Routt County locals train feral horses for Meeker Mustang Makeover |

Routt County locals train feral horses for Meeker Mustang Makeover

Jason Heid, 15, stands by his horse JB. Heid has been training the yearling as a part of the Meeker Mustang Makeover program. He'll show the horse and sell it Aug. 28. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

CLARK — After one hour with his feral yearling, Jason Heid got a halter on the horse.

Heid, 15, picked up his yearling in May and stood significantly taller than the young horse. About six months old, the horse didn’t have any habits, good or bad. Heid still had his work cut out for him, though.

“I was one of the first people he knew, so he was very comfortable around me and the people that were there from day one,” said Heid, who is the grandson of local legend Ray Heid. “But he’s still getting used to other newer people.”

The 15-year-old Clark native is training the horse as part of the Meeker Mustang Makeover program. He is given 120 days to break the horse before showing and selling it at the Aug. 28 event.

Heid’s horse came with a number, 007, which prompted his name to be JB for James Bond. JB was receptive and friendly from the beginning, picking up new sensations and skills in little time. Heid next practiced leading and spent a lot of time with JB, helping the horse get used to him and humans in general. In the early summer, finding time was difficult.

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“The biggest challenge was he does high school sports, and they didn’t end until the end of June,” said Jason’s mother Becky. “That was a big challenge, but the biggest asset he’s had has been Hayleigh.”

Hayleigh Aurin participated in the makeover event last year, turning The Duke into a trail riding horse in a matter of weeks. Aurin works at Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, where the Heids live, so Jason was able to watch Aurin work with The Duke, which the Heids ended up purchasing at the makeover event. Becky said they’ll likely buy JB as well.

After Aurin’s success with a mustang makeover, the Heids have purchased a couple more feral horses, including a mare named Cricket that shares a space with JB.

Jason Heid, 15, brushes out his horse JB. Heid is training the yearling as a part of the Meeker Mustang Makeover program. He'll show the horse and the skills he's taught it, then sell it Aug. 28 at the main event. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

He’s too small now, but in a year, he could be leading guests on trails in North Routt. In order to get JB ready for trail riding or a simple walk down the road, Heid had to teach him how to walk over and through a variety of terrains. He started with tarps on the ground, guiding the horse around it before asking him to walk over the strange material. He also walks the horse through high grass, getting the yearling acquainted with the sensation of grass tickling his belly.

Brushing out JB’s coat helped the horse get accustomed to Heid touching every part of his body. JB is still a little touchy with the hooves. He lets Heid pick up his foot and scrape out loose dirt but immediately wants to drop his foot to the ground. Heid holds on for a few moments then places JB’s hoof on the ground.

Jason Heid, 15, stands with his horse JB. Heid is training the yearling as a part of the Meeker Mustang Makeover program. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

“He learns stuff very quickly. He’s a very smart horse,” Heid said. “That makes life easier.”

Heid is one of 20 trainers participating in the program, including seven Routt County trainers. Cosette and Caroline McLaughlin, 20 and 16, were given a 3-year-old and a yearling, respectively. Last year, Cosette had the horse that sold for the most in the program.

2021 Meeker Mustang Makeover Participants

Under Saddle 3yr old Mustang

Rylee Allred 16 – Rangely

Cosette McLaughlin 20 – Steamboat

Kari Rippi 31 – Larkspur

Michelle Sommerville 37 – Steamboat

Noelani Rogerson 56 – Meeker

James Amick 20 – Meeker

Kaulana Papalimu 32 – Clark

Wade Allred 57 – Rangely

Youth Yearling In-Hand

Clay Allred 11 – Rangely

Garrett Merz 13 – Meeker

Jason Heid 14 – Clark

Chance Allred 14 – Rangely

Brynn Emlyn 12 – Snowmass

Vivian (Jade) Messano 14 – Montrose

Morgan Yeiser 14 – Oak Creek

Caroline McLaughlin 16 – Steamboat

Hailey Minnick 17 – Oak Creek

Yearling In-Hand 60 & Over Horse Lover

Frank Blaha 60 – Golden

Gayle Crawford Rogers 83 – Meeker

She was intrigued by the program after watching the film “Wild Horse, Wild Ride,” which documents the national Mustang Makeover Challenge.

Last year, she had a male horse, and this year, she has a mare she named Peach.

“She basically wouldn’t let me touch her. It took me three or four hours the first day to get a halter on her, start touching her and petting her,” Cosette said. “You start in a smaller pen, rope them, then slowly work your way up to them. Once they get used to you, they’re super sweet. They kind of become like a dog and bond to you.”

Cosette McLaughlin is taking part in the Meeker Mustang Makeover for the second straight year. She's been working with a 3-year-old mare named Peach. (Photo by Shelby Reardon)

Even as Peach warmed up to her, McLaughlin had to remind herself to have patience. It’s easy to forget that these feral horses haven’t encountered a lot of things.

“It’s two steps forward, one step back,” she said. “You have to remember. The tractor might not be scary to you, but to them, they’ve never seen it before.”

McLaughlin is back at college now, so she had less time to work with her horse before the Aug. 28 show, where she’ll have to ride Peach and show off all the training she’s done.

McLaughlin’s 16-year-old sister, Caroline, will help keep Peach in good shape. Caroline is training a yearling, which is nearly as large as Peach.

Morgan Yeiser might have the largest yearling. The 15-year-old Oak Creek resident suspects her horse is closer to 2, since he’s massive.

“I was definitely expecting him to be a bit more of a yearling,” she said. “It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but it’s worked out really well.”

Yeiser didn’t anticipate her horse, which she named Denali, to be so calm. He got in the trailer and made the journey home to the Yampa Valley with no trouble. Despite that smooth experience, Yeiser has been working with him on getting in the trailer so she can effortlessly travel with him.

“We’ve been doing a lot of lungeing,” Yeiser said. “We lunge him for a little bit and then he goes in the trailer. When he’s in the trailer, he gets to rest. Then when he comes back out he has to work more. They catch on pretty quickly.”

Morgan Yeiser, 15, poses with her horse, Denali. She's training the yearling as part of the Meeker Mustang Makeover. (Courtesy Morgan Yeiser)

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