During a hike with her grandmother in the Little Book Cliffs last March, Jade Walker caught sight of a magnificent wild horse — a blue-gray beauty with black marks and a long black mane.
The girl was thrilled when the horse came toward her a ways over a small hill. She, in turn, followed him back.
"I think we have a connection somewhere," Jade said Saturday as the mustang waited nearby in a pen with other wild horses.
Jade and her grandmother, Lynn Walker, who lives near Boulder, snapped a photo at the time of the striking horse.
They shared the photo with Marty Felix, a founding member of the Friends of the Mustangs. Group members have tracked and cared for wild horses in the Little Book Cliff Wild Horse Range for decades. Felix recognized the horse, a 4-year-old gelding, named Cole.
Felix called Lynn Walker to tell her the horse had been rounded up recently and would be available for adoption at a Bureau of Land Management silent auction Saturday at the Rimrock Rodeo grounds.
That's exactly where the hopeful 8-year-old from Longmont spent Saturday morning. After saving up $400, Jade hoped to secure the winning bid to purchase Cole.
The sale included 26 mustangs and two burros, but Jade only had eyes for Cole, easily the most colorful of the group.
The girl posted near his pen and penciled in $400 soon after the bidding began. She smiled nervously as the price inched up hundreds of dollars more. A bidding war ensued between Jade and another woman, who penciled in an offer of $860.
Finally the woman, with a small child in tow, couldn't stand it any longer.
"She can have it. I just can't do it," she said, crossing out her final offer.
Jade beamed. She would get Cole for $850.
"I really liked him, too," the woman said, leading her son away by the hand.
A cheer went up from a group of horse lovers who had gathered to watch the back-and-forth bidding.
"Yes, we got it!" one woman cheered.
Jade has been riding horses since age 2.
"She's a pretty good rider," Lynn Walker said. "She has a way with horses. She's definitely a horse lover."
During a trip to South Dakota that was filled with fun kid activities, Jade's favorite part was visiting a horse sanctuary, Walker said.
The mustang will join other horses the family owns, including a palomino, a paint, a buckskin, a sorrel and an appaloosa. Jade said the mustang will be halter-gentled at her house and sent to a training ranch, and will live at her grandma's ranch outside of Boulder.
As she received hugs and congratulations from onlookers, one man tried to hand the girl a couple of bills, but she initially refused.
"You're going to need it," he laughed, insisting she take the money.
Many of the horses left with new owners Saturday, and officials believed any horses that weren't sold would go home with volunteers until they could find permanent homes.
Saturday's sale included a local BLM effort that includes a $1,000 incentive offer for people who choose to adopt the untrained horses.