No need to whisper: Girl tames mustang

The purpose of the program is to make Oregon BLM mustangs more adoptable.

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YAMHILL, Ore. - Jet was stretched out in his stall, dead to the world. He barely managed to open one eye when his trainer, Gabrielle Longmire of Lowden, woke him up.

It had been a long day for the young mustang gelding.

The fussing began at dawn when Gabrielle and her family arrived at his stall. His coat was brushed, his whiskers shaved, his tail braided. His pen was decorated with pictures showing highlights of his life during the last 14 weeks.

A white "21" was stenciled on both sides of his rump. It itched.

Gabrielle sprayed him with fly repellant. It itched.

He was "dressed" in a bright lime green halter that matched Gabrielle's shirt.

The black yearling was calm, but 13-year-old Gabrielle was not, so he had to walk up and down the corridor behind his pen while waiting his turn in the showmanship contest.

About 100 days ago, Jet was one of 21 yearling mustangs trucked from a Bureau of Land Management holding corral near Burns, Ore., to FitzGerald Farms just outside Yamhill. He had been in the corral since November, when he and other yearlings were rounded up and separated from several herds in the BLM Burns district wild horse herd management area.

At FitzGerald Farms he and 20 other wild yearlings were claimed by their young trainers to participate in the Teens and Oregon Mustangs Youth and Yearling Challenge.

The purpose of the program is to make Oregon BLM mustangs more adoptable by taming the young animals and giving them basic training. Horses are chosen mainly on their color - because it is the "flashy" horses that attract the public's eye - and on their temperament.

Jet was the only black yearling in the competition. The other horses were sorrels and bays.

The competition was the culmination of 98 days of work by the youngsters. In that time, the young mustangs were transformed from wild horses never handled by humans to gentle animals that displayed basic skills, including leading, backing, side-stepping, loading in a trailer and going through and over obstacles.

A stiff breeze and a farmer plowing a neighboring field added other elements, including clouds of dust, to the obstacle course, but Gabrielle said the wind didn't bother Jet, because he is used to it at home.

The teams were judged on condition of the horse, showmanship and trail skills.

Jet scored well in conditioning and walked through the trail course with the aplomb of a veteran. He and Gabrielle lost points in the showmanship class, in part because Jet chose to demonstrate a new "trick" he picked up earlier in the day - nipping at Gabrielle's sleeve when she was leading him through the patterns.

Jet and Gabrielle placed ninth in the overall competition.

First place went to 11-year-old Isabel Roman-Dechenne of Newberg, Ore., and her equine partner, Rosie. Rosie was the top seller in the auction, bringing $800.

Isabel left Rosie with her new owner, but took home a prize saddle, belt buckle, hanging feed bags and ribbons.

Isabel was one of the youngest trainers, and the oldest were 16. There were 20 girls and one boy.

Gabrielle was the only participant from Washington, and the only one outside the Oregon coast and Willamette Valley.

Five of the young trainers opted to adopt their horses, and the rest were sold at auction.

Teens and Oregon Mustangs program is in its second year and was formed to promote adoption of wild horses, help teens improve their horsemanship skills and build life training skills through competition.

The program is the brainchild of Erica FitzGerald (Knight), horse trainer and instructor.

FitzGerald has participated in the NW Extreme Mustang Makeover, a program similar to the youth program, but with adults training older horses.

The 2010 Teens and Oregon Mustangs is sponsored by the Youth and Yearling Challenge, created by Mustang Heritage Foundation.

The foundation helps with funding and trainer incentive money.

The youth program is also sponsored by FitzGerald Farms, LLC, which donates use of its facilities and equipment.

The program also works closely with the BLM to get the horses and manage them.

Roberta Runge of Salem, a BLM dispatcher, helped manage a table where bidders signed up, and BLM information about wild horses and adoption was available.

Once a horse is adopted, the BLM inspects the animal and its quarters. After a year, the adopter is given title to the horse.

Mustangs have proven to be all-around horses, Runge said. Some have been trained for riding, dressage, jumping, trail riding and pulling wagons and carts. They are also used for hunting, team branding and at least one is a champion cow horse.

General characteristics of mustangs include curiosity, willingness to learn and tough feet that usually don't require shoes.

Purpose of the adoption program, which began in 1973, is to manage, protect and control wild horses and burros on the nation's public lands to ensure healthy herds and healthy rangelands.

Since 1973, the BLM has placed more than 217,000 horses and burros into private care through adoption. Oregon is one of 10 states with BLM-managed wild herds.

Although some of the horses sold Saturday did not bring much more than the $25 adoption fee required by BLM, the program was successful in giving each of the young mustangs a good home.

That includes Jet, and after he was awakened from his nap, he was loaded into a trailer and driven back to rejoin his pasture mates near Lowden. His busy schedule continues, though, because this week Gabrielle is showing him at the Southeast Washington Fair and Rodeo.

Carrie Chicken can be reached at cec@innw.net or 522-5289.

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