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To Train a Mustang; Fulfilling A Childhood Passion

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Colin Hollowell
  • 7th Bomb Wing Public Affairs

“It’s the most peaceful and beautiful place I’ve ever seen,” she said.

Kodiak, Alaska; the island sits in the Gulf of Alaska and is full of wildlife and stunning scenery. For her, it wasn’t just home, it was where she found her passion for training horses.

Staff Sgt. Melissa Sekerak, 7th Munitions Squadron stockpile management supervisor, who spent a large part of her childhood in Kodiak, recalled being captivated by horses from the first time she saw one.

Sekerak, who began taking riding lessons at a very young age, knew from the beginning that she wanted to find a way to become more involved in the equestrian world.

“When I was 14, I bought my first horse, Sky, who was an untouched yearling, meaning an untamed, young horse,” said Sekerak. “At that time, I obviously had no clue how to train a horse, but fortunately, I had several good friends and mentors within the horse community that helped me.”

Sekerak recounted a time where leading Sky into a trailer was nearly impossible, making traveling incredibly difficult.

“Because Sky was an untouched yearling and my first horse, I was training him as I was learning how to train,” she said. “I had to use some unconventional methods, like watching horse training VHS tapes and a lot of trial and error to teach myself how to train him and I often had to backtrack to reteach him things that I had taught him wrong the first time.”

Now, 18 years later, Sky has moved with her through every assignment and is now with her in Texas.

“When I initially left home, I was in search of opportunities to work as an apprentice for a horse trainer, but as a kid with no credentials, I had no clue where to begin,” said Sekerak. “After telling myself ‘eventually’ for so long, I found myself here in horse country, Texas.”

After following several trainers and mustang competitions for some time, Sekerak found herself at a riding clinic where she was able to pick the brains of several credible trainers; one of which recommended looking into competing in a 100-day training challenge.

Sekerak started by competing in two beginner-level challenges before she decided to commit to training a wild mustang for 100 days in the late spring of 2021.

Shortly after being formally accepted to compete in the challenge, Sekerak met her new mustang, Malibu.

“Every day is something new with a wild mustang,” said Sekerak. “Some days, especially after a setback, it’s hard to just get back out there for a training session.”

Sekerak described her most difficult setback with Malibu came on their fourth ride together. She said that Malibu had been calm under-saddle up to that point, but that day something was different.

“Something irked her, and she exploded before I even knew what was happening,” said Sekerak. “I hit the ground hard, but I got up and back on the saddle, hoping we could push forward and end on a good note.”

As luck would have it, Malibu bucked Sekerak off a second time, leaving her hesitant to give it a third attempt. She decided to consult her mentor and professional horse trainer, to regain the confidence needed to get back on the saddle.

“From the beginning, Melissa did an excellent job of gaining Malibu’s trust, but they did hit some turbulence from time-to-time,” said Craig Moore, a seasoned horse trainer and mentor. “Part of the resistance was Malibu’s personality; like a teenager, she didn’t like being told what to do, so we worked together on a plan to help rebuild some of that trust.

“I watched as Melissa worked with Malibu and as time went on, it became apparent that both of them became more confident and trusting of one another,” Moore continued.

Through trials, perseverance, and the Texas summer heat, Sekerak was able to combine her military and equestrian lifestyle, honoring her passion for horse training.

“In the time I’ve worked with her I have seen her skill-level climb significantly and all of her success and accomplishments have to be credited to her work ethic,” said Moore. “She has put in the hard hours with Malibu, and it shows.”

Sekerak’s resilience and their shared work ethics have materialized into a genuine relationship, as she and Malibu have formed a deeper connection, more than just a horse and its trainer.

“I fell in love with working with mustangs because you get to be that horse’s first human,” she said. “Each one has something new to teach you, and I am certain that I have learned substantially more from Malibu than she has learned from me.”