For Mustang Million Competitors, Turning Wild Horses Into Gentle Beasts Means Big Money

Mustang Million competitors battle for big prize money in this wild event.

ByABC News
December 11, 2013, 3:09 PM

Dec. 12, 2013— -- A wild mustang trainer from Texas, a former champion in one of the most competitive horse events in the country, faced a new challenge this year.

He had to train his daughter on how to tame and prepare a wild horse for Texas' Mustang Million competition in just 120 days, all for a chance at winning hundreds of thousands of dollars to help their family.

The Mustang Million is annual event that awards $1 million in total prize money to trainers who can prove they are the best at breaking wild mustangs into trusting partners. Trainers from across the United States flock to Fort Worth, Texas each year for the competition. They are given just four months to tame wild mustangs and perform a stunt with their horse to demonstrate that the once wild animal listens and trusts them.

But there are more than bragging rights on the line. What is really at stake is the future of the legendary wild horses, icons of the American West.

The competition is designed to encourage people to adopt the wild horses. These horses are federally protected, but to prevent overpopulation, the federal government rounds up thousands, puts them in captivity and then tries to place the horses in private homes. According to the Bureau of Land Management, about 33,700 wild horses live on federally managed rangeland across 10 western states.

For this year's Mustang Million, 190 cowboys and cowgirls gathered at the Will Rogers arena in September to compete. The bidding wars, the injuries and the stunts will be featured in a three-part miniseries, "Mustang Millionaire," which premieres Saturday, Dec. 14 at 10 p.m. ET on Nat Geo WILD and was produced by ABC News' sister company, Sixty Six Media.

"Nightline" spent time with some of this year's competitors before and during the big event, including last year's champion, Bobby Kerr. For his stunt last year, Kerr rode his horse into a sputtering vintage car and then drove them both around the ring. So to take home the $200,000 top prize this year, he needed to come up with a showstopper.

"I'm trying to top myself," he said. "I'm trying my best to do whatever I can in the ring."

Kerr, his wife Susan and their daughter Kelsey adopted three wild horses this year that needed to be trained and ready to compete in 120 days. Kerr uses gentle persuasion, instead of brute force, to coax wild horses into trusting him.

Last year's prize money helped, but Kerr's farm is still in foreclosure. The former trucker's business was hurt by the bad economy and he uses the horse event to bring in money.

"A lot of people here are in love with the mustang and experience, but this is how we make our living," he said. "We spend about four months getting ready for this.... But other than my sponsor money, I have no income."

Adding to the pressure was that Kerr was training his daughter Kelsey, a first-time competitor who said her father was more nervous about her competing than she was.

"I am so proud of him right now," she said. "The coolest thing is the kids that come up and ask him for his autograph. It's just funny and we are not used to that either. He loves it. He loves little kids."

Before the competition this year, Kelsey considered herself more of a party girl than a cowgirl, but became focused on getting her horse Drifter ready for the Mustang Million.