Extreme Mustang Makeover
Meet Oregon's majestic untamed horses
- the wild mustangs!
story by Ethan Schowalter-Hay
photos by BLM Staff
They are foaled in some rimrock valley, under hard sun and wind. They are familiar with coyotes, ravens, pronghorn, golden eagles, badgers, and great flocks of migrating fowl. They are adept at gracefully negotiating the rough terrain of shrub-steppe, juniper savanna, ponderosa pine, and white fir forests. They are eastern Oregon's untamed horses - the wild mustangs. And this March they showed off their stuff at the first-ever Northwest Extreme Mustang Makeover in Albany, Oregon.
Two years ago, the Bureau of Land Management partnered with the Mustang Heritage Foundation, a non-profit organization that promotes the adoption of wild horses and burros, on the initial round of Mustang Makeovers. As you might guess, the name is a nod to the popular ABC television franchise. And trainers apply to compete in a variety of horsemanship contests with mustangs fresh off the range, culminating in the animals' adoption by successful bidders.
"The Makeovers have gone really well ever since our first competition in 2007," said Tara Martinak, a public affairs specialist with the BLM's Burns District who's heavily involved in the agency's mustang adoption programs. "The general idea was to create an event that demonstrates the trainability (of wild horses)."
The Albany event, held March 20 - 22 in conjunction with the Northwest Horse Fair & Expo, reflected Oregon's renown for wild horses: Around 1,200 roam the open country east of the Cascades. And most famous of all are Steens Mountain's Kiger mustangs, a striking breed strongly reminiscent of the Spanish ponies from which they are thought to have descended. The name "mustang" derives from the Spanish,"mesteno," which originally referred to an "unclaimed sheep" and later to a free-range horse.
Because younger horses with flashier coats like paints or the patterned Kigers have little trouble finding willing adopters, the Mustang Makeover features mustangs of blander color - brown, black, and gray. "They are all about the same age as well - between three and four years old - which is the age where adoption rates generally start to decline," Martinak noted.
Over 33,000 wild horses and burros inhabit BLM lands in the United States, and the agency manages the animals to maintain the health of the rangeland and the herds themselves. The public adoptions and sales of mustangs and burros brought into captivity are a fundamental component of that process.
Seventeen designated mustang herds are managed in Oregon. Thirty four horses participated in the Albany Makeover this year, and they hail from three bands: Jackies Butte, not far west of the Idaho border in southeastern Oregon; Beaty Butte, along Highway 140 at the Nevada line; and Murderers Creek southwest of John Day, jointly managed with the U.S. Forest Service.
Trainers competing in the Makeover have 100 days to transform their charges into obedient, cooperative, and domestic creatures. "The very first thing they try to do is establish trust with the animal," said Martinak. "That then determines how far they can go with the training."
The contest evaluates trainers based on the physical condition of their horse and a variety of exercises from picking up the animal's hoof and loading it into a trailer to steering it through obstacles. The top 10 finalists compete in a freestyle event.
Prizes aren't the only reward for the trainers' impressive labor. The culmination of the event is, of course, the adoption of newly trained mustangs - the successful transfer from Oregon's wide open spaces to the welcoming pastures of its ranches and farms.
As this issue went to print, the BLM received fantastic results from this most recent Extreme Mustang Makeover. The largest-ever turnout of over 3,500 attendees showed up to cheer on and adopt 28 Mustangs into enthusiastic families, homes, and farms. Laird McCabe of Yamhill, Oregon and his Mustang "Sally" were crowned competition champions at the event. Trainer Jani Mari Zigray-Cochran of Rogue River, Oregon found her mustang "Cayuse" at the top of the bidding list bringing $5,000 to the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the BLM's Wild Horse and Burro Program. The program hopes to bring the Extreme Mustang Makeover back to Albany in 2010. Watch for updates!
For more details and to learn how you can attend a future Extreme Mustang Makeover, please visit us online or call 1-866-FOR-MUSTANGS.