Training Mustangs at Wild To Mild Montrose |

Training Mustangs at Wild To Mild Montrose

Challenge brings mustangs and humans together to showcase training efforts

History never ends but it always has a beginning. In 2007, the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program (TIP) began its training efforts for Bureau of Land Management Mustangs slated for new lives in approved homes.

A decade later, Diana Shipley and JoAnn Oatman, two of the program’s trainers from southern Colorado, founded the area’s own associated organization. Called the Montrose Wild To Mild TIP Challenge, the program originally worked strictly with 4-H members.

The two experienced horsewomen are well-acquainted with, and work hard to spread awareness of, Mustangs’ many merits. Oatman adopted a 4-year-old Mustang of her own about six years ago through the TIP program. She rides trails on the now 10-year-old gelding and continues his training for several other disciplines.

Shipley has five Extreme Mustang Makeover horses in her barn — EMM is a separate facet of the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Her Mustangs each excel in their own favorite activities, from sorting and reining to jumping (one horse easily conquers 3-foot high obstacles).

Jerry Bontrager, Montrose Wild to Mild TIP Challenge Champion Adult Champion in 2021, looks more than satisfied with ribbons and the trophy saddle he and his Mustang won in the show. Courtesy photo


Starting with just eight youth participants, the TIP Challenge/4-H link functioned well year-round, including for county fair competition. In 2020, the 4-H state board decided that children working with previously untrained, feral horses was “too volatile” and chose to cut ties with TIP Challenge, said Oatman.

That puzzles the trainer, who said there’d never been a single negative incident during that partnership. Plus, 4-H kids routinely work with untrained cattle, hogs, etc. and likewise unschooled non-feral horses.

Jo Oatman, assistant program director, enjoys riding her Mustang gelding. Courtesy photo

TIP now maintains its focus on youth while having added an adult class to the Challenge.


Oatman advised that the annual Montrose Wild To Mild TIP Challenge begins with matching participants to horses for adoption. Shipley noted that equines in the TIP Challenge program generally live in holding facilities for one to one and a half years after being gathered in the wild.

This year, the BLM will deliver 30 horses, ages 2 and younger, from the large Red Desert Herd Management Area in Wyoming. These equine youngsters will be viewed/selected on a draw system by youth program participants, who are divided into sub-sections of Youth, ages 8-12 and Intermediate, ages 13-18.

Diana Shipley, Montrose Wild to Mild TIP Challenge Program director, shows that Mustangs are versatile for use in parades. Courtesy photo

Thirty more Mustangs, ages 3-6, from the same management area will be likewise available to adults ages 19 (as of TIP Challenge pick-up date) and over.

Ten burros of varying ages will also be up for adoption and TIP Challenge training.

Participating youth and adults have 100-days post pick-up to train their animal for the summer competition. A time commitment is absolutely necessary, along with patience and persistence.

One youth trainer, who became the 2019 Champion in his division, greets a Mustang. Courtesy photo

Because anyone who has ever started a foal or adult equine of any breed knows the intense work involved: becoming familiar with the animal’s individual personality and proceeding accordingly; instilling trust through haltering, grooming, leading, lunging and other ground work; picking up hooves; loading in a trailer; and much more, up to and eventually including saddling/riding.

Shipley and Oatman both emphasized that the Montrose Wild To Mild Challenge is devoted to giving each human/animal team any and all the assistance it needs to succeed. This might be as basic as helping an inexperienced youngster halter train a skittish adoptee or even to merely allow a brush to glide across its side or rump.

From June 3-5, 2022, a three-day weekend camp will be held for all program participants. Five trainers will work with them (“and it is hard work” Shipley said) on any difficulties they might be having, and to fine-tune skills required for the July show.


At that competition, which will be held this year on July 27-28, entrants will vie for cash prizes: the Overall Winner receives $1,000; Reserve wins $750; third place gets $500.

Shipley and Oatman said that in 2020, 28 equines were exhibited. Things picked up more in 2021: out of 44 animals selected for the Challenge, 38 went to the show. An excellent success rate, especially with COVID having slowed down many other activities in our world.

Since the Montrose Wild To Mild TIP Challenge trains for in-hand competition only (not under saddle), it’s divided into three events.

Handling and Conditioning — The animal must be led into the arena’s round pen, unhaltered and turned loose. After a few moments, the handler re-enters the pen, catches and re-halters their equine partner and leads it out. To show acceptance, the horse/burro must stand compliantly while being brushed all over.

The Montrose Wild to Mild TIP Challenge Show displays all equines in-hand only. Youth trainer Macy Sandburg, the 2019 Champion, displays her horse over jumps, a skill that might come in handy when trained under saddle. Courtesy photo

In the arena but outside of the round pen, each handler leads their animal at a trot. Next is a stop, back up seven steps, pick up all four feet. After being led into a trailer, the human must back the equine out.

This is not a timed event; rather, each facet is judged based on full completion. For example, three failed attempts to enter the trailer results in deduction of points.

Trail Class — Eight obstacles are chosen weeks before the show. Entrants don’t know what these will be until the event. Shipley advised that everyone is counseled throughout training sessions and camp to be prepared for anything, such as tarps, balloons, trail hazards… Surprise.

Obstacles challenge both trainers and horses in all three sections of the Montrose Wild to Mild TIP Challenge Show. Youth trainer Jade Masano was the champion entry for 2021. Courtesy photo

Freestyle — The most fun and creative part of the show, this is an opportunity to display practiced skills coupled with individuality. Handlers and horses/burros don costumes to tackle obstacles of their choice. Each entrant performs to his/her pre-selected background music.

Youth trainer Joselyn Frantz, Montrose Wild to Mild TIP Challenge Champion in 2020, enjoys a sunflowery win with her BLM Mustang. Courtesy photo

There’s still time to enter. Anyone wishing more information about participating in the 2022 Montrose Wild To Mild TIP Challenge, or about the program in general, is encouraged to contact Diana Shipley at (970) 275-5482 or JoAnn Oatman at (970) 901-2014. You can also follow the program’s Facebook page at Montrose Wild To Mild TIP Challenge.


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