Catching Up with Chelsea Canedy and Her Amazing Mustang Luna – NOËLLE FLOYD

This month, we’ve been diving into stories of where both patience and play mindset pay off big in the end. On that note, let us bring you the story of Equestrian Masterclass instructor Chelsea Canedy and her amazing mustang mare, Luna.

Luna came to Chelsea as an unbroke and wild 6 year old who only knew the very rudimentary basics of how to be haltered, led, and sent onto a trailer down a chute. Up until that point, she had lived her life on BLM property in a wild herd in California, and needed not only to be taught the basics of being eventually ridden, but also the basics of simply being around humans. The path hasn’t been easy, but through taking things slow and never going faster than Luna was ready to handle, they’re now well on their way to a solid partnership.

Canedy and Luna will be participating in September’s Mustang Classic, a competition meant to showcase this amazing breed’s versatility and capability. We will definitely check back in on them during the event. For now, read about her amazing journey with Luna, and what it can teach us all about horses and horsemanship!

Sophie Coffey: How did you acquire Luna? What were the circumstances that brought her into your life? 

Chelsea Canedy: It all started with Tik (Maynard)! We were chatting late summer of 2023 and we just found out that he was going to Road to the Horse, and we were talking about his prep for that, and he said, “You know, if I wasn’t doing Road to the Horse I would be doing the Mustang Classic,” to which I replied, “I have no idea what that is.” So he forwarded me the email from the Mustang Heritage Foundation and said, “You should do it, you would do a great job. It would be such a cool experience to do something with a mustang.” 

The more I read about it, the more I decided that it was really something I wanted to participate in, both because it would be an amazing learning experience and because it fit really well with my expertise. The former because while I’ve handled green horses and I’ve started some horses, I’ve never worked with a horse that was completely untouched. The latter because of the eventing format of the competition, and then there’s an added bonus of if you get into the Top 10 of the competition, you get to do a freestyle of liberty work. So it married all of the things that I really enjoy doing plus the fact that I would need to also learn a lot to rise to the occasion for it. 

Sophie Coffey: What are the criteria for the Mustang Classic? Is it similar to the Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover event in that the horse has to be a certain age/can’t have more than X number of rides, etc?

Chelsea Canedy: First off, the horse needs to be adopted from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after a set date in September of 2023, and it needs to be a wild horse. I believe that you can get an approved BLM horse from a second party in that time frame as long as they’re still relatively untouched, but I personally wanted to start from scratch. 

The one thing that I figured out pretty quickly though was that most of the mustangs are out West, and I’m about as far East as you can get since I live in Maine, and there are just not a lot of easy ways to get a hold of a mustang out here. There was also some weird timing in that the BLM and the Mustang Heritage Foundation parted ways for their programming right when it was time to acquire a horse, and so it became that much harder to find one.

I wound up turning to some mustang Facebook groups asking if anyone could help me, and this wonderful woman named Meg in Ohio who had been part of the BLM’s Tip Trainer program, where someone will take a mustang and get the very basic handling on them. They can get loaded onto a trailer, haltered, brushed, and comfortable with their feet getting picked. So she had been doing that in partnership with the Mustang Heritage Foundation for years, and she saw one of my posts and told me that she was going to a pen in just a few days and said she would look for me. 

She looked at a lot of mustangs and sent me videos and pictures and called me while she was there, and we wound up both picking Luna together. First off, Luna was very curious, she didn’t come right to the edge of the pen, but she really watched Meg and tracked her. Second, she had a cute build to her, she had a more athletic look to her as well that I thought would serve us well in our journey. Third and finally, she was 6, so a little bit older than the 5 I was aiming for, but since I knew I would need to start jumping relatively soon I didn’t want to pick one that was 3 or 4. 

One thing I want to say is that I really couldn’t have found Luna without the help of the online Mustang community. These people love mustangs, and they put their heart and soul into the work they do with them and really believe in the mission of getting them out of BLM holding pens and into good homes where they’re going to learn how to be good citizens so they can have a happy life. 

