Madeleine Roper was six when she rode her first horse, and like thousands of little girls before her fell totally in love. She couldn’t know then, that this love would totally change the lives of her parents and grandparents, but more importantly play a part in the history of the American Kiger Mustang.
Living then in Dorset, England, it was impossible for her family to be able to buy a horse of her own, but in 2003 the whole family decided they wanted a less hectic lifestyle and immigrated across the English Channel to Normandy, France.
Maddie stayed behind in boarding school to finish her exams, and the family found a large old farmhouse with barns, stabling, paddocks and acres of room for horses. With the whole family finally settled Maddie joined them and found an equestrian college in the nearby town of St Hilaire du Harcouet, and is now taking a diploma in horse training for cross-country, dressage and show jumping.
When Maddie was 17, she and her mother, Tania read ‘Whispering Back’ by Adam Goodfellow and Nicole Golding. They were both fascinated by the difference in the American way of training horses, and the Monty Roberts methods rather than the traditional English way. Tania rang Monty Roberts farm ‘Flag is Up’ and asked for advice, as they wanted Maddie to take a course there.
He said that if she qualified she would be the youngest instructor in the world, and one of fewer than 30.The English riding method is totally poles apart from the American way. The English ride more upright, and straight in the saddle on a short rein. The fingers are used on the reins to manoeuvre the bit to make the horse obey commands, and create more contact between horse and rider and is a two handed process.Maddie firstly went to Moorwood in Gloucester, England to work at a clinic run by Adam Goodfellow and Nicole Golding then finally went to Solvang, California to the ranch run by Monty Roberts.They were awe inspired by the process of working with a Mustang called Nevada.
She was a difficult horse, and her reactions were totally different and bigger than that of a domesticated horse. From then on they knew they had to have a Mustang. Nevada was for sale, but unfortunately she didn’t load well, and it was thought it would be too much to ask for her to be loaded into a container and flown half way around the world.The Family Roper had by now decided they wanted to breed Mustangs and made enquiries, and came across, by chance, Gerald Thompson of Spring Water Station in Oregon, who introduced them to a breed of Mustang they hadn’t heard of before, the Kiger Mustang.
For 400 years these Mustangs had inhabited a rugged and remote desert of South East Oregon, and were discovered in 1977 by Ron Harding of the Bureau of Land Management. All the horses were different shades of dun or grullo and had the dorsal stripe down their back, and zebra stripe markings on their legs. The horses were so similar it was difficult to tell them apart, so the Bureau of Land Management took steps to preserve this unique find as the Kiger has phenomenal stamina, herding and endurance ability. The herd was split in case of any disease invading the whole herd.Gerald Thompson gave endless advice and answered many questions and they finally decided to take the chance and ship one into France.
They picked a two-year-old called Spring Water Station Sally’s Legacy. Maddie looked into Sally’s eyes and knew this was the horse she had to have. Her gorgeous golden face and lovely eyes just spoke volumes to Maddie. She is now called Mustang Sally, or, as Tania prefers, Sally Girl.
Sally was transported to a quarantine station in Texas where she underwent her blood tests for coggins disease and vaccinations for Europe. After 30 days she was flown to Luxembourg where she was met and driven back by horsebox to their home in France, as the first Kiger Mustang to arrive in Europe.
She shares her fields and stables with the Ropers two other horses, Magorio and La Chance, who had been trained as trotters. Magorio at 17 hands does everything at top speed, whilst La Chance at 15.3 hands is quite lazy and it takes quite an effort for her to break into a trot. Also resident is miniature donkey Swampy, the naughtiest of them all. Swampy thinks good fun is jumping on Tania’s back as she bends to fill the water trough, but on a cold winter day this type of fun isn’t always appreciated.
Sally is good-natured, calm and eats endlessly. She is very gentle and sweet natured and only now is her true nature beginning to emerge. Maddie and Sally were asked to appear in a National Show Jumping event in St Hilaire on March 7th, and Sally behaved impeccably. It was a lot to ask of a two year old who was only handled for the first time three months before leaving the United States in November 2007, but she loved the show arena so much she didn’t really want to leave.
Maddie demonstrated some of the Monty Roberts techniques that she had been taught whilst in California. Great interest was shown in the horse, and introducing her to the French people was quite an ordeal for Maddie, but she coped exceedingly well in front of the limelight. By bringing a Mustang to France, this is a chance to start the breeding in Europe, and hopefully the Mustang will become as well known here as in America.Last month Sally and Maddie travelled to England where Sally was artificially inseminated, and now her foal will be the first to be born in Europe. Horses are Maddie’s whole life.
Up very early before college to exercise, clean out and feed, and the same procedure after college, and then homework studies. The eventual diploma will count towards her training as a Monty Roberts instructor, on her next visit to California. Maddie eventually wants to compete with Sally at Endurance level, and work with horses with remedial difficulties and help people with training problems with their horses.No doubt this remarkable young lady will succeed in all she takes on.