By CLINT FOSTER
One of Mineral Wells’ finest mustang trainers stars in a new show on Nat Geo WILD about five cowboys and cowgirls vying for a $1 million prize in one of the most competitive horse events in the world: the Mustang Million in Fort Worth.
In this part of the country, if you close your eyes, put out your arms and spin around, you’re bound to hit a horse ranch. Ranching is one of many central parts of Texas’ identity and with the Mecca of farm and ranch competition in Fort Worth, it makes sense.
Pair that with the biggest prize in any mustang training competition and five main characters with Texas-sized personalities and you have the makings of Nat Geo WILD’s latest show “Mustang Millionaire.”
In the competition, the five cowboys and cowgirls must acquire wild mustangs from a government roundup at auction and transform them in four short months into fully tamed, trusting stunt horses.
Representing Mineral Wells on the show, Travis Dittmer is a seasoned, well-respected horse trainer who has worked as a true cowboy on ranches throughout the nation. One of three cowboys on the show from Texas, Dittmer was chosen by producers from a list of 40 names from the Mustang Heritage Foundation after a Skype interview.
A veteran of mustang competitions since 2008, 45-year-old Dittmer said he has been riding rough horses since he was 15. Sponsored by Walden Farm and Ranch Supply in Mineral Wells, Dittmer bought five mustangs at auction for about $2,200 at the Will Rogers Memorial Center in Fort Worth.
He focused in on three of them – Iggy, Iron Man and Ivan – and immediately began preparing for the competition at his ranch just west of Mineral Wells on Gene Lee Road with his twin sons, Jayde and Jerrad.
Dittmer said he enjoyed working with the producers and didn’t feel extra pressure that he was being filmed. He has competed on the big stage many times before, such as in Madison, Wis., when he missed first place by 4.5 points in front of a crowd of 10,000. He said he was driven by the challenge to compete in what he called the “biggest and toughest” mustang show around.
“I was really pretty at ease with it,” he said. “The only pressure that was on me, I put on myself. The money has never been higher, but I’m not a money-driven person. I’m more challenge-driven. It was a lot of work and it wore me out, but it’s all good.”
Dittmer introduced the Index to Iggy, Iron Man and Ivan; three gorgeous mustangs whom Dittmer has made very approachable and trusting equine partners. Dittmer’s spirited personality and experience with breaking horses using his special technique of “pushing them to softness” made him a natural fit for the show.
“I’m not claiming to be the best, but people bring real tough horses to me and I don’t give up on them when other trainers might,” he said. “I take pride in that. It just takes so much energy. You’ve got to give them special attention, it’s not just like you ride them an hour every day.”
After 30 years in the saddle, Dittmer originally intended for this competition to be his last, but based on what happens in the season finale of the show – which was pre-recorded – he may think differently.
As for being on the show in general, Dittmer said he had a great experience and learned a lot about the production aspects of a television show.
“They did a great job,” he said of the show’s production team. “I think I really got fortunate. I was real skeptical because I’m not a big fan of reality TV. Most of it’s just trashy. Now, I like Duck Dynasty, but that’s about the only one. We didn’t really know. They could have made us look like a bunch of knuckleheads. Things are cut and edited, but it’s all good. I was happy with it. But it does take a bunch of your time.
“Everybody’s expecting it to be a big hit, but who knows. I’m not worried about it. It’s not like I’ve lost anything.”
To watch Dittmer and the other mustang trainers chase the million-dollar prize, tune in to Nat Geo Wild.
The season finale premieres Dec. 28 at 9 p.m. Check local listings for re-runs of other episodes.