By: Peter Prince
The story began in the summer of 2017 where the forests of Maine hid a little bass pond where I’ve enjoyed fishing for over 40 years. We met local folks Dana and Colleen Hartford there for the first time some nine years earlier.
As dairy farmers, they knew hard physical labor, working close to the land. Conversely, my wife Vicky and I knew the highly populated, urban world of tall buildings, concrete and white-collar jobs in New York.
To seek peace in the countryside our family tried living in Maine for two years by moving to rural Dexter, Maine in 1977. However, we returned to the metropolitan area, following the old axiom, “You can take the boy out of the city but can’t take the city out of the boy”.
Now bass fishing created a strong bond between Dana and me. What started out as a fishing buddy relationship grew in time to be a strong bond of respect and caring between two families. It was indeed the tale of the city mouse and the country mouse discovering we were just mice, and not so different after all.
During these fishing visits, we learned that Marsha, one of their four children, was a talented horse trainer and owner of the equestrian center, “Southern Oaks” in Tallahassee, Florida. The predominant topic would detail the accomplishments made by a horse named Cobra, who Marsha was training to be a dressage champion. As a songwriter, I should have listened more fully to what these two had accomplished. It became worthy of a song whose story line read more like a “rags to riches” Disney fairy tale.
Cobra was a wild mustang rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Deemed unadoptable due to his ferocity Cobra was returned three times and designated as a “three strike horse”, given a four-digit number, 4057 freeze branded on its left hip.
Marsha watched Cobra in a short video clip, selecting him to compete in a Supreme “Extreme Mustang Makeover”. This program, established by the “Mustang Heritage Foundation”, enables experienced trainers to adopt and after making a commitment to be “gentle”, to train these mustangs in 100 days. Proving that in time, with patience, faith, and fortitude, Cobra, the horse no one wanted, would become not only a National Dressage Champion, but also Western Dressage World Champion, 3X US Equestrian Federation (USEF) “Horse of The Year”, and in 2017, selected to become a Breyer collectible model.
In August of 2017, this all came together and whatever had been percolating in my mind over the years became certainty. I turned to Dana and said, “I’m going to write a song about this.” About a week later, I sent the words and music of “Cobra” to long time engineer / musician / producer, Galen Breen in Nashville, TN and chose one of my favorite vocalists, Ronnie Kimball, to perform the song.
A month or so later the recording of “Cobra” was completed. My next thought was to send the song as a gift to Marsha and to Marsha’s parents, who if not for knowing them, the song would not have been written.
The idea of a video also entered my mind since several of my “story” songs had worked well with video. Additionally, Marsha’s Facebook page and “Southern Oaks Equestrian Center” website listed many professional videos used as tools demonstrating work done there.
The feedback to the video idea came quickly as Marsha told me a video set to “Cobra”, “Cobra Follow Your Wild Heart/From Wild to World Champion”, would be created.
The video came together beautifully. One YouTube viewer said, “It was a heartwarming marriage of song and video.” Emotional feelings flowed as viewers watched this inspirational tale of second chances, belief and love. As my 75th birthday approached Vicky and I decided to visit the Mustang champion and his trainer face to face. We flew to Tallahassee, Fl. as a new chapter of the journey was about to unfold.
When I first saw Cobra grazing with other horses, then later standing quietly in his stall, it was hard to imagine him running wild in the Nevada mountains. At six, he would have undoubtedly been a dominant stallion. As a Breyer horse, children and their parents would flock to him to take a picture with him. At 15.2 hands, Cobra was larger than most Mustangs, a fact that caught Marsha’s eye while assessing his potential in doing dressage.
By comparison, he was still a relatively small horse, however in his performance the spirit of this champion burst forth. He then appeared to become bigger and more muscular, yet graceful. He was regal and exuded tremendous confidence “struttin’ his stuff.” Vicky, who as a youngster had begun to learn and practice dressage, told me many times, “he loves what he’s doing; he just loves what he’s doing.”
