Summer Brennan has been around horses her entire life. She grew up at Little Brook Farm, the oldest horse rescue in the country, tucked away in the mountains of Old Chatham, New York.
"I've been riding since before I was born," she says. "My mom rode when she was pregnant with me, and I've been around them always. I got my first official pony when I was two. I've been doing this forever."
So when she decided to enter a competition to train a wild Mustang, she knew, in her heart, that she would fall in love with the horse before they even met.
A face for a cause
Summer has been advocating for Mustangs for a long time, and the entering the competition "Extreme Mustang Makeover" was another way, she thought, to get her message heard. It was quite a challenge: She would have 90 days to train a wild Mustang. She would enter into a competition to show off her work, and at the end of that period, her horse would be auctioned off.
Summer says that when she first met her horse, he was so wild he had to be led through a chute to his trailer. But she was right, it was love at first sight for her. She named him "Amado," which means "Beloved" in Spanish.
Over the next three months, Summer, Amado, and the volunteers at Little Brook Farm helped transform Amado from a skittish, scared wild horse to a beloved ambassador and friend. Summer thought it might be nice to take pictures of Amado throughout his training and post them on the farm's Facebook page. Before long, Amado had a loyal following.
"People were just really fascinated by the whole process," she says. "They got kind of addicted to it. If I didn't post pictures until late in the evening, I would get emails from people I didn't even know, saying 'Where are the pictures? I look at them every night before I go to bed,' or 'I look at them every morning while I drink my coffee!'"
What people may not know about Mustang roundups
Summer was pleased that her work was attracting attention to her cause. Coming from a horse-loving background, she knows all too well the plight of Mustangs in America. She explains that the Bureau of Land Management rounds up wild horses every year to try and control the population. "It's intended to be in the horse's best interest," she says, "Because they believe that there are too many out there, that they will starve and such. But it's the way they round them up that we don't agree with."
"They chase them for miles and miles in helicopters, which terrifies them, and a lot of horses get injured because they'll run them for miles and miles over rocky terrain. Of course, once they're in the corrals, they panic and try to escape and get hurt," she says.
Summer, her family, and other people at Little Brook Farm advocate more humane roundup methods, such as bait traps, wherein horses are led to a specific area with salt, water, or some other tantalizing thing, and eventually are sealed within an enclosure. It's a way that Summer says is cost-effective as well as gentler on the horses.
For now, though, volunteers at Little Brook Farm organize horseback riding lessons, rehabilitation and training for rescued horses, and enrichment programs to help people learn more about horse-related issues and improve their own lives. Little Brook Farms is committed to fighting against the slaughter of horses, and many of their own animals were saved from such a fate. When Amado became part of their 70-plus horse family, those concerned about wild Mustangs quickly became attached to his story and his relationship with Summer.
Becoming part of the family
Despite the attention and affection Amado attracted during his training, as the days wore on Summer knew she was about to face a difficult decision. By the rules of the "Extreme Mustang Makeover" contest, Amado had to be put up for auction. But Summer didn't want to let him go. She wrote letters, promising to raise money to purchase the horse herself, but the rules remained strict. Fans from around the country sent donations and support to Little Brook Farm. As the auction approached, Summer knew she had a whole community of volunteers, friends, and even perfect strangers who wanted to see her keep Amado by her side.
The day of the competition, Summer says, was terrifying. Amado went up for auction, with Summer by his side. The bids escalated quickly, and Summer held her number high. It was all over in about thirty seconds. She won. Amado was hers for good.
So many people had followed Amado's journey, Summer decided to enter some of the thousands of pictures taken during the training time into a contest on the site Photobucket. She described her time with Amado, his rise to relative horse fame, and the drama of nearly losing him after so much work. The prize was $25,000: Enough to make improvements to the farm and its programs. She won, and now she and her mother are looking forward to putting the money to good use at Little Brook Farm.
And Amado, of course, continues to be a star.
"I wanted to do anything that would get people to be interested in Mustangs," Summer says. "This is unique, because it's not just someone yelling about problems. It's a chance for people to see horses as individuals."