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News.bytes Extra, issue 488

Adopted Mustang named to endurance Hall of Fame

Robin Hood, a Mustang from high desert public land along the California-Nevada border, has reached the pinnacle of recognition in the world of endurance horses.

He has been named to the Hall of Fame for the American Endurance Ride Conference for his outstanding achievements over 15 years of competition.

“When we received the award at the AERC conference in Reno I was overcome with emotion.  I just broke down in tears,” said Dr. Phil Ottinger, who adopted Robin Hood from the Bureau of Land Management in 1993.  “This is a remarkable achievement.  Sometimes I think the horse has a better appreciation for what he’s accomplished than we humans do.” (text continues below)

a woman rides a horse in a high desert, with mountains in the background
Dr. Vicki Giles rides Robyn

The standards for the Hall of Fame are rigorous, even for the grueling world of equine endurance competition where Arabian horses have long been dominant.  To be considered, a horse has to compete for 10 years, complete 10,000 miles, have 10 first place finishes, and have 10 “best condition” awards.

“A perfect 10 horse,” Dr. Ottinger points out.

Robin Hood, from the BLM Buckhorn Herd Management Area, has shattered these requirements.  Since 1996, he has completed nearly 200 endurance rides covering more than 10,500 miles of rugged trails. He’s finished first 31 times and earned 27 best condition awards, honors that come with a veterinarian’s end-of-race certification as to the horse’s condition.

Robin Hood is no stranger to honors conferred by AERC.  In 2003 he was honored as the top horse in the organization’s west region Featherweight Division.  He also won recognition as a “BLM Endurance Horse of the Year” that year, along with Sir Kai, another Ottinger-developed Mustang.
Ottinger adopted Robin Hood as a yearling.  He first competed in 1996, completing two 25-mile rides.  Several riders have guided the horse through his endurance successes, completing more than 1,000 miles in some years and never missing a season.  In recent years the rider has been Dr. Vicki Giles, a veterinarian from Lincoln, Calif.

It’s not just that Robin Hood is a durable Mustang, or that Dr. Giles is a talented rider, or that Dr. Ottinger is an understanding and knowledgeable owner that have made Robin Hood a champion.  It’s a combination of all these factors.

Ottinger considers himself a “developer,” not a horse trainer.  He has focused on pairing promising Mustangs and riders and sharing his strong beliefs about the best ways to work with the horses.

“Robin Hood has been fortunate to have been with the right riders at the right places at the right times,” Ottinger says.   Probably the biggest factor in the horse’s success, however, has been Ottinger’s approach to developing his horses which he says is as much psychological as it is physical, and requires as much patience as understanding.

“Once wild horses connect with you, there is nothing reasonable they won’t do for you,” he says.  “But you have to take the time to understand how they think and function physically.  A Mustang is a survivor and will always keep a reserve of energy and you have to understand that when you train.

“It is so important to understand is that you have to learn to think like they do.  You have to understand their ‘language’ before they can understand yours,” Ottinger continues.  “You have to be part of them before they will be part of you.  Once that happens, their allegiance is to you.”

Ottinger, a Santa Cruz, Calif. dentist, has taken this approach to Mustang training since he first became involved in the BLM wild horse adoption program in the late 1970s.  He and his daughter, Jamie, visited the Palomino Valley National Wild Horse and Burro Adoption Center near Reno and decided to give Mustangs a try.  They later adopted a mare-foal pair.

“We called the foal Strawberry and the mare OBM, short for Old Black Mare,” he says.  Jamie began competing and winning in children’s jumper and pony hunter classes put on by the California State Horsemen’s Association and the American Horse Show Association.

Jamie continued her winning ways through her teen years aboard another Mustang, this one named Merlin.  The Ottingers took great pride in successfully campaigning their iconic western horses against expensive thoroughbreds and warm bloods in demanding and precise English-style riding.

Through it all, Ottinger’s fascination with Mustangs has grown and his appreciation deepened.

“I really consider them a kind of subspecies because of the way nature breeds them,” he says. “There has been so much line breeding in domestic horses that they’ve lost some of their awareness and sensitivity.  Not Mustangs.  They have been developed by Mother Nature, and nature would never let that happen.”

a woman rides a horse across a high desert landscape

- Jeff Fontana, BLM Northern California public affairs, 2011

BLM-California News.bytes, issue 488
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Last updated: 07-06-2011