The Mustang: America's Baroque Horse

A feral stallion is first recognized for his stellar hooves, then his dressage prowess.
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When a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Mustang born wild in the New Pass/Ravenswood, Nevada, herd was rounded up and adopted in 2001, no one could have predicted he would become Dressage at Devon’s Reserve Champion Stallion nine years later. His new owner, Dr. Rick Redden of the International Equine Podiatry Center, was mostly interested in the young stallion’s hooves. Padré was part of a multi-year program to study feral horses and the result of breeding them to domestic horses with hoof abnormalities.

Credit: Chuck Swan, Swan Studios LLC Now that Padré is the 2010 Dressage at Devon Reserve Grand Champion Stallion, Gruber's goal is for the pair to return under saddle.

Credit: Chuck Swan, Swan Studios LLC Now that Padré is the 2010 Dressage at Devon Reserve Grand Champion Stallion, Gruber's goal is for the pair to return under saddle.

During Padré’s five-year stint at the Versailles, Kentucky, center, a woman named Patti Gruber often watched the young Mustang and commented on his lovely movement to Dr. Redden.

In 2007, Gruber got a call Dr. Redden’s office asking if she wanted to take the stallion, because they wanted to give her the Mustang—for free. “Doc is one of those people who has a great knowledge of what makes up a good horse, and he just raved about Padré,” says Gruber. “I really trusted him, even though the last thing I needed at the time was another horse.” The decision was made and shortly afterward Padré was headed to a facility to acclimate to stabling, on his way to a life with Gruber. “I never questioned my decision a day since,” she adds. 

Padré spent 30 days with a Western trainer to get him working. The transition went off without a hitch for the 15.1-hand stallion, despite the fact that the barn’s only other residents were mares. He then moved to Gruber’s Wayfarer Farm in Wauconda, Illinois. The first weekend there, Padré did a dressage clinic and three weeks after that, a schooling show. After just four weeks with Gruber and a little over two months under saddle, the Mustang won his lower-level classes with a 65 and 67 percent, taking high score of the division. A year later, the pair continued their success as they earned a 75.5 percent at the Introductory Level at the schooling show in Bristol, Wisconsin. 

In 2010, after a whirlwind spring of performing a breed demonstration at the Equine Affaire in Ohio and riding in a Steffen Peters clinic, Gruber and Padré came home “burned out.” So she registered the stallion with the American Buckskin Registry Association and went to a halter show. After taking Reserve Grand Champion Stallion overall, friend Jennifer Kotylo encouraged her to enter a dressage sport horse in-hand class. Padré came home from the Silverwood Farm show in Camp Lake, Wisconsin, with a 75 percent. After calling Kotylo (who is also a U.S. Dressage Federation “L” Education Program graduate), the advice was clear: “Set your sights on Devon!” Unfortunately, the closing date for entries had passed, but Gruber e-mailed the entry secretary, asking if they would accept her scores for next year. The reply: “If you got a 75 percent, we would love to have you come this year.” Shocked, Gruber was unsure about accepting the offer since they only had a month to prepare. Then, she thought: This is the opportunity of a lifetime. Let’s do it! As they say, the rest is history. A month later, the pair arrived at Dressage at Devon in Devon, Pennsylvania. “It was the most incredible experience I had ever asked for,” says Gruber. “It was my first time at the show grounds and I had this idea that there would be green fields and everything would look like a movie set. In reality, it was very comfortable, so the pomp and circumstance just melted away—not that I wasn’t scared out of my mind.” Gruber notes that the other handlers had no airs. “I never expected to have that amount of acceptance.”

Her Mustang went on to win the 4-year-old and older in-hand stallion class and was Reserve Grand Champion Stallion overall. Gruber’s excitement over the wins was about more than just a ribbon. “It was a victory lap for everyone who is never going to own the top horse. It was for everyone that follows their dream, at whatever level.” 

After returning home, Gruber started hearing from Padré’s new fans. “I started getting e-mails from people around the country saying he encouraged them to do things they never thought possible,” she says. All the while, the stallion was out in her backyard pasture rolling in mud. 

Gruber’s goal is to go back to Devon with Padré in the under-saddle classes, but she has no plans to breed or sell him. “There are enough unwanted horses out there,” she says. “I will keep Padré forever. He is one of those once-in-a-lifetime horses that I will never replace. There isn’t a dollar amount that would get me to sell him.”

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