Run­ning Wild

Madi­son Sham­baugh helps horses and humans im­prove their com­mu­ni­ca­tion— lessons she’s learned from her mus­tangs.

Horse & Rider - - Contents - BY ABI­GAIL BOATWRIGHT

‘Mus­tang Maddy’ uses what she learns from wild horses to teach com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Fresh off teach­ing a week­long wild horse gen­tling clinic at a mus­tang sanc­tu­ary in Colorado, Madi­son Sham­baugh re­turned to cell-phone re­cep­tion. For the last two-and-a-half years, the clin­i­cian has been tour­ing North Amer­ica to teach clin­ics with her band of well­trained mus­tangs—and a cou­ple of ze­bras. To­day, she’s taking a break at her home base in Ridg­way, Colorado, and re­flect­ing on her whirlwind jour­ney, from Mid­west­ern horse-crazy kid to pre-phar­macy stu­dent to be­com­ing “Mus­tang Maddy.”

Learn­ing the Hard Way

Born and raised in north­east­ern In­di­ana, Madi­son is the mid­dle child of three sis­ters. Her older sis­ter started taking rid­ing lessons and even­tu­ally Madi­son was old enough to join her. Grow­ing up, the Sham­baughs split time be­tween In­di­ana, where Madi­son’s dad, Mark, worked, and Colorado, where the fam­ily loved spend­ing time in the moun­tains. In both lo­ca­tions, Madi­son grav­i­tated to­ward horses, and by age 10, she’d bugged her par­ents enough to get a horse of her own. But it was far from be­ing the fairy­tale she’d hoped for.

“The first horse we got had tons of is­sues—I got bucked off all the time,” Madi­son says. “So my dad got me a green-broke 2-year-old, but she was a flashy Paint and that’s why I wanted her. She liked to go fast, and I thought bar­rel rac­ing would be good for her. So that was an­other dis­as­ter.”

Fi­nally, Madi­son hooked up with a trained bar­rel horse named Joker. He could win at the local bar­rel race… if you could get him in the trailer… and once at the show, if you could get him in the pen.

“I had peo­ple telling me to blind­fold him, to chase him with plas­tic bags— just do any­thing to get him into the arena,” Madi­son re­calls. “Fi­nally, I’d had enough. I re­ally wanted to un­der­stand what the prob­lem was, be­cause I was pretty sure it was me. Once I took re­spon­si­bil­ity for that and in­vested in my ed­u­ca­tion, that’s when I started to see re­sults. And that was the be­gin­ning of ev­ery­thing.”

From a young age, Madi­son had de­voured ev­ery book or video she could find about horses and horse­man­ship. She was in­spired by lib­erty work de­mon­stra­tions by Stacy West­fall and Guy McLean. She started rid­ing even more—green horses, colts, pro­ject horses—ev­ery­thing she could climb aboard. By her ju­nior year of high school, she was taking in horses for train­ing.

“I’ve al­ways been fas­ci­nated by hu­man and horse be­hav­ior: Know­ing why horses do what they do, why peo­ple do what they do, and what drives them,” Madi­son says. “The bumpy start I had—I think that caused me to look more closely at horse be­hav­ior.”

Mak­ing Con­nec­tions

Madi­son en­rolled in equine science at Colorado State Univer­sity, in­tend­ing to be­come a horse trainer. But af­ter her first se­mes­ter, bat­tling self-doubt in her abil­ity to make it as a trainer, she de­cided to pur­sue a more tra­di­tional ca­reer—with horses as a hobby—and en­rolled at Pur­due Univer­sity in In­di­ana to study pre-phar­macy.

In 2014, Madi­son broke her leg, and she was laid up in bed for months.

While she was re­cov­er­ing, she au­dited sev­eral train­ing clin­ics held in her area. Us­ing the study­ing skills she’d ac­quired dur­ing her rig­or­ous phar­macy cour­ses, she ap­plied those tech­niques to the sub­ject she was most pas­sion­ate about— horse train­ing.

“It be­gan with see­ing the com­mon threads,” Madi­son says. “One of the

ways I learned in pre-phar­macy school was by find­ing con­nec­tions instead of try­ing to mem­o­rize a bunch of dif­fer­ent vari­ables. So I’d make con­cept maps to vis­ually see how things were con­nected. I did the same thing with horses. I drew out a con­cept map with five bub­bles com­ing out of horse train­ing prin­ci­ples. And the for­mula checked out across ev­ery pro­gram.”

These early dis­cov­er­ies in the im­por­tance of con­nec­tions laid a foun­da­tion for the prin­ci­ples upon which Madi­son built her horse-train­ing phi­los­o­phy.

Soon, Madi­son changed course again, fo­cus­ing back on horse train­ing. She’s now pur­su­ing a de­gree in com­mu­ni­ca­tion from Pur­due, an area of study that helps with both horse and hu­man in­ter­ac­tions. She felt that by only work­ing with horses, she was treat­ing symp­toms and miss­ing a way to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence in a horse’s life.

“Instead of only train­ing horses, I wanted to train peo­ple, and study­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tions re­ally helps,” Madi- son says. “It turns out there are many par­al­lels be­tween hu­man-to-hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tion and horse-to-hu­man com­mu­ni­ca­tions.”

