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Meeker Mustang Makeover to use horses of Sand Wash Basin

Event aims to take 20 of America's most famous wild horses 'from wild to mild'

Stallions face off inside a pen after being captured in September during a Bureau of Land Management wild horse roundup in the Sand Wash Basin.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The 2022 Meeker Mustang Makeover will feature 20 horses captured from the Sand Wash Basin in 2021, event organizers have confirmed.

The event opened registration in February, challenging 20 horse trainers from Colorado to break a wild horse which has recently been put into captivity by the Bureau of Land Management.

In 2021, the Meeker Mustang Makeover featured horses removed from public lands in Nevada, but in April, 20 Colorado horses will be delivered to Meeker from the BLM’s Colorado wild horse holding facility, located in Canon City at the Colorado Department of Corrections.



The horses are being housed at the holding facility following September’s Sand Wash Basin helicopter roundups, which constituted the largest roundup effort in the state’s history, removing 683 wild horses from the Sand Wash Basin area of Northwest Colorado.

The Sand Wash horses became some of the most sought-after wild horses in the world after a tri-color mustang known as “Picasso” became the country’s most famous wild horse during the 2010s.



“Whenever I posted a photo of (Picasso), people would just go crazy,” Nancy Roberts told thedenverchannel.com in 2020. Roberts was among the initial photographers to document the Sand Wash horses beginning in 2009.

“I don’t know what happened,” Roberts said. “(Picasso) just became the horse, the king of the Sand Wash Basin.”

By the fall of 2021, when the Sand Wash roundups began, Picasso would have been more than 30 years old. Picasso’s followers believe he died of natural causes before then. He was last seen in November 2019.

A pair of helicopters drive wild horses into a trap in September as part of the wild horse roundup in the Sand Wash Basin. The Bureau of Land Management worked with Cattoor Livestock Roundup Co. to gather the horses.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Likely to have names

During the Sand Wash Basin roundups of 2021, Tango and Michaelangelo — the son and grandson of Picasso — were among the horses captured.

Meeker Mustang Makeover organizers don’t yet know which Sand Wash horses will be made available to trainers for the 2022 event, but event volunteer Deirdre Macnab, on Friday, said she’s fairly certain the horses will be among those with names, as many in the Sand Wash Basin have been named by followers in recent years.

“The BLM people will hand-pick these horses,” Macnab said.

The horses will then be delivered from the Colorado Department of Corrections to Meeker in April, Macnab said.

“The trainers will pick the horses up in Meeker on April 30, and we’ll offer a free clinic on getting started, and then the event is 120 days later,” Macnab said.

Jake, a yearling removed from the Jakes Wash Herd Management Area in Nevada, evades his trainer at the 3rd Annual Meeker Mustang Makeover in August. Trainers participating in the event have 120 days to “take their mustang from wild to mild,” according to event organizers.
John LaConte/jlaconte@vaildaily.com

Not your Disney horse

The 120-day number is deliberately selected as an indicator of the trainer’s skill – it’s enough time for trainers get to know the animal, but is still a fast window to break a horse.

One of the contestants at the 2021 event, KP Papalimu, worked with the horses at Disneyland before moving to Colorado and taking part in the mustang makeover event.

Papalimu sought out the event for the challenge it presented, saying while the wild horses of the Meeker Mustang Makeover are assumed to be around 3 years old, he found a horse that was more likely to be 5. The horse probably had a family in the wild, Papalimu said, and still had the open range in him.

“He’s lived the life of a wild horse, had to fight his battles and probably bred some horses,” Papalimu said.

That made for an experience which was much different than his time spent in Anaheim working with the horses of Disneyland’s Main Street USA parade.

“You’re talking about some broke horses right there,” Papalimu said of Disneyland’s equines, in contrast to the one he was handling at the mustang makeover. “It was pretty challenging, definitely one of the harder horses I’ve ever started.”

Wild horse advocate Meg Frederick asks tough questions to Ben Smith, Northwest Division Horse and Burro specialist, during the Sand Wash Basin horse roundups of September, 2021.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

$10,000 prize

Macnab said the event is held both as an effort to find good homes for the horses, and educate the public on the wild horses’ origins.

“Whether those great horses were hunting buffalo on the plains hundreds of years before our eyes were on them, or even today, when we put them to work as cow horses … they still fulfill in the hearts of us that same energy, that same connection to a wild spirit,” announcer Branden Edwards told attendees at the 2021 event.

The pamphlets given out to attendees say the wild horse herds of Colorado in Piceance and Douglas Creeks, the Little Book Cliffs and Sand Wash Basin most likely came from Ute Indian horses.

After the competition, the horses are auctioned off to the crowd. The trainer who wins the event is awarded $10,000, and trainers also receive 50 percent of the proceeds of their horse’s sale.

There is a youth division for kids ages 10 to 17, and a saddle competition for anyone aged 15 and up.

Trainer applications are available at MeekerMustangMakeover.org and will be accepted until April 1.

“With the Sand Wash horses having a big following, we’re really exited for a successful fourth year of this event,” Macnab said.

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