So Meg brought Luna to her place and the timing worked out that she was with her for 2-3 weeks, and she put in those basics I mentioned earlier so that when she brought Luna down to Kentucky, where I happened to be teaching, I could load her up easily and take her back to Maine.

Sophie Coffey: What were the first goals that you had with Luna, and how long did it take to accomplish them?

Chelsea Canedy: I knew right away that I was not in a hurry, that if I really took my time in the beginning, that things would go quicker in the long run. I made it my mission to just earn her trust and open a very clear line of communication. It’s so interesting with mustangs, and Luna is my first one, they are very wary of people and human touch, but not so much with objects in their world. So getting them to touch a human’s hand or take food from a human can be tricky, but getting them to take food out of a bucket that you’re holding is much easier. 

Right away, I used a clicker and got her into positive reinforcement training. Immediately, that gave me AND her absolute clarity when she did something that I wanted her to do, and she really thrived with that type of mindset. And oh my God are mustangs smart  – I cannot overstate how intelligent Luna is. It blows my mind. I just today taught her how to do the Spanish Walk, and it took her three minutes to figure it out, whereas other horses it’s taken three days and they barely have it. It’s because they grow up in the wild where literally everything is a problem for them to solve their whole life, and they always have to be extremely “street smart.” 

That also, from what I understand anecdotally and from what I’ve experienced, those street smarts also make them extremely wary of people. It’s not true of ALL mustangs, but it was definitely true with Luna. It took me weeks and weeks for me to just be able to put a rope around her neck and run my hands over her body. Once she understood that I was her person, though, she was game to try anything, she just tries so hard. I think that not rushing her or forcing her into anything really created that strong foundation for us, one that was built on trust and choice. 

Sophie Coffey: What has the journey been like overall? What were some setbacks, and how did you move through them? When do you feel like things really turned the corner from them?

When I had just started to ride Luna, I had a pretty bad fall where she blind bolted away from me and I couldn’t stay on. It was a very humbling experience, and also one that really shook me because I thought I had checked all of the boxes you needed to check when starting a horse from scratch, and Luna had been amazing. She trusted me and was willing to try anything, so there were no signs that I had missed anything along the way because she was so relaxed and so happy. 

What happened is that when I got on her that particular day, she started to put a little of her own energy into the work. Then, she felt me moving above her, which was only a sensation that she had felt before to a small degree. Then, she also felt me saying “wait, don’t do that,” which was a very new pressure for her, something pulling on her face. Ultimately, she genuinely didn’t understand what it all meant when she experienced it altogether, and became genuinely terrified as a result, and she just ran. 

So I clearly knew that I had missed something in her training, some box I hadn’t checked, but in the moment I didn’t know what that something was. I took her down to Florida with me, and Tik was there prepping for Road to the Horse, and it was the perfect circumstance because he needed to be working with pretty unbroke horses, and Luna knew a ton of stuff on the ground but she wasn’t broke to ride. So her level of riding was about where Tik’s mount would be at Road to the Horse. 

Tik had been doing a ton of prep work for his own journey, and had learned that you had to up the pressure and the amount of energy that you put out around the horse. It wasn’t enough to keep things quiet all the time, you had to do more, touch them ALL over, make more noise, do things above, around, behind, and help them learn how to be OK when things got to be “too much.” 

I watched him go through that process with her, and I would go back home and work on it, and I would take her back and she would be further along and then Tik would take the next step. So when he finally did get on her, she also had the same bolting behavior with him, but he was smart and was in a round pen in a western saddle, the first of which I hadn’t done myself because my round pen was buried under snow and ice. Tik was set up to basically ride it out, and I was not. 

