Mustang Makeover underway—less than 100 days to go

Meeker trainer Shawn Welder draws his mustang’s name from a hat.

MEEKER | Two women and four men have drawn mustang numbers from a hat to prove who is the best wild horse trainer in the first ever annual Meeker Mustang Makeover. With only 100 days to work, trainers from Clifton, Rangely, Meeker and as far away as Larkspur, Colorado, arrived at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds early last Saturday to size up the competition and take a good look at horses captured from the Piceance Creek area west of Meeker two years ago. Three of the horses were foals at capture and three were born in captivity—but that history did not make the horses any gentler than their free counterparts as some horses spun, shied and looked for escape routes while trainers evaluated them.

The brainchild of area ranchers, horse trainers and historians concerned about the growing populations of mustangs in western Rio Blanco, the Meeker Mustang Makeover is intended to showcase the stamina, intelligence and resilience of horses whose genetic history goes back to Spanish, Native American and early ranching pioneers. In recent months, BLM has also stepped up and offered additional incentives to potential mustang adopters, making owning a mustang more attractive.

“This is a great time to consider owning a mustang,” said Bruce Clatterbaugh, one of the Makeover organizers, and owner of Adams Lodge Outfitters, east of Meeker. With a mustang in his string of horses, Clatterbaugh speaks highly of their trainability and usefulness.  He was impressed with the look and quality of the mustangs delivered from the Canon City holding pens. “They look really good,  and with training, make a strong addition to anybody’s home or outdoor business.” But he knows that looks aren’t enough.  “We have to prove that these horses make great companions, and partners, which is why many outfitters have had strong success with them.”  Hence, the Meeker Mustang Makeover.

Melissa Kindall, a BLM range technician who works in range and wild horse management and has been front and center assisting the group, said these wild horses were gathered in the Piceance and East Douglas area. Kindall also remarked that the beautiful chestnut horses with flaxen manes and tails came from a part of Rio Blanco county where there is a reduced ability to co-mingle with wild herds in the boundary of the Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area, suggesting the genetics are more geographically defined. “Those horses simply can’t easily cross the Cathedral Bluffs and get with other herds,” explaining why some of the horses look similar to each other.

Local outfitter and horse trainer, Shawn Welder who is one of two Meeker competitors and who has himself spent a lot of time in the Piceance hiking and exploring, said, “There are some beautiful horses in that area.”  Welder owns two mustangs which he uses extensively in the summer and during hunting season. “They are absolutely trustworthy horses.”

Five of the six trainers were at the fairgrounds Saturday, signaling the start of the competition. Welder was the last to draw his horse, a flaxen beauty he dubbed “Douglas,” which he had haltered and was leading around at his ranch by the end of the day, proven with a video sent to Mustang Makeover organizers.

Wade Allred from Rangely matter-of-factly plied his skills when he uncoiled a lariat and calmly loaded a stubborn bay gelding, who had been looking for multiple escape routes from the handlers, into another trainer’s trailer. Allred’s horse is a feisty chestnut that darted quickly in his trailer, when the time came for Allred to tip his hat to organizers and return home to Rangely.

Sarah Geis, a TIP certified trainer from Larkspur, near Denver, drew a dark, steel-grey gelding. She was one of the first trainers to place her hand on her guy whom she now calls “Wyatt Earp” suggesting this is a fight at the OK Meeker Corral she intends to win.  As a TIP trainer she is certified to take mustangs from the BLM, ready them for adoption by training them to lead, handle their feet and load safely in a trailer.

Cody Rhyne from Clifton wound up with a three-year-old filly, the only female equine in the group. Rhyne may have a tough job ahead of him with the filly who made it clear he was going to have to earn his trust when she rang the metal of a squeeze chute when he attempted to halter her. He spent several minutes with her in the holding pen, with his hands in the pockets, quietly letting the filly get used to him.

Paige Burnham, also from Clifton was one of the early arrivals, eager to draw her mustang and get back to Clifton and start the competition in earnest. She and Rhyne had their horses drawn from the hat together.  Both were pleased with the picks. Burnham’s last mustang won first prize in a local show.

Joe Wood of Meeker was the only one unable to be on site Saturday, but intends to be there for the final showdown in September, and his two young daughters who will assist in the training have already named their mustang, “Flintstone.”

Two of the three judges for the event have already been chosen and include Maree McAtee, a professional equine instructor from New Zealand, Steve Mantle originally from Meeker, who now specializes in training mustangs for adoption on his ranch in Wyoming, and the third judge to be announced.

This first Meeker Mustang Makeover will showcase trainers and horses as part of the events surrounding the Meeker Classic Sheepdog Trials in early September. With only a short 100 work days, trainers and horses will have to navigate a complex course in the main arena at the fairgrounds and then show their creativity in a freestyle preparation. Mark your calendar for Friday, Sept. 6 and come cheer on your favorite horse and trainer. And you can take one home. Horses will be auctioned after the event and trainers will share in the proceeds.

Special to the Herald Times