STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Steamboat Springs 10-year-old Madison Ostrowski makes the trek out to Saddle Mountain Ranch every day to coddle her new horse Finnegan, a wild mustang she bought at a recent auction.
Considering the reputation of wild horses, one may wonder how a 10-year-old could handle such an animal.
“It’s not common, but I felt he had the right disposition and that they could work together very slowly,” said Samantha McKinley, Madison’s riding instructor.
Fortunately for McKinley and Madison, Finnegan was part of the 100-day Meeker Mustang Makeover competition.
Steamboat horsewoman Cosette McLaughlin was one of 15 trainers given 100 days to turn a mustang from “wild to mild.”
“Cosette did a phenomenal job with him,” said Briana Perkins of Saddle Mountain Ranch, who is continuing to help train Finnegan. “She (Cosette) never trained using fear. That’s why we’re seeing him as relaxed as he is. He wants to be with his people, and he wants to please.”
McLaughlin is currently attending the Colorado School of Mines.
McLaughlin’s horse Finnegan ended up bringing the highest bid of any of the 15 wild horses at the Meeker Mustang Makeover on Sept. 11. The 3-year-old bay sold for $4,500 to the Ostrowski family and will stay in Routt County where he was trained.
“I haven’t been riding him much,” said Madison, who said she has no fear of Finnegan, even though he was wild just four months ago. “I’ve been spending a lot of time with him, grooming him and walking him around. He’s super sweet and really pretty.”
Started by a group of Meeker citizens just one year ago, this year’s Mustang Makeover more than doubled in size, adding more horses and a youth division with yearlings. Thousands of dollars are given away in scholarship and prize money.
Adult competitor Hayleigh Aurin had a hiccup with her wild mustang when her cremello colored horse unexpectedly gave birth to a baby. She kept the baby horse and named it Sage, then asked the judges to send her a new mustang to train. While other competitors had the full 100 days, she had 66 days to train a wild blue roan gelding she named The Duke. Del’s Triangle Ranch in Clark ended up buying the roan.
Youth competitor and fifth-generation rancher Brittney Iacovetto ended up buying her yearling bay, Hank, to continue raising and training.
Leah Allen, another teenager with a little buckskin mare yearling, got the highest auction price for a yearling, $900. Her horse Cedar Rose is going to a family in Silt.
Hayden resident Wendy Lind trained a 3-year-old gray mare she called Mustang Sally.
“Although I have a lot of horse experience, I really appreciate that I was able to be a part of this as a non-professional trainer,” Lind said. “Being an architect and mom and wife, it often was late at night or early in the a.m. when I was able to work with Sally. Although I wasn’t always able to put as much time in on her as I would have liked, I really appreciate the fact that the competition is open to people that don’t make their living training horses or ranching and aren’t able to spend all day in the saddle. And my horse went to a great new home.”
Organizer and private rancher Deirdre Macnab said the event drew a remarkable 20,000 views on the auction site and attracted 67 buyers as compared to 27 bidders last year.
Professional mustang trainer Sam Rock from Brighton and her horse Sasha won first place in the adult saddle competition. Second place went to Rock’s student Dana Casey and her horse Stoney, and third place went to McLaughlin and Finnegan.
Madison is now patiently waiting until the day she can start jumping with her little wild mustang.
“She is so excited,” said Madison’s mom Michelle Ostrowski. “But horse trainer Brie Perkins has to teach Finnegan more skills, like pushing cattle, going over bridges and wading through water.”
Madison even had to train him on something else quite surprising.
“He didn’t really know what treats were and didn’t really like them,” Madison said. “He’s starting to get it and now really loves horse cookies.”
Frances Hohl is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.