4/7/2015 Madison Shambaugh and Terk

Madison Shambaugh, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, and her wild mustang, Terk, at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Doswell, Virginia.

What do a broken leg, losing a grandparent and a horse with neurological damage have in common? They’re all major setbacks one Purdue student had to overcome on her road to the Extreme Mustang Makeover.

Madison Shambaugh, a junior in the College of Liberal Arts, and her wild mustang, Terk, were recently awarded the Overall Reserve Champion, Fan Favorite and Rookie and Young Guns awards at the Extreme Mustang Makeover in Doswell, Virginia.

The Extreme Mustang Makeover is a national equestrian competition hosted by the Mustang Heritage Foundation in order to promote wild mustangs’ versatility, trainability and worth to potential owners.

Competitors in the Extreme Mustang Makeover have just 120 days to train a wild mustang. Most of these horses have never even been touched by a human until they are unloaded at their trainer’s home.

Shambaugh, who had heard of the competition as a junior in high school, tried to compete in the competition twice before her recent win, but was unable due to circumstances out of her control.

In the spring of 2014, Shambaugh brought home her first wild mustang and the horse slipped in the snow while they were training, crushing Shambaugh’s tibia and fibula.

“It was heartbreaking ... (the injury) was really bad,” said father Mark Shambaugh. “She had invested her heart into (that horse) so the injury was really a setback.”

Maddy had to return the wild mustang and put her dream on hold while her broken leg healed. In the fall of 2014, she learned about another competition that was going to be held in Pennsylvania shortly after her leg was healed. Maddy applied for the competition, was selected and picked up another, different horse.

Sadly, this horse was not going to lead Maddy to the competition she had been dreaming of competing in for years, either. After spending almost three weeks training the horse, it began to fall and trip, symptoms of neurological damage that would make riding the horse unsafe, especially after just having broken her leg from a falling horse.

“I’d had so many setbacks in my career with horses, it really took a toll on me so I decided to put the Makeover on hold and focus on (training horses at my barn),” said Maddy. “In the fall (of 2014), I heard about the Virginia Extreme Mustang Makeover and I just thought ‘I’m going to try this one more time and see if the third time’s the charm.’”

Through Maddy’s first two setbacks, her grandfather, who was one of her biggest champions and supporters, had been battling cancer. Just a few days before she went to pick up her third mustang, her grandfather passed away.

“I really thought about withdrawing from the competition; I didn’t know how I was going to be able to go through with it at such a hard time for my family and myself,” said Maddy. “But my dad encouraged me to keep going with it; he said it was something my grandpa would want me to do.”

Although Maddy was mourning the death of her grandfather, she still had to train her new mustang, Terk. She spent hours every day with Terk and slowly the bond that grew between the two of them healed her heartache for her grandfather, she said. Maddy was able to train Terk to ride without a bridle; the horse learned signals and commands based on her body weight shifts and energy.

On the last weekend in March, Maddy finally got the chance to compete in her first Extreme Mustang Makeover. After qualifying as a top 10 finalist, she and Terk were able to perform their freestyle routine to “Diamonds” by Rihanna, without a bridle.

“I was really nervous at first but once we started getting (into our performance), the crowd just disappeared and it was like it was just us there,” said Maddy.

After their performance, Maddy and Terk were awarded a perfect score of 60 out of 60 points.

“One of the judges said ‘We didn’t have enough points to award to Maddy,’” said Mark. “It was an incredible moment, the crowd just roared (with applause). A perfect score was unheard of.”

Because the Extreme Mustang Makeover hopes to place the wild mustangs with permanent owners, each competition is followed by an auction of the horses. Maddy was willing to spend all of her winnings from the competition in order to make sure Terk went home with her, she said. A bidding war started between Maddy and a woman in the audience, who eventually gave up after witnessing Maddy begin to cry and hug Terk.

“It was a very emotional experience for me,” said Maddy. “I was so proud of this horse, he had no clue what he had done for the wild mustangs. He showed people that there are no limits to what you can do with these horses. Everything I had been through was completely worth it after (we finished our routine).”

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