Launch­ing ‘Mus­tang Maddy’

In 2013, 18-year-old Madi­son got her first wild horse, plan­ning to even­tu­ally com­pete in an Ex­treme Mus­tang Makeover. In these com­pe­ti­tions, each trainer se­lects and gen­tles a wild mus­tang in 100 days to ul­ti­mately showcase each horse’s abil­i­ties in an ex­cit­ing arena per­for­mance, with the goal of en­cour­ag­ing wild horse adop­tions.

Madi­son honed and so­lid­i­fied her philoso­phies about com­mu­ni­cat­ing with horses while con­tin­u­ing to train dif­fi­cult projects. In 2015, she en­tered her first Ex­treme Mus­tang Makeover, win­ning the Young Guns, Rookie, and Freestyle cham­pion ti­tles. Her bri­dle­less freestyle video went vi­ral af­ter Stacy West­fall shared it, ul­ti­mately open­ing doors for Madi­son to tour and con­duct clin­ics. She’s com­peted ev­ery year since, earn­ing the 2016 Freestyle cham­pion ti­tle and the 2017 Mus­tang Magic cham­pion ti­tle.

“I love their raw, un­tamed spirit,” Madi­son says of the mus­tangs. “And you have to have so much more sen­si­tiv­ity in the an­i­mal—men­tally, emo­tion­ally, and phys­i­cally.”

Madi­son says wild horses are a chal­lenge, but she re­spects their raw en­ergy and what they’ve taught her.

“Mus­tangs and ze­bras are equines with very strong in­stincts,” Madi­son says. “I learned a lot about fear, how an­i­mals process fear, how we store it in our bod­ies, how to pre­vent trauma, and how to help re­solve trauma once it’s oc­curred. Work­ing with these an­i­mals caused me to be so much more sen­si­tive to any changes in their en­ergy and in my own en­ergy.”

With cre­den­tials ce­mented in train­ing all kinds of horses, she be­gan to fo­cus her ef­forts on both horses and humans.

Madi­son has a doc­u­men­tary film pro­duced about how she trained her

mus­tang, Amira, with­out any ropes or tack. She’s been shar­ing her in­sights about train­ing on her Face­book sub­scrip­tion group, where she posts videos sev­eral times a week and hosts live Q&A ses­sions. Through these av­enues, she’s gained a fol­low­ing on­line. Her Face­book page has 93,000 fol­low­ers, and she has nearly 19,000 on In­sta­gram. Her Face­book videos have re­cieved more than 15 mil­lion views.

In 2015, when an op­por­tu­nity arose to hold a clinic on the East Coast, she jumped at the chance. But it was only the be­gin­ning of a very long road trip.

Hit­ting the Road

Over the last two-plus years, Madi­son trav­eled from In­di­ana to the East Coast and then headed west. She stayed at her par­ents’ place in Colorado for a month, then toured the North­west and on into Canada be­fore re­turn­ing to In­di­ana. Then last win­ter, she rented a place in Ari­zona for three months. In all, she toured 12 states and Canada.

“I re­ally didn’t have a home; I was to­tally liv­ing on the road,” Madi­son says.

Away from home, she mainly stays in her liv­ing-quar­ters trailer, or in spare guest rooms of gra­cious clinic hosts. The road presents unique chal­lenges, when you’re trav­el­ing with up to five mus­tangs and two ze­bras. While it’s an ad­ven­ture see­ing new lo­ca­tions all the time, Madi­son says just ac­tu­ally load­ing the horses can take 45 min­utes.

“Liv­ing with horses on the road, there’s a lot of plan­ning to keep track of, and it’s hard to have any kind of re­la­tion­ship—whether it’s ro­man­tic or just friend­ships,” Madi­son says. “You’re never home, never in one area long enough. It’s harder than you might ex­pect.”

As her tour sched­ule filled and lo­gis­tics grew more com­pli­cated, Madi­son brought on a manager, and in­terns help share the work­load. To­day, she has five staff mem­bers.

“It re­ally takes a team of peo­ple work­ing to­gether to put a vi­sion like this into prac­tice,” Madi­son says.

Long­time friend Al­li­son Young has col­lab­o­rated with Madi­son for sev­eral years and went with her on por­tions of her tour.

“She al­ways tries to change things up or try some­thing new, and she al­ways talks me into try­ing new things,” Al­li­son says. “I think it’s re­ally ex­cit­ing to be around her.”

Be­com­ing a Role Model

Claire Walsh be­gan fol­low­ing Madi­son’s work in 2015, at­tend­ing one of her clin­ics in the fall of 2016. Last sum­mer, Claire in­terned with Madi­son, and she counts the time as a huge op­por­tu­nity for learn­ing.

“It was a re­ally great ex­pe­ri­ence for me as a young per­son, just try­ing to learn about work­ing with horses, dis­cov­er­ing your­self, and ex­plor­ing your bound­aries,” the Texas A&M bio­med­i­cal sci­ences sopho­more says. “She was a great men­tor—still is—and I re­ally ad­mire her.”

