Estacada students train wild mustangs
Though McKenna Neldner's mustang, Paisley, was skittish when they first met, the two have since developed a close connection.
"Paisley took about 45 minutes (to get into the trailer). She kept knocking down gates and trying to run over people. It was a disaster. But then once she got home, she turned into a completely different horse. She's so sweet and willing to do anything I throw at her," said Neldner, a rising senior at Estacada High School.
Neldner and fellow Estacada High School student Winter Palmateer are participating in the Teens and Oregon Mustangs program, which gives youths around the state 98 days to gentle and train a yearling mustang.
Palmateer has completed the program once before, and this is Neldner's first year.
The culmination of their work will take place Friday, Sept. 25, at the Yamhill County Fairgrounds in McMinnville, where they will showcase their horses' abilities during a competition. After this event, the mustangs are adopted or auctioned.
The two are in the process for determining the next steps for their mustangs after the September competition.
Both Neldner and Palmateer have worked with horses for most of their lives but noted that mustangs are very different from their domestic counterparts.
"It's always super magical. It's awesome to see how different they are from our domestic horses," said Palmateer, whose mustang's name is Rain.
"They want to try and trust you and be your friend, but they're just really nervous because they're not used to all of it, versus the domesticated horses who are used to seeing people right when they're born," Neldner said.
Both girls typically work with their mustangs around three times each day.
"The first little bit I just kind of spend rubbing on her and getting her to trust me," Neldner said. "Then, I'll throw something new at her."
Palmateer noted that, "There's a lot sensitizing and just making sure that they're fine with whatever that can be thrown at them, and then working toward what you want to start teaching them."
Though the process is not without difficulties, it's ultimately a rewarding one.
"(The best part is) seeing the transformation (of the mustangs) from going completely wild to starting to want to be with us more," Palmateer said.
Neldner and Palmateer also are partners on the Estacada High School equestrian team. During their working pairs events this past season, banners draped over their horses honored the names of those who have battled cancer.
"It was cool to see the reactions of everybody and being able to bring awareness to the cause," Neldner said.
Both Palmateer and Neldner appreciate having horses in their lives.
"If you need to talk, you can talk to them. They're not going to tell anyone your secrets," Neldner said.
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