Who can best tame the savage streak innate to horses taken from the wild?
That's the gauntlet being thrown down in the new Meeker Mustang Makeover — a competition for area horse trainers that's unfolding now, and seeking handlers from the Grand Valley to potentially take part.
The competition is this: Six trainers will have 100 days to break and train a mustang recently removed from a Bureau of Land Management wild horse herd. The ultimate measure of the duo's horsemanship will be on display during a showcase in front of the Friday night Meeker sheepdog festival crowd at the Rio Blanco County Fairgrounds in September.
Each horse and rider will go through a set obstacle course, which they'll know about ahead of time, and there will also be an opportunity for a freestyle routine in front of the scrutinizing crowd.
Deirdre Macnab — a Rio Blanco County rancher and member of the committee that will select the six participating trainers — called the inaugural Mustang Makeover "a great opportunity for someone to show what their skills are."
There's $4,000 in prize money for top finishers, but trainers also receive half of the proceeds from an auction of their once-wild horses.
Macnab said the incentive behooves, er, should motivate trainers to work to "have a horse that sparkles — one that is safe and trusting."
"Our hope is that people will come from around the state and region and find a horse that would suit their needs," Macnab said.
Aside from commitment to the competition, there are no restrictions on who can apply to receive one of the mustangs — which will be delivered by the BLM June 1 in Meeker — but it's the special competition committee that will select trainers to receive horses.
Time is of the essence to apply, though, as the final date to throw your hat in is Monday, May 20, according to organizers.
Trainers who qualify can also receive $500 from the BLM after 60 days to defray costs.
Mustangs are all 2 or 3 years old, and have been in captivity for a short time.
Ultimately, Macnab said, the winning duo will be the one who can best capture the personal connection between horse and man, or woman, and both poles of that coupling are variable.
"It depends on the horse, and it depends on the person. It's relationship-building, it's horsemanship, and it's a test of a person's skills," she said.
"Clearly, you have to gain their trust and respect. Just like people, horses are all different."