“He’s a quiet one,” Lori says tenderly of Trace, the pensive 3-year-old Nevada mustang she’s showing at the 2008 Midwest Mustang Challenge. He stays close to her, seeks her approval, even tucks his head down for treats held between his two front legs. Pretty amazing considering just 100 days ago, Trace didn’t know how to drink water from a bucket.
He’d never even seen a bucket. Trace was one of the 15,000 wild mustangs that roam Nevada. As part of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Preservation program, he and 53 other mustangs were sent to trainers across the country last spring, each of whom had 100 days to teach them simple tasks like wearing a halter, raising their feet, backing up and stepping into and out of a trailer. The mustangs were then shown at the 2008 Midwest Mustang Challenge in Madison, Wisconsin, and adopted by private owners. Lori’s story of those 100 days is so special and unexpected, it’s as if she and Trace were fated to find each other.
Looking at the two of them now, as Lori gently prepares Trace for his first showing, one might believe he’d always been with her. “I knew I could give him a great start by being kind and loving,” she says, but Trace was wary. Eight days after she met him, he finally nudged her, initiating their first touch. Weeks later, during Lori’s fourth ride on Trace, he bucked as she was dismounting. She was thrown onto a railing and broke seven ribs, fractured a shoulder blade and tore the MCL in her left knee. There would be no more riding. She spent 5 weeks recovering, most of them in extreme pain.
“I had to learn to ask for help. That is not easy for me,” Lori says of her recuperation. Despite the setback, she didn’t give up on the Challenge. Instead of 100 days of training, she prepped Trace for the show in about 50 days. And their presentation was flawless.
Looking back, she says without hesitation (“medical bills aside!”) that she would do it all over again. The destination, in this case, was not the competition but the journey itself. “I learned not to be so attached to the outcome, to just enjoy the process. I can get predatory when I want something…but horses don’t want for anything. They have no agenda. [This experience] taught me I have a long way to go to be the best person I can for a horse,” Lori says humbly.
Those who know her disagree. After watching Trace’s initial presentation to the judges at the Mustang Challenge, a friend said, “That was such a great testimony to your work, Lori.” She practices natural horsemanship, a training method that employs “psychology instead of fear, intimidation or mechanics,” and therefore uses no bits, bridles or horseshoes. Horses are developed and encouraged based on their own system of motivation – not a human’s.
Given her injuries, Lori’s accomplishment in the Mustang Challenge is astounding. But the path that led her to Trace is perhaps even more impressive. In her “old life,” she was an accountant and computer programmer. Once, while at a horse fair she’d gone to “just to smell the horses,” Lori saw a painting (which now hangs in her bedroom) depicting a horse in a carousel breaking free of its reins and leaping off the platform. “I thought, ‘That’s me,’” she says. Still, she needed more convincing to quit her corporate life and turn her love of horses into a career. When her grandfather suffered a debilitating stroke shortly after his retirement, her grandmother began caring for him – and their post-work plans evaporated. “My grandmother told me, ‘These are your golden years. Not after you retire. Don’t wait.’” Lori didn’t. She was 41.
“My mom always said, ‘God’s plan is Plan A. Yours, Lori, is Plan B.’” Maybe. But there’s still something divine in how things turned out.
Note: Lori placed in the top 12 of the 53 competitors in the Midwest Mustang Challenge. A family in Illinois adopted Trace, and they’ve invited Lori to visit anytime.