It took her about a minute of “I don’t know what’s happening!” before she settled down in that ride, and it took her only about 2-3 rides where she was squirrelly like that to start until she said, “Oh, ok, this is just another thing to learn and accept.” I would say that it took about a month of riding sessions like that to get her to the point where she was really solid, where I felt like I could take her out of the round pen and start walking, trotting, and cantering. 

What that entire process with Tik helped me realize is that I had done a really good job helping her to understand how to solve the problems I was asking her, but I hadn’t done as good a job teaching her how to manage her own emotions when the answer wasn’t easy to find and the energy of a situation became overwhelming for her. So she was super relaxed when I had been training her, but I never pressed her into a situation where she might not be, because I was trying really hard to keep everything quiet, calm, and relaxed. 

Sophie Coffey: What are you working on with Luna today, and how would you describe where she is in her training?

Chelsea Canedy: Now Luna just feels like a green horse. Wait, let me revise that, because I just found out that Luna is actually a pony. We had her measured and she is 14.2 hands tall, which is a lot smaller than what they said on her BLM papers. Right now she’s working on understanding contact. I would also say that she is 100% a boss mare, so she can set her jaw and have some, “I’d rather not,” types of moments, so it can take some coaxing to tell her it’s OK to let go. I think it’s still really hard for her to let go completely and just be willing to have a conversation with me under saddle, because she just has a little part of herself that’s on guard. 

The jumping, though, she’s a beast. I point her at something and she just says, “Ok, I’m going!” But I started her at liberty with jumping, and I used the clicker and clicked every time she jumped, so she’s just never been afraid of it. And now she’s just a little bit of a machine, I point her and I soften the reins and she goes. So right now, we’re just working on being able to keep a steady rhythm with her over the jumps and cruise around the course. 

Sophie Coffey: When is the competition, how much more time do you have? 

Chelsea Canedy: I feel really good right now, the competition isn’t until September, so I feel like I have time now to really put polish on everything. I feel like I could go right now, but it wouldn’t be as pretty as I would like to make it, so now I have time to make it beautiful. We take lots of field trips together, and we’re entered to do Beginner Novice at a competition in July (which I think we’ll just do the Dressage and then decide if we’re jumping or not day of, because the Mustang competition is run at the Starter level). So we’ll go and have the experience of going to a new place, stabling off property, working in large groups with other horses, you know just getting the Horse Show experience. And then I have about 5-6 other local outings planned before the competition, and we’re just going to plug away at it all summer and hopefully be in a really good place come fall. 

Sophie Coffey: Do you know what your long term plan with Luna might be past the competition?

Chelsea Canedy: Well she measures as a pony and she really does clock around a course, and I think she’s only going to get better, but right now it’s really hard to say. At this point, we definitely have a bond. I took her to a local show about a week ago, and I would leave her with a student when I had to go coach, and when she saw me as I was walking back she started to whinny at me, and she did it 5 or 6 times, so it was definitely an “I see my person!” reaction, and it’s very hard to have a horse like that and then say, “Ok, I’m going to sell them now.” I really don’t know what the future holds. I would like to think in the long run I’ve set her up well to be someone’s perfect pony, but I’m not at the point where I know how any of that is going to unfold. We have a lot of fun with the liberty work and I could see putting together some acts with her in the future… It’s just hard because I love to do so many things and it’s difficult to put enough attention into every aspect of the horse world that I enjoy! But I could see Luna being a wonderful low level eventing partner for someone, or children’s hunter or jumper, or somebody’s liberty horse who is also fun to ride. We just started our bridleless work And that’s only going to make her a cooler horse in the long run.

I also want to say a special thank you to Co-Sponsors Alison Brigham and Michael Frankel, as well as my amazing barn staff at Unexpected Farm who help make this journey possible. I truly couldn’t do it without them!

If you would like to learn from Chelsea, you may be interested in the following Equestrian Masterclass courses:

Chelsea Canedy Teaches Groundwork 101
The New Horse Starter Pack

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