Larger than life. Fun. Always smiling. Confident. Those who know Wylene Wilson of Southwest City, Missouri, use the same phrases over and over to describe her.
The mustang trainer who's been dubbed "Extreme Wylene" has really impressed those who know her best. And it's not just because she wins or places high in mustang-makeover competitions, nor because she's featured in a movie about wild horses.
"Wylene's got a big personality," says trainer Al Dunning. "She's really charismatic around people. She's got a good presentation. She's flamboyant and fun to be around. If you're around her very long and you don't smile or laugh, you've got a problem."
She's not just a pretty face and fun personality, either.
"She can ride," says Patti Colbert, executive director at the Mustang Heritage Foundation. "To really ride a horse like she can—bridleless and saddleless—and to have the training skills and techniques, she just has a tremendous skill set."
The Early Years
That skill set was something Wilson, now 33, learned at a young age. She and her sisters, Wenda and Wanette, were raised with horses.
"My mother was a horse trainer and riding instructor," says Wilson. "She rode with Monte Foreman way back in the '60s and learned quite a bit from him. She passed along all that knowledge and information to me when I was a child."
Every weekend the sisters were at a horse show, rodeo, or gymkhana, and they were very competitive.
"Wylene and her sisters all barrel raced back when I was showing and my son, Grady, was young," says Dunning. "We called them The Flying Wallendas (a reference to a family of daredevil stunt performers). They were barrel racing sons-of-a-gun and very handy on horseback."
Wilson and her sisters competed on horses that wouldn't have been considered the best of the best.
"Our horses weren't ones we purchased," says the cowgirl. "They were horses that were given to us, ones that nobody wanted, and we turned them into champions."
Along with showing, Wilson was also used to riding a number of different, and often problematic, horses.
"I was always the crash-test dummy," recalls Wilson. "My mom would say, ‘Wylene, get over here and fix this horse for this person.' I'd saddle it up, and it'd try to buck me off, run me into the fence, or whatever. So I learned how to handle horses and know what to do when something goes wrong."
Knowing what to do is still something she teaches to this day, and she's grateful to her mom, Janiece Wilson, for teaching her that.
Her Training Style
Wilson began training horses professionally when she was 17. Her mother was her biggest mentor, but she also had the opportunity to work with Dunning and other professionals such as Craig Cameron, Chris Cox, and Clinton Anderson.
"I always just wanted to be better," says Wilson. "There wasn't any wrong or right way for me to train. I just tried to take a little bit from each horseman and add it to my mix. Just like my mom, I was a student of the horse and wanted to be better."
That desire and her confidence are what set her apart.
To reach all the goals that she's accomplished with horses, Wilson credits her strong belief in herself, her horses, and her riders. "I've always had the attitude that there wasn't a horse I couldn't ride, handle, or teach," says the cowgirl. "I want people to say, ‘I know Wylene can ride this horse.' Or, ‘I can't believe she did that; how did she do that?' "I want to bring out the best in my horses and my riders.
So I try to reach in deep for that and just say, ‘You can do this; I believe in you.' You have to know that you're capable of doing things.
"Horses are capable of doing things, too, but I find that a lot of people make excuses," she shares. "When you actually scratch beneath the surface and get deeper, it always comes down to insecurity on the rider or handler's part. The horse is fine and ready."
Along with her can-do attitude, Wilson has a particular approach to training.
"I like to take a horse from wild to mild in the quickest, simplest, easiest, most humane method, from beginning to end," she says.