From Fear to Freedom
Working with at-risk-youth and wild mustangs

With Kim Hornsby & Shannon Schraufnagel

Kim Hornsby was born and raised in McKee, Kentucky. It’s a very rural area - the Daniel Boone National Forest, which is a great place to grow up and ride horses, covers about 30% of the county. Kim grew up without any brothers or sisters and her parents were often busy, but she grew up with horses. Her parents weren’t horse people but there were horses in the field next door and her grandpa owned some...


“Grandpa bought me a horse when I was nine years old, which I named Misty after everyone’s favorite childhood book 'Misty of Chincoteague Island'. Misty had never been ridden but Grandpa handed her to me and said ‘here ya go, figure it out!’ I got thrown off a few times but figured it out!” And that's when Kim's natural love and instinct for horses was born.

Later in life, Kim met and married Brad Hornsby who was already running a ministry called Cowboy Up for Christ. Kim naturally fell into it with her background and experience. They mostly work with housing project kids, but as Kim said, all our youth are at risk these days, so they don’t turn any kid away.


They work with beginners, intermediate to advanced - from the ground to the round pen, to the trails. The kids also get to fish in the pond, learn how to rope, have meals and daily devotions. The Ministry runs weekly through the Summer from April to October. Cowboy Up for Christ has been running for eleven seasons.

Fear to Freedom


Not too long-ago Kim and her husband Brad sold some property to Dana and Abby Douglas who started up Triple R Campground. Kim and Brad help with trail rides and also continue to help run the ministry on the campground property...


It’s two families combining forces to help bring joy to the trail rider and purpose to at-risk youth. 

Through the ministry, caring volunteers help kids go from fearing horses, and maybe even fearing life itself, to finding freedom with horses, love, and encouragement (you’re going to read a whole lot more about this ministry in another issue).


It’s no wonder in 2017 Kim fell in love with Mustangs. There’s a similarity between hurting kids and fearful horses. Many children that go through the projects (and elsewhere) have broken homes, abuse and many live in the foster system. It is the same thing with the mustangs that have to be thinned out of the wild herds… they have to leave everything they know, and experience trauma in the process.

But… if the right kid meets the right person, or the right mustang meets the right trainer, fear can be turned into freedom. 

Straight from Kim


The reason I got into working with mustangs was by-chance: someone asked me to work with one and through the process, he became the best packhorse! I didn’t really have a lot of experience of working with mustangs up to that point, but I found out they are very different than working with regular horses. Mustangs bond in a totally different way – like this one, he would stay in a camp like a dog! The other horses we would have to tie or hobble, but he wanted to be with us wherever we were.


In 2017 I participated in my first Extreme Mustang Makeover and again in 2018. Then I got involved in TIP (Training Incentive Program) through the mustang heritage foundation. Since then, I’ve gentled thirty mustangs and found adopters for all of them.



I like really like mustangs for trails because they grow up in the wild, they’re very surefooted, they know how to navigate the trails.  And when they bond with you it’s not like a domesticated horse. Like on the trails, other horses will try to be in the lead or try to pick where they want to be in the group, but mustangs go with YOU -you become their herd - they want to be wherever you are. And, in fact, my best trail horse is a mustang, Shiloh. He’s the roan you usually see me on, and he was my Extreme Mustang from the 2018 Makeover.

I’ve learned as a TIP trainer, gentling and training are two different things – gentling is earning the trust of the horse before you work on the training, which can take weeks.


Once they are to the point of training then they are ready for adoption, which means that you can pick their feet, they can handle a halter and lead, load in the trailer, and do the basic groundwork, without fear.

What I’ve liked learning from the mustangs is before I started working with them, I did things completely different – with a domestic horse when they become anxious you can usually be more forward with them and push them through things. But with mustangs, when they are anxious you have to back off, you have to give them space and let them think it through. You can’t leave any holes in your training either. You have to make sure each level is understood by the horse before moving to the next, otherwise, they’ll find that hole later and you have to start over.


Mustangs refine you as a trainer, and it helps you understand how domestic horses think on a whole new level.

I’ve heard a lot about how mustangs can be called crazy, but I say they are very sensitive and very intelligent. Once you can figure out how to work with that and harness it – they are incredible. Once you know how they see and process things, it’s totally different story.


A lot of time with domestic horses you are undoing a lot of wrong training, or people will blame a horse’s bad behavior on the horse when it really was that the person didn’t understand the horse’s way of thinking, so it was a failure on the persons part in not communicating to or understanding the horse. But if you take a wild horse out of the wild you are dealing with a fresh slate, no one else is to blame, not even the horse. It’s up to you to figure out how to communicate and understand it.


It has totally changed my perspective.

Favorite TIP Stories


There was one mustang I had that was very reactive, so I had to break everything apart into small parts so he could think through and process things a little bit at a time. I had to make sure he was showing signs of relaxation before the next level.


During the gentling process, mustangs can develop a lot of trauma if you move too fast, so you have to take it very slow and small so they can trust. Once they start to understand they can trust you, then you can start to push more. And like I said before, don’t leave any holes – You have to do lots of approach and retreat, slow down your breathing, take your time. It’s all about gaining trust before you do anything else. If you skip a step, leave a hole, that mustang will find it.


I learned a lot from that mustang. 

Another one of my favorite stories was an Appaloosa mustang mare. When I first saw her in the pen, she had her ears pinned back, she wasn’t happy. I took her because she wasn’t happy and wanted to see if I could make her happy! She was quite difficult, very sensitive but also aggressive.


When she was ready for adoption, I was worried she’d not do well and fall through the cracks. She went to be a rope horse at a feedlot. She was amazing at it and so amazing that a friend of mine, who also worked there, loved her so much that she bought her from the original adopter and still uses her at the feedlot - and the mare still loves it! She is all business and takes her job seriously. I know she’s happy. I thought she was going to end up in a bad situation... 


But she found the perfect job and home.

Favorite Trails


With my mustang Shiloh, I got to take him on a big trip out to South Dakota and Nebraska in 2019. We went out there for a bucket list ride for our friend Terry Parker who had terminal cancer.


Once you’ve trained a mustang, I recommend taking them on a long trail – to help them find themselves again.


It changed my horse, Shiloh. He came back a different horse.


In training we spend a lot of time telling our horses what we want them to do – but on the trails you are letting them learn how to be on the trails, thinking for themselves, and letting them work it through.


We rode in the Black Hills at Bridle Ridge Horse Camp and at Fort Robinson in Nebraska. It was amazing!


And we also go to ride in parade at Cheyenne Frontier Days – which was the highlight for me! I contacted our mustang matriarch, Ann Souders, who works for the Mustang Heritage Foundation, and asked her if she knew where we could go see any wild horses while we were out there. She had me contact the Wyoming Mustang Association...


Unfortunately, we weren’t going to be near any wild herds, but the gal asked me if I was bringing my mustang out, and I said yes – so she invited Terry and me to ride in the parade!


It was something I’ll never forget.

I think as trail riders we can all relate to fear and freedom… we all have had fear of something in our lives, maybe for some, it was even trail riding! But there is nothing more freeing than gaining the trust of a horse, or learning to trust that horse, and experiencing the wide-open spaces with them.

We love stories like this and we hope you enjoyed it here in The Trail Journal!
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