LEXINGTON, Ky. —James Duffey, 18, and his American Mustang, "Star Spangled Dunes," accomplished their goals for the 2018 Extreme Mustang Makeover.

The event was held at the Kentucky Horse Park in late June with the competing horses going to new homes at the conclusion.

Duffey competed last year in the youth division with a younger horse. The youth only do groundwork with their young charges.

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Duffey  said, "I knew it would be difficult switching from the Youth division to the Adult division this year by adding the saddle training on top of all the groundwork I did last year. My primary goal was producing a really solid respectable horse and giving my horse the best possible home in the auction at the end of the contest."

The Extreme Mustang Makeover is a unique contest as each trainer starts with an untouched wild mustang. The event organizer, the Mustang Heritage Foundation, takes it a step further by selling all of the competing horses, from the champion down, during an open bid auction immediately after the champion is crowned.

Duffey has already helped train several horses, including Guinevere, his Youth competition mustang yearling from 2017. Duffey prepared for the Makeover on two fronts, the actual horse training, and the marketing to find potential auction bidders and eventually a buyer in Lexington. He used daily posts to his training page on Facebook and regular updates to the group competition page to make contact with potential adopters.

What pushed Duffey and Dune into the top 10 of sale horse prices was his visit to Tractor Supply. Duffey said, "Tractor Supply, like other pet food retailers, has a friendly pet on a leash policy. Last year I took my yearling, Gwen, into one of their stores and it went well. It got people excited. This year I decided to try it with Dune. I called ahead and arranged it with the manager. We set it up for me to ride Dune into the store, buy a soda and ride back out. The cashier was helpful and Dune was so well behaved. Once we had the video edited short enough my boss at Legacy Riding Stables, Brittani Bojum, helped me share it with other equestrian groups. Eventually, it reached 37,000 facebook views. It showed how quiet and trusting Dune is in a way that people found interesting."

The competition started in February when the trainers picked up their horses in Tennessee. Duffey described Dune trying to climb out of the loading chute by trying to go over the horse in front of him. Duffey first rode his strawberry roan just 35 days later in Sayreville, N.J. in the Capik Nature Preserve. He said, "That was my first time being the first rider on a horse that has never been ridden before. It seems funny now, how nervous I was then. I've ridden Dune so many times, leading dozens of trail rides at Riding Stables, doing the Sayreville Memorial Parade, riding in the Nine Pines Show, and riding him through Tractor Supply, I know how calm he is and we have really learned to work together." All of that experience paid off at the Kentucky show.

Duffey's performance during the Makeover was in line with his goal, starting out at 25th in the Handling and Conditioning class, he moved up to 19th in the Mustang Maneuvers class and then 17th in the Trail class, for a combined overall finish of 19th place out of 43 competitors. Duffey was the seventh highest placing rookie and the fifth highest placing "Young Gun" in the 18 to 21-year-old group.

When it came time for the auction the horses that did not make the top 10 in the competition sold Saturday afternoon in hip number order. Dune was number 27. Several of the early auction horses did not sell initially, some of the trainers bid to buy their horses, and other sale prices were low. The Makeover is a fundraiser for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and getting the selling prices of the horses up helps the organization raise awareness for the mustangs. "I recognized that the auction was going to be my only opportunity to present any kind of freestyle and really show off what Dune is about, which is sweet and quiet. I gave the auctioneer an info sheet with a few short statements of things he wouldn't know that would keep the information personal to Dune and highlight my training style and his accomplishments. I knew that this was our last chance to show off, so we did. I walked under him, spun all the way around in the saddle, and cantered figure eights. I kept my focus on him and we had a great time. It seemed like it took a long time, but on the video, it was over in a few minutes. In the end, there were enough bidders to get him up to as good as some of the top 10 horse prices," said Duffey.

On Sunday the new owners drove "Dune" the 30 minutes to his new home in Lexington, Ky., a multi-acre farm of grass paddocks and friendly horses. Duffey said, "It was a lot easier to let go of Dune because he is going to such a good home. We are keeping in touch and I hope to visit The Extreme Mustang Makeover is a great community and I look forward to competing next year at the Dream Park in New Jersey."

The Mustang Heritage Foundation will make their formal announcement of event locations and dates in early October. Until then Duffey said he is preparing Legacy's newly minted drill team for an August performance and beginning preparations for his first ride on Guinevere in October of this year.

Follow Duffey at www.facebook.com/jamesred.duffey

For more information on the competition see www.MustangHeritageFoundation.org or www.ExtremeMustangMakeover.com

related story: N.J. Native Wins At Extreme Mustang Makeover

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