AUXVASSE, Mo. — When local horse trainer Nikki Tiesing went to go get her new partner, all she had was an idea, a number and a color.
And the color was wrong.
"I was assigned a number, and the paperwork said it was a buckskin," Tiesing said, adding she really likes buckskins.
Making things more confusing, her new horse — clearly a bay — was in a pen with a buckskin. Bays are good, too, though, and she was a cinch to load on the trailer.
"I thought I was getting an easy one," she added.
But Rain, that is "Chasing the Rainbow," proved to be a bit shy and cautious with humans. After weeks of getting her used to being touched and handled, Tiesing has about six weeks to get her riding under saddle. They will be competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in June at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky.
"This is a big event, and we are proud that Missouri is being represented by such an accomplished trainer," said her friend Sharon Pierson said last February when it was announced Tiesing was selected.
She picked up the cute little mare in Lebanon, Tennessee, and was given about 100 days to gentle and train her randomly selected mustang.
"She's a 4 year old from Nevada, captured in February 2018," Tiesing said.
Prospective adopters passed on her several times before Rain ended up as a potential mount for this special training event. Getting her home was the easy part. Getting her hands on Rain was the hard part.
"She's skittish about hands," Tiesing added. "I could be like 10 feet away from her, and move my fingers a little bit and she'd just bolt."
Tiesing said she felt a lack of progress seeing pictures posted by competitor trainers on Facebook. Then she turned off their posts and concentrated on what was best for Rain.
First, she introduced Rain to actual horse food. (Remember, she'd been running across the landscape of the Western Plains and then in a Bureau of Land Management pen.) Once Rain got used to eating grain from a bucket, she needed to connect Tiesing as being the one providing all that good food.
She started by being near the feed bucket, then holding the bucket (remember the fear of hands?) and then having one hand inside the bucket. Soaked alfalfa cubes are pretty good, and Rain learned to gently take them from Tiesing's hand.
Tiesing used clicker training, too, using a distinct and consistent signal to mark a desired behavior and following that signal with a motivational reward (praise and food).
Now, not only is Rain eating well and putting on weight, she lets Tiesing halter and groom her, and pick out her feet. She can be lead and is doing groundwork exercises.
"The first time she nickered, she had been here three or four weeks," Tiesing said. "One day I took a horse for turnout and went by her — I heard her nicker for the first time."
She nickers for Tiesing a lot now. Rain actually maneuvers obstacles for her, too.
"We're in the saddling process now," Tiesing said. "I'm hoping everything under saddle goes really quick."
The Extreme Mustang Makeover includes several basic classes: Handling and conditioning, mustang maneuvers (pattern) and a trail class, too. The top 10 competitors will go on to "freestyle finals." At the conclusion, all horses will be available to the public by competitive bid (bidders have to apply and be approved).
She'll buy Rain herself if she feels that's the best thing for the horse.
"If she's not solid in six weeks, I'll bring her home and continue to work with her," Tiesing said. "I want to make sure she's completely ready for somebody else."
This is Tiesing's first mustang makeover competition, but she wants to do more. She is a board certified behavior analyst who uses the horse's natural learning tendencies and abilities to create calm, responsive and willing partnerships between horse and rider. She owns Forever T Ranch near Auxvasse where she boards and trains horses and riders, and her daughters actively show their personal horses with the Callaway Rough Riders group and Missouri Ranch Horse Association.
The name Chasing the Rainbow was given to the mare by Tiesing and her daughter.
"For me, that's what it's all about — I've been chasing this dream all my life," she said. "I've always had a thing about mustangs. I finally got to the point where I could do the makeover. It's about living the best life possible."
Supporting Tiesing are her daughters, her mom and her boyfriend. And when Rain cooperates — even while progress has been slow — the feeling is the best.
"I'm not even riding her yet, but this is the coolest thing I've ever done," Tiesing said. "To know where she was, and where she is now — it's so cool. I've done a bunch of desensitizing. I just have to get on her now."
The Extreme Mustang Makeover will be June 20-22. Learn more at: extrememustangmakeover.com/.