Christina here! Wanted to share my experience of attending the Maryland Mustang TIP Challenge this past weekend!
What is a TIP challenge?
TIP stands for Trainer Incentive Program where the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) reimburses approved TIP trainers for training and adopting out BLM branded wild mustangs or burros. TIP challenges are competitions where competitors can showcase the talents of their wild horses or burros. Competitors have 100 days to gentle and train a wild mustang or burro then compete in a freestyle show. Many mustangs are available for adoption at auctions after the events for approved adopters with a starting bid of $125.
This year was the first year of the Maryland TIP Challenge, hosted out of the Equestrian Center in Bel Air, Maryland. My husband (Travis) and I went to scope out prospective mustangs for Megan who unfortunately couldn’t make the event. We didn’t know anything about mustangs or what a TIP Challenge was so we learned a lot!
We walked through the barn to check out the mustangs and read the info posted on each stall. Most of the mustangs seemed small in the large stalls. It probably didn’t help that not too long ago I was horse shopping for 16+hh Thoroughbreds.
There were a few people hanging around in the barn that walked over when we went up to their horses. Most of the horses were extremely friendly, putting their nose over the stall doors. There were a few that were obviously along for the exposure, they stood anxious with their head down avoiding the people and noise.
One of the things we learned about were the brands that BLM puts on the wild mustangs they oversee.
Each mustang has a freeze brand that identifies the registering organization, year of birth, and registration number.
After seeing all the mustangs in the barn, we went up to watch the freestyle competition. It was really neat to watch! It was hard to believe that the horse dressed up as Indiana Jones running around the arena over small jumps and obstacles was once a wild mustang.
There were some really neat tricks they taught these horses and they all seemed to take it in stride. Most were incredibly friendly and comfortable around all the people, noise and other horses.
We, unfortunately, didn’t stay for the awards ceremony or for the open show for any mustang to compete in that happened later in the afternoon.
Types of Mustangs
After watching the freestyle, we went back to the barn to see if we could learn more about some of the horses since more of the owners were there.
The mustangs in the barn were of all shapes and sizes, I was surprised by the different builds of the horses. We learned that the conformation and build depended on where the mustang came from. It makes sense! The herds would generally come from the same pool of genetics.
There are 6 types of wild mustangs in the United States:
Pryor Mountain Mustang of Montana
The Pryor Mountain Wild Horses have distinct colors and conformation reflective of their Spanish heritage that usually stand around 14hh. Many of these horses are “zebra duns” which means they’re dun in color with a dorsal stripe along their back and stripes on their legs. They can also have wither bars, fish-boning off the dorsal stripe, and spider webbing on the face. Other common colors are grullo, red and apricot duns, bay, black, chestnut, sorrel, palomino, buckskin, roan, and sabino.
Kiger Mustang of Oregon
You’ll probably recognize this iconic Kiger mustang! Kiger mustangs are commonly seen in dun but can be found in solid colors as well. They have a compact, muscular build and are generally between 13.2 to 15.2hh. Kiger mustangs are descended largely from Spanish horses brought to North America in the 17th century, a bloodline thought to have largely disappeared from mustang herds before the Kiger horses were found.
Cerbat Mustang of Arizona
Cerbat Mustangs are generally bay, chestnut or roan but can be found in other typical mustang colors and stand between 14 to 15hh. They are considered quiet, calm, and intelligent that are well suited for a variety of disciplines. Some are even gaited!
Spanish mustangs range from 13 to 15hh and come in a wide variety of colors. They are very athletic and willing which makes them great mounts for many riding disciplines. DNA studies indicate that Spanish breeding and type does still exist in some feral Mustang herds, including those on the Cerbat HMA (near Kingman, Arizona), Pryor Mountain HMA (Montana), Sulphur HMA (Utah), and Kiger HMA (Oregon).
Colonial Spanish Mustang of North Carolina
These mustangs are on the smaller size, ranging from 12 to 13hh, and can be found roaming wild in North Carolina to include the beaches of the Outer Banks. They come in a variety of colors and patterns and are descendants of a mixed lineage consisting of Spanish Barb, Arabian and Andalusian horses. Some of these horses are gaited as well!
Chincoteague Pony of Maryland and Virginia
Every horse girl reading this knows the story of Misty but for the rest of you here’s a quick history. Evidence strongly suggests that they are the descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon that wrecked off the coast of Assateague. The horses swam to shore and have lived on these islands every since. Ever year the herds are divided and horses swim across the water to the mainland where they’re sold. Chincoteague ponies usually stand between 12 and 13 hands, coming in a wide variety of colors and patterns.
(title photo of mustang brand from https://www.montgomerycreekranch.org/blog/2020/6/13/what-a-blm-freeze-brand-can-tell-you-about-a-mustang)