Most Viewed Stories
Hallwood sisters shine in mustang competition
With cash in their pockets and ribbons on their dashboards, two Hallwood sisters returned home this week as recognized mustang tamers.
Sierra Sawaya, 18, was named National Grand Champion at the 2012 Supreme Extreme Mustang Makeover youth competition last week in Fort Worth, Texas. Her 17-year-old sister, Mikaela Sawaya, was awarded ninth place among 60 competitors.
"Shasta was amazing," Sierra said of her yearling mustang. "She put on her game face, we went into the arena and she was all showoff."
The victories result from four months of hard work. Sierra and Mikaela brought home the wild mustangs in May and started with goals as simple as making the horses comfortable with human touch.
By early September, the mustangs responded to basic commands, and Shasta was taught to sit in an armchair and step her giant equine frame into a small wooden wagon. Amira let Mikaela walk her backward by pulling on her tail and would lay nonchalantly on the ground as her teen trainer cracked a whip near her flank.
At the competition, they were tested on walking, trotting and loping on a lead, as well as generic horsemanship maneuvers and everyday tasks. But the real opportunity to shine was in the freestyle event, a 31⁄2-minute "do anything to music" set.
"It was hard not to look around at everybody else's horse and think, 'Are they going to beat me?'" Mikaela said. "I learned just to show my horse the best I could, and win or lose, be happy with it and my horse."
For her success, Sierra won $17,000, including the $15,000 grand prize. Mikaela won $2,200.
Perhaps most impressive to the home-schooled sisters and even the judges, they said, was they were the only youth without their own trainers. Other competitors used professionals to help halter break or trick train their mustangs, but the Sawayas, who train people's problem horses around Yuba County, did it all on their own.
"It would have been great to work under a trainer, but I think I learned so much more this way," Mikaela said. "I had to buckle down and learn from mistakes, and I had to really think it through myself."
The Bureau of Land Management and the Mustang Heritage Foundation hold the competition every year to showcase the beauty and trainability of the rugged horses. During the adult competition, trainers have less than 100 days to gentle, halter break and saddle train 3-year-old mustangs, but this is the first year it offered a youth category.
Sierra and Mikaela plan to give their mustangs a well-deserved break and then continue training and eventually sell them. Both plan to enter the Mustang Makeover next year — Sierra as an adult and Mikaela as a youth — but for now, the girls are still reeling from their success.
"I guess we are getting better and better as we go," said Sierra, who began working as a farrier after earning her high school diploma. "I knew I went there to win and I was training to win the whole time, but I didn't know I would."
CONTACT Ashley Gebb at firstname.lastname@example.org or 749-4783. Find her on Facebook at /ADagebb or on Twitter at @ADagebb.