Ariana Sakaris and her Mustang Wild Heart.
Photo by Matt Dixon
Former Potomac resident Ariana Sakaris and her horse Wild Heart won Reserve Champion at the Kentucky Extreme Mustang Makeover July 6-8 in Lexington, Ky.
It was a dream come true for Sakaris who said she had wanted to do a Mustang Makeover for a number of years and finally did it. And it was no easy task.
“There really is no other competition like it,” she said. “It really tests how you can communicate [with the horse].”
Sakaris, 29, started riding when she was five, her mother was her first instructor. After her family moved to Potomac she rode at Potomac Glen Riding School.
After a few falls, she said, she decided she wanted to learn how to work with horses, how to get them to do what you want them to do.
“You can’t force a thousand pounds,” she said. “Horses are extremely sensitive animals, their sensitivity is linked to survival.”
She graduated from Wootton High School and went to Penn State where she majored in bio-behaviors. Though she now lives in Lexington, “my base is always at home in Potomac,” she said.
The Kentucky Extreme Mustang Makeover consisted of three phases, Sakaris said.
“In phase one you are on the ground with the horse, putting it in a trailer, brushing it, walking with it,” she said. “The judges are looking for any hesitation, is the horse relaxed, obedient? Phase two is an obstacle course. There the judges are looking to see if the horse is willing and trusting you. Phase three is a riding pattern. It shows that you and the horse are comfortable in the saddle.”
After the initial competition the top 10 riders and their horses do another ride, this time with a music and a theme. Sakaris chose “Beauty and the Beast” because, she said, at the beginning of the story it says ‘at the beginning we were barely even friends, then one bends,’ I [bent].”
Mustangs are wild horses, descended originally from horses brought to this continent by the Spanish. Today, about 30,000 Mustangs roam free in 11 western U.S. states.
According to the Oklahoma State University website, the name mustang comes from the Spanish word “mesteno” or “monstenco” meaning wild or stray.
For the Makeover, Sakaris had just 100 days to work with the horse she was randomly assigned and had never seen before.
“You don’t have any say over the horse you get,” she said.
Sakaris said she hoped to get a gray mare and was delightfully surprised when she opened her assignment folder and read “five year old gray mare.”
“I named her Wild Heart, she was so explosive,” Sakaris said. “The name reflected who she was, a wild horse.”
Sakaris said she has spent hours and hours with horses trying to understand them and said the lessons she learned from horses can be applied to people.
She now uses her experience to teach clinics to riders and trainers who want to improve their relationship with horses and works as a motivational speaker.
“I talk to people about goals and dreams,” she said. “Everybody hits a spot where they want to give up.”