Wild horse event promotes locally gathered horses

More than 600 people packed the stands at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds on a pleasant, western Colorado September evening, eagerly awaiting word. Which of the six horses would win the inaugural Meeker Mustang Makeover?

Just 100 days prior, the trainers had adopted local wild horses from the BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program. The wild horses were among the 87 wild horses gathered from outside the nearby Piceance-East Douglas Herd Management Area in 2017. 

Nittis was adopted by a Wyoming dude ranch
Nittis was adopted by a Wyoming dude ranch

The small community has a strong tie to the wild horses on the Piceance Basin. Before the Wild and Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act was passed in 1971, local ranchers often gathered and trained horses from this area for use in their own operations. 

Wyatt Earp was adopted by a Wyoming dude ranch
Wyatt Earp was adopted by a Wyoming dude ranch

The crowd watched the trainers guide the horses through a working-equestrian-type obstacle course, which included traversing bridges and herding yearling cattle. Each trainer then showed off additional skills and behaviors they had taught the horses in the freestyle portion of the event, highlighting the bonds and trust they had established with the horses over the short 100 days they had to train for the competition. Among the many feats, horses pulled wagons, demonstrated agility, and walked onto the back of a flatbed truck. 

Skeeter will be working at a local sheep operation
Skeeter will be working at a local sheep operation

While the crowd clearly appreciated all six horses and trainers, the crowd favorite and Meeker Mustang Makeover winner was Flinstone, a bay gelding. Meeker-based trainer Joe Wood's daughters rode horse Flintstone into the arena together with a border collie on board. Flintstone allowed the girls to crawl underneath him and laid down so the youngest girl could climb aboard. 

The winner of the inaugural Meeker Mustang Makeover was Flinstone, pictured here with trainer Joe Wood's daughters and border collie
The winner of the inaugural Meeker Mustang Makeover was Flinstone, pictured here with trainer Joe Wood's daughters and border collie

The skilled horses generated a great deal of interest, with 28 bidders registered for the auction. The auctioneer had no trouble selling each horse. Two trainers purchased the horses they had worked over the summer, including the Woods family and a trainer from Clifton, Colorado. Local ranchers bought two horses to help with local ranching operations – a sheep ranch and a cattle operation. The two other horses will assist with a dude ranch in Buffalo, Wyoming.

The organizers of the event timed it to coincide with the Meeker Classic Championship Sheepdog Trials, an event that brings people from all over the world to Meeker. The success has organizers tagging onto the Sheepdog Trials again with 10 horses planned for the event on Sept. 11, 2020, with the theme of "Never Forget." 

Sky was the only mare in the competition. Her trainer was the winning bidder and she returned to Clifton, CO
Sky was the only mare in the competition. Her trainer was the winning bidder and she returned to Clifton, CO

"It was great to see the local community step up for this event – it was organized by locals to help generate interest in locally gathered wild horses," said BLM White River Range Technician Melissa Kindall. 

Additional photographs, video and information from the September event is available on the Meeker Mustang Makeover Facebook page.