From Passion to Profession: Annette Miller’s Journey with United Mustangs of America

In the countryside of California, nestled among rolling hills and farmland, lies the heart of United Mustangs of America, a treasure hiding under a leaf and a voice for the Mustangs in need. At the helm of this Horse Handling Science school is a dedicated mentor, Monica O. Knight (formerly Monica O. Krause), whose journey intertwines with that of her young student, Annette Miller, whose passion for mustangs ignited at the age of thirteen.

Annette’s fascination with horses began at a local riding school, where horses captured her heart and sparked a flame of curiosity within her. Little did she know that her journey would soon intersect with that of her mentor, whose own tale was woven with the threads of resilience and dedication.

The turning point came when fate intervened, bringing Annette’s family and her mentor together under unexpected circumstances. A fall from a Mustang left her mentor nursing a shoulder injury, seeking solace in Annette’s father’s physical therapy office. Through a series of visits, bonds were forged, and Annette’s father discovered the passion that burned within his patient, Monica O. Knight, the head coach of United Mustangs of America.

As March unfolded, marking Annette’s thirteenth birthday, her father gifted her a package of Horse Handling Science lessons with her mentor—a gesture that would shape her future in ways unforeseen. Under her mentor’s guidance, Annette delved into the world of Mustangs, learning not just to ride and guide stride for stride, but to understand and communicate and make desirable changes in the horse’s behavior, which UMA calls “Horse Handling Science”.

Annette’s journey was not without its challenges. Starting with poor equitation and a lack of confidence, she faced her fears head-on, pushed out of her comfort zone by her mentor’s unwavering support and guidance. With each lesson, Annette’s skills blossomed, her determination unwavering as she honed her craft and embraced every opportunity to learn and grow.

In 2020, Monica O. Knight embarked on a transformative experience participating in the virtual Extreme Mustang Makeover for California—a journey that allowed Annette to witness firsthand the incredible transformation of the wild Mustang, Luna, into a gentle partner.

In the midst of her journey with United Mustangs of America, Annette’s passion and dedication propelled her into the realm of competitive riding. Participating in her first horse show, a local walk and trot English event, she showcased her burgeoning skills aboard Mustang Sally; her mentor’s first Extreme Mustang Makeover horse that she had since 2015. Despite her initial hesitations and with a heart full of determination, Annette secured an impressive second place in the flat class among a field of twenty riders, marking a milestone in her equestrian journey.

Annette & mustang Juno 2021

Fueled by her success and hunger for more, Annette expanded her horizons, transitioning from novice to adept as she ventured into the world of show jumping. She put in a lot of work teaching mustang Sailor to be a jumping horse and showed at the arenas of Paso Robles Horse Park, demonstrating grace and agility as she tackled challenging courses with finesse. From barely mastering the canter to soaring over jumps with confidence, Annette’s progression was nothing short of remarkable.

Her achievements continued to mount as she ventured into the realm of Gymkhana events, showcasing her versatility and skill. Riding both her mentor’s personal mustangs, Sally, and Sailor, Annette clinched first-place victories at her inaugural shows, solidifying her status as a rising star in the equestrian community. Her dedication and perseverance were further rewarded as she earned high point honors not once, but twice, at local California Gymkhana Association events, a testament to her unwavering commitment and talent.

The Horse Lab provided Annette with countless hours to master her skills while working with Monica’s mustangs. Monica consistently asks her students, “Are you moving towards the desirable side of the scale or towards the less desirable?” In simpler terms, she evaluates whether the horse is more willing and responsive to cues or less willing and dull to them. She also considers whether the work is becoming heavy-handed or has a lighter feel. This guideline is central for all UMA students, setting them apart from most other equestrian schools. While others may call it “training,” at UMA, it’s referred to as “teaching.” Students are always mindful that every interaction with a horse is a teaching moment, shaping the horse’s behavior either towards something desirable or less desirable. Through this process, they come to understand that horsemanship isn’t solely about the horse but about themselves and their self-mastery.

Her four-year journey with United Mustangs of America inspired her to seek out employment in the field she cherished, paving the way for her to join SweetBeau Horses in Creston—a testament to her passion and dedication. They are a non-profit organization dedicated to rehoming mustangs to the general public once they have successfully transitioned into a life alongside humans for a period of two years. Within their program, they enlist the assistance of “trainers” to gently guide these horses from their wild origins to become trusted riding companions.

As Annette transitions into her role at SweetBeau Horses, she carries with her the lessons learned and the legacy of United Mustangs of America. Though her path diverges from her mentor’s, she continues to spend time with Mustangs and demonstrates what she has learned at United Mustangs of America.

In the quiet moments of reflection, her mentor gazes upon the path Annette has forged, filled with pride and admiration. Though her journey with United Mustangs of America may have reached its conclusion, her legacy lives on through the remarkable young woman who now carries the torch forward, illuminating the way for future generations to come. Monica always called her, her “Pioneer kid.”