Much to my surprise, Marsha saw to it that I was included in the Red Hills International Horse Trials festivities, having me present the Breyer model of Cobra to one of the Red Hills sponsors. That was followed by the playing of, “Cobra” to which Marsha had worked out a dressage program – Cobra was dancing to “Cobra.” I also met Ashley Mancuso, whom I had collaborated with on the video.
Prior to the trip to Florida, it was decided by Ashley, Marsha and me that an exciting next step for the music video would be to enter it in the upcoming Equus Film Festival (EFF). Established in 2013 by Lisa Diersen from Chicago, and later joined by co-organizer Diana Derosa of New York, the importance of the horse in our lives provided a broad platform of expression for filmmakers, musicians, movie producers and screenwriters who admired and loved all that was equine.
Artistic presentation types included; full-length feature films & documentaries, short and mini films & videos, music videos, even books about horses. One of the categories that fit the Cobra piece was WILD HORSE MUSIC VIDEO. In May, Ashley was informed the video was selected to premier at the EFF. An earlier chance for exposure came when “Cobra-Follow Your Wild Heart/From Wild to World Champion” was shown at The World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Tryon, NC, where EFF typically screens its films. WEG is the largest equestrian event in the world, having 500,000+ visitors present in a two-week period to watch the international equine competitions and shows.
The 2018 EFF took place at the Wythe Hotel & Cinema in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, N.Y. After the welcoming program, presentation of the Wild Horses of Sable Island Gallery took place. Vicky and I were pleased to meet so many creative people from all over the world who came to present their work. The atmosphere was very relaxed with a feel of unity for the love of the horse plus interest and support of each other’s projects.
The thrill of a lifetime was watching “Cobra-Follow Your Wild Heart” shown on the big screen.
The EFF awards, called “Winnies”, were presented Sunday. Vicky and I were unable to attend, but Ashley was there. I was hoping, with fingers crossed, for a happy text or call.
At 7:55PM, we received word, “Cobra Won Wild Horse Music Video!” along with a Facebook video of Ashley receiving the Winnie award from Diana Derosa. It made for a great feeling of personal accomplishment and tremendous satisfaction in the collaboration that took place between a songwriter, producer, horse trainer and the star subject of the video, COBRA THE MUSTANG.
One of my important takeaways of this journey was learning about the plight of the wild horse, the American Mustang. At the 2018 EFF I was part of a panel that included members of the “Mustang Heritage Foundation”. The mission of this organization is to protect these horses from abuse or slaughter, to find ways such as adoption to provide them with a loving home as a better option than confinement and death.
There are 50,000 of these beautiful, spirited horses held in captivity by the U.S. government. Once considered icons of the American West, The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rounds them up as a way to diminish their competition with the industrial cattle ranchers with whom they share the land.
What Cobra and other adopted Mustangs have shown is they are in no way an animal to be disposed of, instead are worthy of respect. Cobra has proven how intelligent, skilled, athletic and loyal the Mustang can be. Once trained, they can do many tasks, such as ranch work, as therapy horses for veterans, helping prisoners attain productive lives, working with autistic and emotionally challenged children, and in Cobra’s case, learning to execute the high equine art of dressage, becoming a World Champion, a Breyer model, an icon, and an ambassador of his breed.
In 2019, at 15 years old, Cobra will be retiring from competitive dressage. With 7 National dressage titles and 2 World Championships in Western dressage. He has also been crowned 2018 USEF “Horse Of The Year” and the first Mustang ever to become US Equestrian Federation NATIONAL HORSE OF HONOR. He is the only Mustang in the world to have ever been nominated for this highest of equine awards. I suspect the story of Cobra the Mustang is far from over. His love of his trainer, Marsha Hartford Sapp and the love of the work they perform together runs deep through his veins. It is a reflection of the fighting spirit embedded in the heart of a Mustang