Whether Tanger “Birdie” Springsteen and her mustang, Miniconjou, lasso a share of $20,000 in prize money in April, they’ve captured each other’s affection.
“Now that horse was untouched 45 days ago, other than having shots and having a number on a clip tied around its neck,” said Scott Springsteen, father of 15-year-old Tanger, watching his daughter plant a kiss on her horse Feb. 4 in a corral a few miles south of Fostoria.
“We picked that horse up in Ewing, Illinois, and brought it back and I backed the trailer up and let her loose in here. The next day, Tanger came in and sat down, and finally that horse come up to her, and they went nose to nose.
“And it’s been like this ever since. They made a connection.”
Tanger Springsteen, of the Thumb Area Kids and Critters 4-H Club that meets around Tuscola County, competes April 3-4 with Miniconjou in the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s “Trainer Incentive Program” (TIP) Challenge in Columbus, Ohio.
She said she spends a couple hours each day training Miniconjou – which takes the name of a North American Indian people – in a corral outside her home in northern Lapeer County’s Marathon Township.
“I get paid $200 for showing up in Ohio, but I’m also not in this just for the money,” said Tanger, a North Branch High School freshman on the school’s equestrian team.
“I’ve wanted to have my own mustang – a wild horse. Because I’ve raised baby horses – foals – but I haven’t necessarily worked with a wild horse.”
The 35 participants in the contest at the Equine Affaire at the Ohio Expo Center vie for $20,000 in prize money. They also “help promote the adoption of these national treasures by showcasing the mustang’s value and trainability,” according to the Mustang Heritage Foundation website.
The TIP Challenge is a cooperative effort between the foundation and the federal Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program. Miniconjou, now 20 months old, was among wild mustangs captured in northern Nevada.
The challenge gives handlers 100 days to “gentle an untamed mustang.” Judges at the Ohio competition will evaluate the horse’s condition along with its demeanor and responsiveness during the haltering process. Participants also must complete handling maneuvers with their horses such as walking, trotting, backing up and stopping.
Contestants will be asked to lead the horse through a course of obstacles, and show the horse’s willingness and ability to complete a pattern by walking, trotting, backing up, pivoting or moving laterally.
Using the aforementioned criteria, judges will pick the top 10 contestants to compete in a final freestyle event in which exhibitors “are encouraged to choose musical scores, costumes and props that permit them to show the athletic abilities of their horses in a crowd-appealing way.”
Trainers can’t ride or stand on their mustangs, but can hold a lead attached to the horse’s halter, as competition is “in-hand only.”
“You teach them whatever you can teach; they can’t ride them,” Scott Springsteen said. “It’s all in-hand, on-ground, teaching the horse to do tricks. Just teaching it to be a decent horse and not one that’s trying to kill you.”
The Mustang Heritage Foundation’s TIP Challenge is intended to facilitate the adoption of mustang horses and/or burros. Tanger Springsteen is raising funds to help pay for costs associated with the Ohio competition and care of her mustang. Donors can visit gofundme.com and find her page entitled “Help me participate in the 2020 Mustang Challenge!”
Readers also can write a check payable to “Tanger Springsteen” and mail it to Tanger Springsteen, 6300 Cyclone Road, Otter Lake, MI 48464.
“It cost us about $800 to go down and get the horse in Illinois by the time you add in all the gas and the motel,” Scott Springsteen said. “Plus we go down to Columbus for four days in April. She has raised every penny on her own – even the money to go down there and pick the horse up.”
Tanger also has created a Facebook page entitled “My Piece of Wild” detailing her experience with Miniconjou. She competes at barrel racing with her mare, Twix, and dreams of moving south one day to compete professionally in rodeos.
“She’s a barrel-racin’ fool,” Scott Springsteen said. “She goes down to (4-H) states, where they can run in four classes. Every year, she’s ribboned in all four classes.”
“They’ve also got colleges out there, places you can go to study horses and horse management, and I’ve been looking at that,” said Tanger Springsteen, noting Great Lakes Equine Dentistry of St. Clair sponsors her as a contestant at the Equine Affaire.
Scott Springsteen, employed by Watertown Township farmer Carl Block, figures his daughter’s already a winner by training and adopting a mustang, and orchestrating that process, including the trip to Ohio for competition.
“Say she wants to become a horse trainer,” Scott Springsteen said. “What better to have on her resume than ‘When I was 15 years old I took a horse that had never been touched and ended up going down to the Equine Affaire’?
“Whether she wins anything or not in Ohio, she made it. She did it. There was a selection process. Everybody didn’t make it. She had to send in all kinds of information about herself, and have recommendations from two different people that are in the equine business.
“I’m a proud daddy.”
Tom Gilchrist is a staff writer for The Advertiser. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.