Girl power: 5 Routt County women compete in 100-day Mustang Makeover Challenge |

Girl power: 5 Routt County women compete in 100-day Mustang Makeover Challenge

Deirdre Macnab
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Leah Allen and her horse Cedar Rose
Courtesy photo

MEEKER — Steamboat Springs High School student Leah Allen, 16, has a unique project this summer: training a wild mustang she has named Cedar Rose to compete in the second annual Meeker Mustang Makeover on Friday.

“When we first got her, we couldn’t get within 25 feet of her,” Leah said. “Now, she’s our family pocket pony, and we have learned all her favorite places for scratches.”

Leah is the fifth generation in a Routt County ranching family, and when she heard about the competition from her local 4-H Club, she jumped on board. She works with her caramel-colored buckskin every day to expose her to the obstacles and challenges she’ll face in the Meeker Mustang Makeover. She hopes Cedar Rose finds a wonderful forever home with her strong foundation as a yearling.

Wendy Lind and her mustang Sally
Courtesy photo

Wendy Lind, a Colorado native, who with her husband owns the architectural firm, Axial Arts, based in Hayden, has a white mustang named Mustang Sally. A 3-year-old, Sally will compete in the saddle horse competition for $8,000 in prize money. Wendy has kept her moving all over Routt County trails and moving cows.

“She’s a mountain goat,” said Wendy, noting her mustang is noticeably more nimble footed and one of the smartest horses she’s ever had the opportunity to work with in her long side career of training champion reining horses.

And who hasn’t seen the camel and horse team in the annual Steamboat Fourth of July parade? Hayleigh Aurin’s family owns Larry the Camel and also has been running the annual gymkhana program at the Steamboat Rodeo Arena for years, and Hayleigh, 22, is now the new ranch manager for the well-known Fetcher Ranch in Clark.

Hayleigh Aurin and her surprise foal
Courtesy photo

Hayleigh had a rocky start as her 3-year-old mare surprised her with a foal in her first few days after picking her up. So, Hayleigh committed to keeping mother and foal and asked for a different horse that she could train for the makeover.

She had only 66 days for the makeover, unlike the other trainers with 100 days. Her new horse is a lanky tall roan she calls The Duke. Her strategy is putting miles on The Duke, giving him exposure to all kinds of places, animals and situations. And when asked how he is different from a domestic horse, Hayleigh said, “He is incredibly smooth and surefooted.”

Cosette McLaughlin is another young Steamboat native who has grown up loving horses, participating in hunter jumper competitions, 4-H and Pony Club. Her horse Finnegan has been exposed to both western and English demands. She said her summer project has taught her patience, and she has loved seeing his daily progress.

Bailey Iacovetto and Hank
Courtesy photo

Brittney Iacovetto, a junior at Soroco High School in Oak Creek, represents another fifth-generation ranching community in Yampa and is part of the family-run Saddleback Ranch, a cattle and recreational riding operation. Brittney named her yearling mustang Hank and has been exposing him to all kinds of activities around the family ranch. Brittney hopes to be on her college rodeo team one day and have Hank become a great ranch horse for a lucky family.

With $12,000 in prize and scholarship money at stake, 15 hopeful trainers will be traveling to Meeker on Friday to compete with the goal of seeing their now trained mustangs head off to forever homes and long useful lives.

The increasingly dry and fragile range in the West has seen a rapid overpopulation as wild horse herds typically double in size every four to five years. With more than 50,000 horses waiting in holding pens, events like these are critical to opening a door for a useful and healthy life.

The horses, gathered in Wyoming and Colorado, were completely unaccustomed to the human touch. The Meeker Mustang Makeover is unique in that the event encourages trainers to expose their horse to as many people, animals and stimuli as possible to help the horse adapt successfully to their new homes and future lives. A desensitized horse is less likely to cause harm to themselves and their humans.

Due to COVID-19, this year’s event will be streamed virtually starting at 10 a.m. Friday when contestants try to maneuver through an obstacle course and move a cow. The freestyle and finals begin at 4 p.m. with awards followed by the 7 p.m. live and the online auction for the horses.

Longhorn Video Auctions, who ran the Mustang Auction last year at Cheyenne Frontier Days, is managing the live and online auction. Interested buyers need to sign up in advance at

The Meeker Mustang Makeover is an independent volunteer-run event and unaffiliated with any other mustang training events.

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