Finding the 'gentle' in Oregon's wild horses
For Molalla's Kianna Fox, a love of horses from an early age put her feet on a path that's both unique and challenging.
Fox is a couple weeks into the Teens and Oregon Mustangs 100-day Challenge, a program that thins the herds of wild horses in Oregon's back country by having folks like Fox gentle and train one of them and then either keep the horse or auction it off.
The program was founded in 2009 by Josh and Erica FitzGerald. Erica was inspired to start the program after she and her husband competed in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in 2008. She felt introducing this kind of program to youth would allow them to learn just as much as the Mustang they were gentling.
According to Fox, that's exactly what she's discovering. She works with her horse, Desperado, four to five hours a day -- and it has been an interesting journey thus far.
"I got my horse on May 21, and we brought him home and put him in the round pen," Fox explained. "We got him situated and calmed down. Things have been going pretty well. Those first days, surprisingly I was not that fearful. I was pretty confident going into it."
The goal within the 100 days is to work with the horse and make it ridable for someone who would be interested. Additionally, there's a competition piece to the puzzle as well. On Labor Day weekend, the teens in the program will show off their handiwork with competitions in trail, riding, showmanship and body conditioning, which offers the trainers a chance to learn about proper nutrition and care for the horse.
Fox wasn't a stranger to the program when she jumped into it. She'd heard about it from friends, come across articles talking about it, then two years ago bought a Mustang from the program. All those factors came together to push her toward participation.
So now she and Desperado continue the work of training and getting to know each other.
"He's really curious and I think that's because he's two years old," Fox said. "I rode him on day five and there was not a lot of bucking or spooking. He's been more curious and a little bit fearful but has not been that aggressive at all. He's starting to trust me more."
Fox likes to break up her hours of working with Desperado into separate time blocks. That allows the horse time to relax, think and process what they just worked on.
"He's learning how to be led; he didn't like that at first," Fox said. "The more trusting he is of me, the more willing he is to be led.
"Going into day three or four, we had a minor setback, and I thought maybe I was behind my competitors, but by the end of the first week I was doing a lot better. I realized that it's my journey, not others'. I figured that out and definitely started taking steps forward."
Fox is finishing up her junior year at Molalla High School and has a long history with horses and ranch life. She and her family live on Dart Road in South Molalla where Fox has been able to be active in OHSET, FFA, 4-H and rodeo drill team. With that experience, she hopes to create something special in Desperado.
And when it's over, she'll put him up for auction. She hopes that whoever buys him will get a horse that's well-rounded and enjoyable to ride. But for now, there's a beach trip planned for Desperado, as well as working with cows, which is one of Fox's passions. Even though it's early in the process, Fox said it has been well worth it.
"I really do like this experience," she said. "COVID-19 did not set it (the program) back, and I'm glad and thankful for that."
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.