by Cindy Germain
Stay away, thinks the horse, I do not know you.
The horseman comes closer and whispers “It is OK, I will not hurt you. Soon we will become very good friends.”
And so it begins, the relationship between the man and the horse that will lead to many days of training and ultimately a trip to Kentucky, where competition and a new life await the once wild mustang.
The horseman is Door County’s own Jesus “Chewy” Jauregui and the horse, to be known as El Cometa, has come from the Nevada plains, born free on protected lands. Their journey together is only 100 days leading up to the 2018 Extreme Mustang Makeover to be held in Lexington, Kentucky, June 21 – 23. He is one of only 100 trainers nationwide who are chosen for this competition showcasing the beauty, versatility and trainability of wild horses.
Chewy has been participating in Extreme Mustang Makeover competition since 2008 and has placed in the top 10 for the last nine years. The challenges of preparing the mustangs and the difficulty in getting to the finals of the contest can be seen firsthand on YouTube in Wild Horse Wild Ride. This 2011 documentary features the journey of Chewy and a handful of other horsemen and women in the 2009 Extreme Mustang Makeover, following them from pick up on day one to the 100th day of competition and final auction.
More remarkable is the closeness that develops between horse and trainer and, as seen in the documentary, Chewy and his 2009 horse El Compadre was no exception. So much did he and this horse, translated as The Companion, bond with each other that Chewy bid to keep him at the auction held on the last day of the competition, but it was not to be. El Compadre went for an unusually high sum of $9,000 to multi-millionaire T. Boone Pickens, who gifted El Compadre to his alma mater, Southern Methodist University, as their Mustang Mascot, a role that Chewy could have never anticipated for his best horse friend.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover is one of the main events of the Mustang Heritage Foundation, which, in partnership with the Bureau of Land Management, has placed more than 9,500 mustangs into private care since 2007. The mustangs roam freely on public lands throughout the West where they are protected by federal Law and, through the Bureau of Land Management Wild Horse and Burro Program, excess horses are removed from the range periodically to ensure herd health and protect rangeland resources. These horses are virtually untouched before the February pickup by the event trainers. The trainers then have little more than three months to gentle the wild mustangs and prepare them for the competition.
The Extreme Mustang Makeover is rigorous with a series of classes that showcase the mustang’s new skills. The horses compete in a handling and condition class, a pattern class and a combined trail class. Within each class, the trainer is bound by a number of rules and the horse is judged by its demeanor and responsiveness during each expected maneuver as well as the horse and trainer’s overall relationship.
The horse’s appearance is also judged, taking into account his weight, muscles, coat, and feet condition. Chewy is pleased with El Cometa’s looks, explaining that he is a bit narrow but muscular, having a beautiful golden brown coat with three black socks and one white sock, and a long black mane. It is the mustang’s strong aspect and personality that had Chewy name him El Cometa, translated The Comet.
The top 10 finalists return to the field for a competition that includes compulsory maneuvers and a freestyle performance. In the advanced stage of this competition, the personalities and skills of horse and trainer are readily seen, and Chewy’s highly developed skills in roping has helped progress him and horse to the finals in previous years.
Only 75 to 80 percent of the horses and trainers make it to the competition. The trainers must submit periodic progress reports with specific criteria for feeding, body condition and weight. Some horses do not thrive in their new environment while others simply are not tamed enough for competition. The care and socialization of the mustang is paramount to its success.
Chewy admits that it is a lot of work, “First you have to tame the horse, get your hands on…and soon the horse listens to you and follows you.” The process is step by step and he stresses the need to be gentle and build a relationship. Once on the saddled horse, the horseman must then know how to train not just for the competition’s obstacles but to make the horse tamed enough for their possible future in trail riding or ranch work.
“You must take your time; you need to know what you can do with the horse and read the horse before you can get close and train it,” said Chewy. He explains that he does not do it for the prize money but rather to keep one horse from slaughter and train it to be a good horse for adoption. Adopters must qualify to bid in the auction held on the last day of the competition and although Chewy would like to keep each horse every year, he is glad they always go to good homes.
“Everyone needs confidence and respect,” said Chewy, and admits that he has been challenged in working with El Cometa being “a little shy.” They have also had a delay in training with the horse needing to be castrated, followed by many days of rest in late April. Chewy is confident this last month of training will go well and they will be ready for the Extreme Mustang Makeover on June 21. He looks forward to the annual event, finding the three months of work with the horse both relaxing and challenging, and also expresses his enjoyment of the rigors of the competition. He knows he will be judged from the moment the gate opens, and although he worries about the scores and dreams of taking first place, he takes satisfaction in helping this one mustang, once wild and now gentled at his hands.
Chewy has tickets for the June event for sale or at no cost for anyone interested in attending. He can be found at his ranch, C. J. Ranch in Fish Creek on County Road A, and also through his roofing business with his brother, Chewy and Teo Roofing.
With his brother and nephew, they currently keep eight horses at the ranch, providing consultation, horsemanship skills and riding lessons for individuals and small groups.
Although he spent time working with horses on a ranch as a child in Jalisco, Mexico, he did not come to own a horse until 2006 with the purchase of 20 acres in Door County, finding the work with horses to be stress relieving.
“I go to the barn and forget about everything, I can have peace and relax,” said Chewy. This therapy is his passion, and it is his dream to teach training skills full-time to people, particularly children, perhaps leading them to someday save a wild mustang.