old they are.
Tuff arrived as a mustang number 1101, with three-inch tall numbers painted on his back.
Zimmerman knows he’s been through a lot according to the scars on his nose and body and said once the equine dentist comes to check his teeth she’ll know more about his age and what might be bothering his mouth.
In the pen where Tuff has spent his first 10 days getting to know Zimmerman, he has worn all of the grass down to just dirt as he ran back and forth trying to settle in.
“The entire pen was full of grass but he had it worked down to sand in a day because he was so wound up and anxious,” Zimmerman said.
But she has made a lot of progress with him.
Zimmerman is able to touch Tuff all over, even though he doesn’t like that on his right side. She said she suspects that’s where all of the blood draws and branding were done to the mustangs in the chutes at BLM.
Tuff has learned to walk on a lead and to lunge and to trust Zimmerman when she brushes him and sets a saddle on him.
He snorts and huffs and puffs with flaring nostrils, which Zimmerman said she finds endearing as he displays his personality.
Now that the gentling process is underway, Zimmerman said her biggest challenge will be letting go of Tuff after the competition as the horses will be auctioned off.
That’s not to say that Zimmerman can’t buy Tuff herself, which is how she ended up with several of her horses still at the farm in Archer.
“I’m trying to be good this time and not buy him back,” Zimmerman said. “It’s hard not to. You go through such an amazing journey with them.”