Molly Burton has an easy smile and a confident, calm demeanor.

Perhaps that’s why Lucy, the yearling mustang she is training, is also calm and confident.Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Molly Burton gives her mustang, Lucy, a kiss. Molly will showcase all the training shes done with Lucy at the Youth & Yearling Training Event coming up Aug. 23 at the Yamhill County Fairgrounds.

Burton, 14, will be a freshman at Liberty High School this fall and has always loved horses. She’s taken riding lessons for the last six years and has plans to join the small but dedicated equestrian team at Liberty.

This summer, she’s been doing something completely different — albeit still with horses.

Burton is one of 19 Oregon teens who spent the late spring and summer — 98 days to be exact — gentling and training yearling mustangs that were removed from Bureau of Land Management lands in Oregon for the purpose of herd management. The BLM periodically removes excess animals from rangeland to ensure herd health and protect rangeland resources.

Teens & Oregon Mustangs is a program designed to benefit both the mustangs and the teens who train them. The program’s mission is aimed at educating the public on the beauty, versatility and trainability of the horses.

Molly and Lucy’s journey together started on May 17, when the youth picked up their horses from Fitzgerald Farms in Yamhill. Molly said she spotted Lucy right away, standing quietly while all the other yearlings were dancing nervously about their holding pens. Although the horses are assigned randomly, Molly got her wish that day. When she picked up her paperwork with her horse’s number on it, that number was Lucy’s number.

“I was so relieved that I ended up with her rather than one of the wilder yearlings,” Molly said.

Molly’s first impression of Lucy held true.

It took her quite a while to find something that actually made Lucy spook, she said. The horse was calm while Molly bounced a giant yoga ball off the wall of the riding ring. She walked unfazed through the “car wash,” strands of plastic caution tape hanging from a PVC pipe.

What finally upset Lucy was a tarp attached to a set of bell boots the horse was wearing on her back hooves.

“She actually ran around for about a minute and a half. Then she just stopped,” Molly said. “She figured out if she didn’t run, the tarp wouldn’t chase her.”Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Molly Burton has spent her summer training Lucy, a mustang yearling who was removed from BLM land near John Day.

Molly suspects that where Lucy was born and grew up has something to do with her demeanor.

Lucy’s herd was the Murderer’s Creek herd in Grant County near John Day. Horses in the Murderer’s Creek herd are typically smaller in stature than most mustangs. They live in timbered areas at high elevations all year long.

In contrast to herds that live on the plains, whose instincts tell them to run away from a threat, timber horses use observation and caution to stay safe from threats, Molly explained.

Although yearlings can’t be ridden yet, Molly said, Lucy did well with a small saddle on her back.Photo Credit: HILLSBORO TRIBUNE PHOTO: KATHY FULLER - Molly Burton and Lucy walk the training ring at New Beginning Equestrian Center in North Plains.

The dynamic duo have a busy few weeks coming up. Molly will show Lucy at the Oregon State Fair, having qualified with blue ribbons in showmanship and ground training and a red ribbon for in-hand trail at the Washington County 4-H Horse Fair in July.

On Aug. 23, the 98 days of training will culminate with the Youth & Yearling Training Event in McMinnville. The event brings the 19 young people and their mustangs back together, where the youths will showcase their horses’ progress and compete for the title of Teens & Oregon Mustangs Champion.

The toughest part of the whole process, Molly said, is yet to come: Molly will auction off her horse at the event. Although she’ll be sad to part with her equine friend, Molly said she is confident the training and handling she’s given Lucy has made her into a great horse.

“Lucy will make someone an amazing lesson horse or a ‘bomb proof’ trail horse,” she said.