Area horseman has Major challenge

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For some, the task may seem nearly impossible. But for a Marlette area horseman, the task was not only exciting and thrilling, but a once in a lifetime experience, and a dream come true.
Eli Slabaugh, a horse trainer at Lonesum Dove Stables just west of Marlette, is staying busy this summer, not only training horses, but stepping up to a task many would not want to do.
The farm typically boards 18 horses in the winter and 12 in the summer. Slaubaugh usually trains up to two horses at a time, sometimes as many as four during busy times. In addition, he now has the 100-day challenge with Major to accomplish.
The Mayville area resident is among a handful of trainers across the country that have been selected to train a Mustang – from the wild, in 100 days. The competition, which will be culminated in Fort Worth, Texas in September, is known as the Mustang Makeover Challenge. On September 10, 11 and 12, Slabaugh will compete with other trainers for top honors. At the end of the show, the Mustangs will be sold to the highest bidders.
“I was so excited when I got the email that I had been selected,” Slabaugh said with a wide smile. “I about fell off my chair when I heard the news. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was so happy and couldn’t wait to get my horse! I started emailing some friends of mine to let them know.”
The owner of Slabaugh’s Training and Farrier Services said a buddy from West Branch (who also got as wild horse) of his told him about it and he started the application process. He said there are just three farms in Michigan that he knows of that have been selected for the Challenge.
“There was a lot of requirements to meet,” he explained. “We had to have six-foot everything, pens, a 10 x 12 run-in, a stall strong enough to hold him. They can come any time to check on him, to make sure everything is ok. If they saw something they didn’t like, they can take him at any time.”
After he found out he had been selected, Slabaugh said he had two weeks to get everything ready. He learned in late April that he had been chosen and quickly went to work. He had the horse by May 2 nd. The animal came from the wild in Oklahoma and was shipped from Nebraska, with no input from Slabaugh, The four-year old horse, along with other Mustangs, was drawn from a hat and designated to come to Sanilac County.
The horse trainer went to social media for help in naming his wild mustang and came up with the name of Major. Slabaugh said there were several good nominations but in the end, Major was the winner.
Slabaugh used to train at a farm in Imlay City. He came to Marlette two and a half years ago and has been kept busy ever since. He has been training horses since he was 18 years old and learned by watching other trainers, learning techniques and building relationships. The 40-year old trainer has been working his magic professionally for the past 15 years.
“I love to take a horse and put him in a round pen. I can tell within a half hour what I have to work with. Then I go from there. There are times you really need to work hard. Once you make some progress, you just go from there. When I first start out, I ask an animal to do something very softly and gently. Nothing harsh. I just love doing this kind of work.”
Slabaugh said he is very excited with the progress of Major. “We have a lot of ground work done. He is doing excellent. I am very pleased. To catch him when I first got him, I spent two hours trying to get near him. I had to get close to him to be able to touch him. He didn’t like it at first. It took me two hours to touch him and when I finally did, it felt very, very good to me. I was very happy.”
Major has come along nicely, considering he was still in the wild three months ago. Now, he follow’s Slabaugh around the farm like a pet. When not training with his new master, the Mustang has been trail riding and competed in cattle sorting competitions, winning an event in Vassar a couple of weeks ago.
The horse whisperer said it is important to work with Major on a regular basis. “We don’t spend hours and hours, rather we spend a few minutes and go do something else and then come back and do it all over again. We do a little bit every day. The more you work with him, the better he wants to be with me and do what I ask. I just love him.”
During his time training, Major is worked on a lead rope with Slabaugh speaking voice and hand commands. Later in the training, he enters a round training ring where he has become familiar with all sorts of distractions that have helped him become broke to lead and ride. The horse has been trained to ride and was a participant in last week’s parade in Marlette.
It is clear a very close bond has been created in a very short amount of time between the Mustang and his trainer. Although Major will be up for auction later this fall, Slabaugh said you never know, “Major may just come back home with me. I love this horse!”
Note: The Tribune-Recorder-Leader will continue to follow this story, doing an update prior to the departure for Texas later this fall, as well as an article and photos from the experience in Fort Worth.

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