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Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;


“The Greatest Horse I’ve Ever Trained”  

By Dorinda Troutman, RMR Staff Writer. 

Photos courtesy Tom & Arianne Hagwood.


November 2013 issue  


Tom Hagwood and Merv, the Mustang.



     Tom Hagwood, 50, and his mustang gelding, Merv, 5, won the Mustang Million Legends Division Championship in September, 2013, in Fort Worth , Texas .

     Hagwood has been working with horses and on ranches his entire life. He began training his first colt at age nine in Nevada .

     In 2009, due to the recession and the crash of the horse market, he and his wife Arianne were broke, down to one horse and living off-grid in Idaho . Hagwood decided to enter the Mustang Makeover (a predecessor to Mustang Million), and adopted a four-year old horse named Smarty. After twelve days of training, he was riding Smarty into the mountains every day working cattle.

     “Smarty was never shod, and could go all day, every day,” says Hagwood.

     Hagwood and Smarty won $10,000 in the Mustang Makeover and the family moved to Wyoming on those winnings — where they continue to live — outside of Torrington . Hagwood works cattle and rides Smarty on day jobs at neighboring ranches.

     “A mustang is different,” he explains. “They come off the range an honest horse. They won’t cheat on you; and they are mature. If you get ahead [with training] of a five-year-old mustang, you stay ahead.”

     This year, for the first time, says Hagwood, the Mustang Million competition allowed him to to go to the BLM corrals in Burns, Oregon in person to choose his own horse. Previous competitions had all been by internet auction.

     “This contest is a lot about picking the right horse. I always look for my type of horse. If I like’em, they’ll be a good horse. I really liked the looks of this horse.

     “Merv had been gathered up the previous fall, and had been gelded in late November. I got to study the herd dynamics of his group of geldings moving in a big pen. Merv was up front but not in the lead. He had bite marks and a torn ear from fighting. He showed some bravery.

     “I liked the way he moved — turning easily and balanced on both sides — he moved well. He’s not huge at only 14 hands. He probably weighs about 900 to 950 pounds now. I expect he will grow to 14.2 hands.

     “He may have some Spanish blood — I know that some horses from his herd area do — and he also has cold blood in him. His legs have some feathers and he has tremendous leg bone and nice big feet.

     “He’s a neat looking horse; he’s unique, and frames up nice.”

     Merv was named for an old cow boss of Hagwood’s named Merv Takacs who liked stout-legged sorrels.


     When asked if there were any problems training the wild mustang, Tom replied that while Merv was generally great to train, in the beginning he didn’t trust Hagwood at all.

     “An ol’timer told me a long time ago, ‘Son, do anything you want to a horse as long as you are not hard in your heart.’ I always try to remember that when starting a horse.


Day two Day 15; ride 9.
Day 21; ride 15. Day 78.

     “A couple of days into training, Merv spent the afternoon in three-legged hobbles. I messed with him … blankets, saddles, climbed all over him. I’d ease up when he was really frightened and wouldn’t shove anything down his throat, but he was trembling, just scared.

     “I had an arm over his neck and was just rubbing, scratching him. There finally came the moment when I could feel him relax, just let down. The next day I rode him. We may have had a couple of bad moments, but I never had a bad day with him. He had the mind. I would show him something one day and he would remember it the next.”

     A close-up photo of Merv’s face on the Hagwood’s ranch Facebook page is titled “Eye of a champion.” It was taken just two days after bringing the gelding home and shows what Tom and Arianne thought of the horse from the beginning. 


Day 110. Tom Hagwood and Merv win the Wyoming Mustang Challenge.


     By mid-September, after winning preliminary competitions, and with only 140 days of training, Hagwood and Merv qualified easily for Mustang Million against 1,000 other trainers and their horses. They traveled to Fort Worth to compete over three days against 189 other qualifiers.

     The first two days, trainers completed three preliminary classes that included horsemanship, trail and pattern class. The trainers with the top 20 combined preliminary scores were invited back for the freestyle finals.

     Scores for the finals were awarded for a combination of compulsory maneuvers, horsemanship and artistic interpretation. Hagwood and Merv led the pack after the three preliminary classes. Each competitor began with a clean slate entering the final day. 


Hagwood had fun training Merv. Here they are inside the family home.

     Hagwood and Mervs’ freestyle performance focused mainly on horsemanship maneuvers.

     “Being from Wyoming , I couldn’t bring a lot of props to Texas ,” he said. “When people asked me what I was doing for the finals, I told them I just wanted to show a broke horse.


     “It was a pretty neat deal that little mustang made. I got the check for $211,000 the other day and went down to the bank to pay off the 100 acres next door we bought last spring. After we pay a slice to Uncle Sam, there should be enough left to put some cows on that land,” Hagwood says about his winnings, which included the cash, a new Dodge Truck and a Martin saddle.

     Hagwood said that Merv’s success was due to his fine mind. “He is the greatest horse I’ve ever trained.”


Mustang Milli

on Legends Division Champions Tom Hagwood and Merv. Photo by Horse Poses.


     Hagwood says that next he is going to try and qualify Merv for the two-rein class at National Reined Cow Horse World show in Fort Worth next year. “We’ll work a lot of cows this winter,” he says.

     The two-rein class bridges the gap in training between using a hackamore and a “loose-jawed” spade bridle bit. A bosal is worn under the bridle with mecate reins used in conjunction with the bridle reins. Either the bit or the hackamore are used to signal the horse, with all four reins held in one hand.

     Hagwood is also going to be competing with Smarty in Ranch Horse and Stock Horse events. “He’s just super cowy.

     “All trainers are just waiting for the right horse to fall into their lap. Merv is mine.

     “With Smarty and Merv, I’m pretty well-mounted.”


     Mustang Million was made possible through a partnership with the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the Bureau of Land Management.
     The mission of the Mustang Heritage Foundation and Extreme Mustang Makeover events is to increase the adoption of Mustangs across the country. The Mustang Heritage Foundation created the Extreme Mustang Makeover events to showcase the recognized value of Mustangs through a national training competition. The nonprofit organization also created the Trainer Incentive Program and the youth programs to raise awareness about America ’s Mustangs. For more information, visit


Copyright 2013 Rocky Mountain Rider. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Reproduction of any editorial material, artwork and photos is strictly forbidden without express written permission of the publisher. For information about reprint rights, please contact the editor;

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