October 18, 2009 12:07:00 AM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Tony Allen of Vernon, Ala., leans on the metal railing of an indoor riding arena, black cowboy hat low on his forehead. His intent gaze follows his four-legged charge, which idly and confidently roams the new environment, investigating whatever sights and smells there are for a horse to explore.
With a soft kissing noise, Allen calls to "2 Cool." the 4-year-old bay gelding. Less than 90 days earlier, the young animal was running free in a herd of wild mustangs in Nevada. Cool, tacked up with saddle and bridle, turns attentively and eventually makes his way to Allen''s side.
What began as a training project and a shot at the chance to win part of a $25,000 purse in the Extreme Mustang Makeover Eastern Stampede has spawned a deep bond between man and horse that Allen is reluctant to see end.
"He''s a gift from the good Lord, I''m telling you," the longtime horseman says, rubbing his hand along the unique Bureau of Land Management brand on Cool''s dark brown neck.
Allen was one of 100 trainers selected to pick up a wild horse -- not long off the Nevada range -- in Cross Plains, Tenn., in July. In the Mustang Heritage Foundation''s Makeover challenge, trainers then have less than 100 days to gentle their randomly-assigned animal before competing as a team Oct. 23-25 in Murfreesboro, Tenn. The horses will then be auctioned off to the highest bidder on the final day.
The competition''s purpose is to showcase the versatility of these rugged horses that roam freely on public lands throughout the West, where they are protected by the BLM under Federal law, The BLM periodically removes excess animals from the range to ensure herd health and protect rangeland resources. Thousands of removed animals are then made available each year to the public for adoption.
Flying changes and country music
As a full-time welder with Marathon Equipment Co. in Vernon, Allen primarily uses his weekends to work with horses. He and his wife, Janet, live on their Promiseland Farm, where the 45-year-old father of two works with young and sometimes problem horses for the public. He''s also been a farrier -- horseshoer -- for about 15 years.
"I''d rather ride a horse than eat," he said, with a low, rumbling laugh.
That dedication will come in handy with Cool, because Allen is entered in the Makeover''s more advanced Legends category. Not only will he and the horse be judged on more basic work, they will be expected to negotiate obstacles similar to an quarter horse competition''s trail class and exhibit testing skills like side passes and flying changes of lead -- no small feat, particularly in the short time frame.
If they advance to the Top Ten, they will perform a freestyle choreographed routine to music. Allen has picked Josh Turner''s "Lord, Have Mercy on a Country Boy," just in case.
A good mind
The trainer admits he got a little lucky in the draw when Cool happened to be the horse loaded onto his trailer this summer.
"He''s got real good sense; nothin'' seems to bother him," he praised. As he felt the horse was ready, Allen exposed Cool to as many new stimuli as he could, in preparation for the clamor and bustle of the Eastern Stampede. Cool has taken them all in stride, even his debut in the Old Fashioned Day Parade two weeks ago in Sulligent, Ala.
Janet, Allen''s wife, said, "He''ll look to Tony and if Tony''s not upset about it, he doesn''t get upset about it."
In November, the Allens will be participating in a Mustang Heritage Foundation trainer incentive program, bringing several mustangs to their Vernon farm. After basic gentling, the horses will hopefully find local adoptive homes with experienced horse owners, still at the BLM''s very reasonable adoption fee of $125.
But for now, there''s one special mustang Allen has developed a special respect and trust with -- one he''d like to have as a permanent addition at Promiseland Farm. After showing off all he''s learned in such a few weeks, Cool will, by competition rules, be available for adoption through competitive bidding Oct. 25 at the Stampede. His human partner, however, is hoping he''ll be the one lucky enough to come home with the same four-legged friend he leaves Vernon with Thursday.
"I think when I make my presentation, I''ll tell folks, ''Don''t bid on my horse,''" the cowboy grinned.
Anyone interested in helping sponsor Tony Allen and 2 Cool through the Mustang Makeover, or in learning more about local BLM mustang adoptions, may contact Promiseland Farm at 205-695-6925.
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.