Brenda Schwark of Cornell is one of 50 trainers from across North America taking part in the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge. She is training Tuff, an 11-year-old mustang from Utah, for the event.

With 90 days to earn a wild mustang’s trust leading up to the Midwest Horse Fair in mid-April, Brenda Schwark of Cornell had to deal with plenty of unpleasant weather.

“It was real fun sitting out in 60 below talking to a horse,” Schwark said. “I was really jealous of the trainers in Florida.”

Schwark is one of 50 trainers from across North America taking part in the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge, where wild mustangs are matched with equine trainers who then have 90 days to train the horse to the point it can be adopted.

Schwark picked up her mustang, Tuff, from a Bureau of Land Management holding facility in southern Illinois on Jan. 11. Tuff was rounded up by the BLM in the Cedar Mountain area of Utah, where the mustangs were struggling due to severe drought.

“A lot of competitors were matched with 2-year-olds or 4- or 5-year-olds; I ended up with an 11-year-old,” Schwark said. “They don’t usually round them up when they get that age, but the herd was getting distressed.”

Schwark said her mustang has made progress since the pick-up date and can now lead, load, tie off and step onto a platform.

“When I first got mine, he tried kicking my head off,” Schwark said. “But gradually things started to change. Once they learn to trust you, it’s really amazing what they can do. But you have to spend lots of hours sitting with them and just talking, getting them to trust you.”

The mustangs in the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge are three-strike horses, Schwark said, and have things like an unsuccessful stay at an adoption facility or age working against them. Trainers were given a bill-of-sale by the BLM at pick-up. Many trainers then put the horses up for adoption at the end of the competition.

“They put this on to get the horses more adoptable,” Schwark said. “I’m keeping mine.”

Preliminary classes of the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge take place Friday, April 12, and Saturday, April 13, to determine the top 10 finalists. The 10 competitors with the highest combined preliminary scores will advance to the finals during the Saturday evening show, Legendary Night, where they will compete for $20,000 in prizes.

“With their raw beauty and power, mustangs have captured our imagination for centuries,” Midwest Horse Fair Executive Director Megan Hanuszczak said in a news release. “We treasure these wonderful horses, whose natural habitats and means of existence are under constant challenge. Showcasing mustangs at the Midwest Horse Fair provides visibility into how our communities can help secure a future for these cherished animals.”

Schwark runs a private rescue in Cornell and has worked with a lot of neglected horses, she said. She has applied to be part of the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program to continue to work with mustangs rounded up by the BLM to make them more adoptable.

“I’ve always wanted to do this, it’s been kind of a dream,” Schwark said.

Competitors training mustangs for the Midwest Horse Fair Mustang Challenge include: Daniel Beechy of Parma, Mich.; Makayla Besaw of Shiocton; Trevor Blankenship of Pleasant Lake, Mich.; Tiffany Brewer of Elroy; Mackenzie Brost of Nekoosa; Allyson Butler of Cottage Grove; Courtney Clarke of Holly, Mich.; TJ Clibborn of Deerfield; Elizabeth Deden of Centerville, Texas; Jordyn Delmet of Ottawa, Ill.; Haleigh Denny of Harrodsburg, Ky.; Trinity Dyreson of Mount Horeb; Terri Eagles of Bellefonte, Pa.; Jessie Edson of Bellefonte, Pa.; Jacklyn Estreen of Seymour; Jorja Faith of Michigan City, Ind.; Franny Galvin-Hynes of Ontario, Canada; Ashley Glover of Canton, Ga.; Sheila Glover of Brooksville, Miss.; Lalo Govea of Elkhorn; Dan Grunewald of Jefferson; Serenity Hackl of Rosholt; Grace Helms of Bloomfield, Ind.; Jennifer Hinkel of Franklin; Amber Hofmaier of Campbellsport; Eliya Huebner of Larsen; Judy Jameson of Brooksville, Miss.; Mary Kitzmiller of Kemp, Texas; Emilee Knepp of Gunlock, Ky.; Taylor Laures of Jefferson; Kaitlin Norton of Custer; McKenzie Olson of Montello; Karianna Oury of Michigan City, Ind.; Alyssa Palmer of Spring Green; Lindsey Partridge of Pontypool, Ontario, Canada; Cindy Prince of Colfax; Hunter Reich of Beardstown, Ill.; Alyssa Rennebu of Eagle; Hali Rice of Chatsworth, Ga.; Keri Rogalla of Marathon; Naomi Rutter of Chatham, Mich.; Brooke Schessler of Perryville, Mo.; Tracy Schmidt of Oregon; Anna Schmude of Clintonville; Honor Scholtes of Bailieboro, Ontario, Canada; Sara Scholtes of Bailieboro, Ontario, Canada; AJ Scholtes of Bailieboro, Ontario, Canada; Schwark; Roxanne Shannon of Fort Atkinson; Amanda Sommer of West Bend; Sorin Thomas of Boulder, Colo.; Sam Van Fleet of Williston, Fla.; Ashley Wehrwein of Janesville; Gladys Wireman of Gunlock, Ky.; Beth Young of Canton, Ga.; and Cat Zimmerman of Archer, Fla.