Ann and Woodrow competing at the Maryland Horse Trials over the summer. photo by Erin Gilmore Photography

Reader Submitted Story: Ann and the Mustang Mission
by Stephanie Stone

Ann Hanlin lost her heart horse Checko-Deco of 20 years in January 2018. He’d been with her from middle school through the birth of her first son.

One month later, there was a wild mustang from Wyoming in her round pen in Harford County. Woodrow had been a band stallion two months before. “It took me eight days just to touch his nose… bribing him with alfalfa!” she said. Three months later, he was under saddle, and four years later, Woodrow is Ann’s mustang “ambassador.” He events at the Novice level and has 3,000+ followers on his Facebook page: SBF Mustang Eventing. Ann is beyond proud of Woodrow stating, “He’s educating the East Coast, showing that mustangs can be competitive in an English discipline.” Ann added, “This year he qualified for the Area II Championships and the Waredaca Classic Three-day Event.”

What should people know before they get into mustangs? Ann laughed, “They’re addicting!” For her, the magic is in making the bond. “I just love the gentling process,” she said. The first challenge was to gain Woodrow’s trust through kindness. When respect became an issue, a Wyoming mustang savvy friend told her, “Ya gotta be the boss mare!” Ann added, “It’s a fine line” but makes for a rich friendship. Ann says that as bonded as she was with Checko, her bond with Woodrow is different, maybe deeper. “You’re the first thing they’ve ever truly trusted,” she explained.

What else should people know? “They are super versatile,” Ann stated. “I have a friend who fox-hunts hers; others barrel race, trail ride, do dressage. Woodrow’s son, McCray, trail rides, events, does Western dressage and gives beginner lessons.”

Ann’s mustang mission includes gentling and finding homes for wild ones out of holding. She trained and re-homed eight last year. “Eight wild ones, plus my kids and family, plus planning the first TIP Challenge in Maryland… I was pretty burnt out. I promised Woodrow that 2022 was his year, so this year I’ve competed him and gentled only three wild ones.”

The TIP (Trainer’s Incentive Program, not to be confused with the Jockey Club’s Thoroughbred Incentive Program) is another big part of Ann’s mission. Ann was approved by both the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that governs all things mustang) and MHF (Mustang Heritage Foundation) to run Maryland’s first TIP Challenge in 2021. This year’s challenge in Harford County was her second time hosting.

TIP applicants and their facilities are also vetted by BLM and MHF to become TIP trainers and then divided into adult and youth (ages 8-17) divisions. The BLM sends Ann a list of horses with the barest details: gender, number of swirls (a new parameter to many of us back east), markings, color, herd management area. Trainers pick their top 10, Ann does some matching magic and, presto, you now own the horse of your dreams, sight unseen!

To those of us used to careful inspection, expensive vetting, and trial periods before buying, it may sound like madness. As does pairing totally wild horses with, in some cases, children as young as eight. To the first, Ann said, without hesitation, “You end up with the horse you need.” (I guess this means that any horse can teach any person something.) And how about the wild-yearlings-with-kids issue? “It wasn’t my idea,” Ann laughed, adding, “but the kids do a great job—It’s their innocence” that really helps bond with the horses.

11 year-old Dakota Soethe-Auer of Churchville with mustang Arwen at the 2022 Maryland TIP Challenge. photo by Colleen McIntyre Photography

The next part of TIP is really the challenge: new trainers have 90-100 days from pick-up to get their wild ones show ready. The show consists of conditioning and handling, a trail class, and a 3.5-minute freestyle to music. All classes are in hand. It sounds like an unattainable goal, but I attended the TIP Challenge here in Harford County in September, and I saw the magic first hand. Sure, there was some skittering, and a few refusals, but the majority were quiet and obedient and turned out nicely. Over “bridges” they walked, through pools of water; they submitted to being “groomed” all over, and trotted through serpentines and backed through ground poles shaped like L’s. Pretty impressive for only 90 days of training!

The TIP Challenge here in Maryland has picked up steam in the two years Ann’s been heading it up: in 2021, 18 trainers applied, 13 mustangs picked up, and 10 competed. This year: 41 trainers applied, 28 were picked up, and 23 competed. The word is getting around about these versatile animals. Ann said, “I’ve already started planning for another great challenge… mark your calendars for September 1 & 2, 2023.”

More details will be posted on the Maryland Mustang Tip Challenge Facebook page.