5 locals given unique chance to train wild mustangs
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Five Routt County women were chosen recently to pick up wild mustangs rounded up by the Bureau of Land Management, and they’ll have 100 days to train them as part of a Mustang Makeover competition.
“The wild horse herd has exploded,” said Deirdre Macnab, a private Rio Blanco county rancher and president of the Meeker Makeover Board who helped start the Mustang Makeover last year. “The herd size needs some level of control … or it devastates the land, vegetation disappears, and animals starve.”
During the program’s first year, volunteers from the Meeker area received six horses rounded up in Pieceance Creek and trained them as part of a contest. This year, the competition expanded to 15 trainers, including five women from Routt County.
Sixteen-year-old Brittney Iacovetto is one of three local teenagers given yearlings to train. Macnab said the idea is to bring the mustangs from “wild to mild.”
If anyone can do that in 100 days, it’s young ranchers like Iacovetto whose family has been running cattle and horses for generations.
“I’m keeping him away from other horses for now til’ he becomes my buddy,” said the confident young cowgirl as she slowly approached her wild horse on her family’s Saddleback Ranch, outside of Steamboat Springs.
Iacovetto’s cremello, or white-colored, mustang has a much different stature than the large domesticated horses that can be seen on Saddleback Ranch. The mustang is lean and small, almost too lean.
Iacovetto seduces him with nearby hay in hopes that he continues to get closer and closer. Young trainers in the competition, ages 10 to 18, all have yearlings. At the end of the 100 days, the young trainers have to lead their horses with halter and rope through an obstacle course and a freestyle creative show.
Thousands of dollars are given away in scholarship and prize money. The horses are auctioned off to good homes. The trainers receive half of the auction money. Macnab said if the trainers buy back their own horses, the BLM will provide a $500 stipend at the end of a full year as well.
Trainers also are given a $500 stipend after working with their horses during the first 60 days.
Two of the five Routt County competitors are entered into the saddle part of the Mustang Makeover. Their horses are all 3-year-olds from the Sandwash Basin and southern Wyoming.
Twenty-two-year-old Hayleigh Aurin will be training her wild mustang to take a saddle and a rider, and her mustang will have to move cows. While she has worked with mustangs before, they’ve always come to her with at least a little training. Not this time.
“She has been a unique challenge, harder than I thought,” said Aurin whose family owns Elk River Equestrian outside of Steamboat.
“I’ve gotten my hands on her, but she’s definitely timid,” Aurin said.
At the end of the 100-day training period, the 15 horsemen and women from all over Colorado will take their mustangs to the famous Meeker Sheepdog Trials on Sept. 11 where they’ll show their horses’ new skills to the equestrian judges.
And while Mustang Makeovers aren’t new to the country, Macnab said the Meeker competitors were given a unique goal for their mustangs — to make sure the wild horses are also trained to work around other people, dogs and children, using multiple helpers.
“This gives horses a chance for a happier life,” Macnab said.
Other competitors from Routt County are Leah Allen, 16; Cossette McLaughlin, 19; and adult competitor Wendy Lind of Hayden.
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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