Everyone loves a fairytale ending, but no one expects it to happen to them. But that’s exactly what trainer Marsha Hartford-Sapp was lucky enough to experience with Cobra, a wild Mustang who she took on training for the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition, who then went on to be named World Champion in Western Dressage, United States Dressage Federation (USDF) All Breed National Champion in Prix St. George, and United States Equestrian Federation (USEF) Horse of the Year.In 2010, the year Cobra was chosen for the competition, the group of horses they selected had been passed over for adoption multiple times and were destined for long-term holding. Cobra was passed over three times before that lucky day he was pulled to be a part of the Mustang Makeover – as a "three strikes" Mustang, he likely would have lived out his life in a Bureau of Land Management facility.
Mustang Makeover horses are typically assigned to the trainers, but in 2010 it was a unique situation in which the trainers could choose from the 200 horses. Hartford-Sapp had only 120 days to train the wild Mustang, and naturally there were a few surprises along the way. The first surprise came when she saw Cobra in person for the first time: he was one of the biggest horses in the competition, standing 15.2hh high. He was also aggressive as he adjusted to his new relationship with humans. Hartford-Sapp took training very slowly with plenty of ground work – long lining and ground driving – and finally was able to get on the gelding about five weeks later.
The slow start clearly paid off for the pair as Cobra’s job made sense to him, and he quickly progressed. Harford-Sapp was able to teach him flying lead changes in the first 90 days under saddle and he was doing tempi changes before they went to the Mustang Makeover.
Training didn't stop after the Makeover. In 2013, the pair began competing in United States Dressage Federation (USDF) shows, and within six months they scored enough points to earn USDF's Bronze and Silver Medals.
Hartford-Sapp and Cobra went on to win many awards, but none were as emotional as the 2015 World Championships for Western Dressage. Cobra was the last horse to go in the last class of the competition. It was an emotion-filled moment for Hartford-Sapp, who stood with Cobra as the awards were handed out in reverse order and Cobra was named the World Champion. It was truly a fairy-tale ending for this lucky Mustang!
Cobra was honored with his own Breyer portrait model in 2017, and he quickly became a favorite guest at BreyerFest – so much so that Hartford-Sapp decided to officially retire her beloved partner at BreyerFest 2019. Decorated in a blanket of roses and his USEF Horse of the Year quarter sheet, Cobra celebrated his numerous achievements with fans young and old.
Cobra's portrait model was produced from 2017 to 2018.