The young bucka­roo with blue eyes and blonde hair has carved a place in the clin­i­cian world be­side men who are decades older than her. Her sen­si­tiv­ity to­ward horses and her savvy to­ward hu­man in­ter­ac­tion have set her apart from her peers in a unique way. Her calm, con­fi­dent man­ner as she strives to un­der­stand the horse res­onates with her au­di­ence.

“There’s a lot of young women who come up to my booth at horse fairs and tell their sto­ries about how they were in­spired by the work I’m do­ing with mus­tangs and how it gives them courage to see an­other girl they can re­late to, out here do­ing this,” Madi­son says. “I’m very pas­sion­ate about in­spir­ing and em­pow­er­ing other women. It’s a re­ally neat op­por­tu­nity and a very large re­spon­si­bil­ity, and I hope to build pro­grams to help them.”

Through­out her clin­ics, like one held in Mid­loth­ian, Texas, last fall, Madi­son not only demon­strates her com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the horses them­selves, but while teach­ing, keeps up an easy di­a­logue with the horse han­dlers as she guides them through work­ing with their own horses. She’s ap­proach­able and pos­i­tive, and at­ten­dees re­spond pos­i­tively to her tute­lage.

“Madi­son’s just re­ally hon­est, and she al­ways goes out of her way to help peo­ple and help horses,” Claire says. “She’s the same pos­i­tive per­son to be around all the time. No mat­ter what’s go­ing on, she has a good out­look on things, and she’s al­ways look­ing at the other side of things, not fo­cus­ing on the neg­a­tive. She’s not go­ing to be beat down by some­thing.”

When asked for ad­vice on fol­low­ing her foot­steps, Madi­son ex­tols the value of hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence, se­lect­ing good clients—and most of all—main­tain­ing a cu­rios­ity for ed­u­ca­tion.

“De­velop a be­gin­ner’s mind­set—never stop learn­ing,” Madi­son says. “Try to learn from ev­ery horse, and al­ways seek out learn­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties from other suc­cess­ful train­ers, whether it be a train­ing book/video/course or an in­tern­ship pro­gram.”

Both women said Madi­son fol­lows her own ad­vice and she spends a great deal of time lis­ten­ing to au­dio­books and pod­casts re­lated to com­mu­ni­ca­tion, learn­ing styles, horses, business, and cur­rent events, par­tic­u­larly while driv­ing down the road or while do­ing chores.

Al­li­son turned to Madi­son for ad­vice on both horse train­ing and business, and even­tu­ally started her own equine bou­tique. She says Madi­son gave her the push to pur­sue her dream, and see­ing how Madi­son han­dled mishaps on the road—like nearly run­ning out of fuel in Montana or un­bal­anced air pres­sure in the trailer—en­cour­ages her to keep go­ing when ob­sta­cles are thrown her way.

“Even if you’ve ev­ery­thing go­ing for you, at the end of the day, it’s re­ally about how hard you have worked,” Al­li­son says. “And even if you work re­ally hard, some­times that’s not enough. Some­times you need to take a leap of faith. You can’t give up on ev­ery­thing you’re do­ing be­cause you run into some­thing bad that hap­pens to you.”

The Next Step

Ear­lier this spring, Madi­son landed in Ridg­way, 40 min­utes from where her par­ents live. She plans to stay put for a lit­tle while, so she can fo­cus on de­vel­op­ing on­line pro­grams around her train­ing the­o­ries. Her hope is to make her train­ing easy-to-fol­low, in step-bystep for­mat, and avail­able to ev­ery­one.

Though she’s glad to be home, Madi­son’s eyes are on the hori­zon. In the fu­ture, she hopes to re­turn to tour­ing more of the East Coast. But for now, she’s eye­ing her next train­ing projects, plan­ning con­tent for her mem­ber­ship group, and ex­pand­ing her knowl­edge when­ever she can.

“It’s now a team ef­fort, and we’ll con­tinue to evolve and de­velop,” Madi­son says. “I’ve heard a quote that goes like this: ‘If your dream is too big for you to ac­com­plish alone, that’s when you know you’re on to some­thing.’ So team­work is the next big thing for me—to be open to and ac­cept­ing of sup­port.” 

Madi­son's dual-pur­pose mis­sion—to un­der­stand horses and humans and help them re­late to each other—al­lows her to pro­duce clin­ics (like the one this sum­mer in Colorado) as well as share ed­u­ca­tional videos. She strives to help humans un­der­stand what horses need to thrive.

Madi­son’s rocky start with horses as a child didn’t de­ter her horse-crazy spirit. Instead it led her to im­merse her­self in horse and hu­man be­hav­ior. She’s now a role model for fans who fol­low her on so­cial me­dia as well as those who at­tend her clin­ics to im­prove their own horse­man­ship.

Madi­son rec­og­nizes that train­ing mus­tangs poses a big­ger chal­lenge than work­ing with do­mes­tic breeds might, but she wel­comes the lessons she’s learned from them. “I love their raw, un­tamed spirit,” she says. “And you have to have so much more sen­si­tiv­ity to the an­i­mal.”

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