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Steamboat Magazine

Mustang Makeover

08/26/2022 04:38PM ● By Lisa Ruff

Nina Bradley gentles her Meeker mustang, Cheeto, to human touch. Photo courtesy of Lisa Ruff. 

Steamboat Springs, CO - In the horse world, a frequently repeated adage is, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” If that adage is indeed true, then the Meeker Mustang Makeover Youth and Yearling Division provides an opportunity for creating a life-long bond between a wild horse and a human, beginning with a teen trainer. 

On Saturday, Aug. 27, at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds in Meeker, four Routt County teens are competing for $10,000 in prize money and scholarships at the fourth annual Meeker Mustang Makeover. Each participant has 120 days to train his or her mustang to take to auction, where it will navigate an obstacle course and demonstrate the skills of the trainer and the qualities of the horse. 

Routt County participants in this year’s Youth and Yearling Division are Nina Bradley, Jason Heid, Kristina Mitchell and Morgan Yeiser. Each received a randomly selected mustang yearling filly. According to the rules of the event, the mustang and trainer must exhibit a solid relationship based on respect, understanding and mutual trust.

President and co-founder of the Meeker Mustang Makeover, Deirdre Macnab, says the event is invested in getting regional trainers as partners with these animals. “The horses are very fearful,” she says. “They have to gain the trust of the trainer.” According to Macnab, the young trainers must possess the ability to “listen, pay attention, and observe.” Trainers must “use the horse’s natural cues,” she says. “Whether that’s a horse or a person, it’s an important skill in life.”  

Macnab is a beef and hay rancher in Rio Blanco County. Her ranch abuts BLM land where, at times, over a thousand wild horses can roam. According to Macnab, these horses’ population doubles every four to five years. The Mustang Makeover ensures a “long future of healthy living,” not only for the adopted mustangs, but also for the wild herds, Macnab says.   

 Mitchell, a junior at Steamboat Springs High School, has named her filly Nova. She says her training is focused on “patience – taking your time. Nova has taught me to be patient and persistent.” She says that after she teaches something to Nova, “You just sit down and let the horse absorb it.” Too much pressure and the pair takes a step back. “It’s better to end on a good note rather than to push something,” she says.

Yeiser, whose filly is named Raylee, has the opposite problem. She says she has had to learn to “hold your ground, not let them in your space, especially with yearlings.” This is Yeiser’s second time training a yearling. “This year I wanted to use what I had learned last year to train another one, with more knowledge and experience going into it,” she says.

Heid, like Yeiser, is training his second mustang, named Mouse. He says that the most important attribute in a good trainer is “patience and knowing when to stop.” Heid, a sophomore, grew up around horses and is the sixth generation to live and work on Del’s Triangle 3 Ranch, a family owned and operated ranch in north Routt. “I have been riding longer than I can remember,” he says.

According to Macnab, in addition to the mustangs gaining confidence, “The kids grow as well. They learn to slow down.” The trainers spend between one to two hours a day with their yearlings. “It’s a lot of time – they need consistency. It’s an everyday commitment.”  

Bradley, a sophomore, says that her filly, named Cheeto, has taught her “how to problem solve. If something doesn’t work at first, I have to try something different and not give up.” Bradley says the bond she and Cheeto have established is rewarding. “She trusts me more than anyone else, and that is super special to me.”