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Kohler and Comanche.
Mt. Hood College student helps finds homes for wild mustangs posted on 04/01/2018

In the shadow of Mount Hood, Boring resident Sarah Kohler recently put her wild mustang Comanche through his paces at Milo McIver State Park in preparation for the 2018 Mustang Adoption Challenge.

“I’ve had animals around my whole life, and I love taking an animal that needs training, that needs help … and fixing them up and seeing them go where people can enjoy them,” Sarah said, describing her involvement in the program.

As part of the challenge Sarah had 98 days to train and gentle the four-year-old  mustang (less than 60 days out of the wild) before showcasing her horsemanship skills at the Northwest Horse Fair and Expo, held March 22-25 in Albany. A live horse auction followed the award ceremony and placed the trained animals in adoptive homes.

Sarah, a 23-year old criminal justice major at Mt. Hood Community College is studying to become a police officer. She takes time from her busy schedule to spend one to two hours daily training her horses for competition.

“You have to want to do this ... there’s a lot of time and effort,” Sarah said about the training process.

She previously worked as a trainer on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation and volunteers as a trainer for Oregon Animal Rescue, a nonprofit organization based in Boring.

Sarah first started riding horses around the age of three and was exposed to horse training by her mother. Her mother encouraged her to enter her first competition at the age of 17.

This year is her third time entering in the competition, which was founded by the Teens and Oregon Mustangs organization in 2009. She participated twice as a teenager in 2010 and 2013, and came in first place at the 2016 Washington Mustang Madness.

Teens and Oregon Mustangs co-founder Erica Fitzgerald described the program’s goals of fostering the trainer’s growth in horsemanship, facilitating adoption of the heavily overpopulated wild mustangs and allowing the public access to the gentled horses.

“We try to give the general public a chance to own a piece of American history,” she said.

Sarah does an “outstanding job representing our program,” Erica added, describing Sarah’s efforts preparing the horses for adoption by training them to be handled by the public.

“350 horses later we’ve made a tiny dent,” said Fitzgerald, noting the program’s 100 percent adoption record.

40 horses were auctioned off as a result of the organization’s efforts this year.

The trainers and horses compete and are scored in four categories; body conditioning, showmanship, in-hand trail and riding. Trainers are assigned horses randomly at the beginning of the competition.

“I was lucky to get a pretty one; that helps,” Sarah laughed, describing the 15.2 hand, red dun mustang gelding she named Comanche in recognition of the horse that was the sole surviving member of the U.S Calvary after the Battle of the Little Bighorn. “He’s got a kind heart, a lot of personality and I really enjoy working with him,” she added.      

Sarah and Comanche placed third in the body conditioning portion of the competition and third in the showmanship category. Overall, they came in fourth place in their division in the 2018 Mustang Adoption Challenge. Comanche was auctioned off for $5,400 and was the second highest bidding horse in the competition.

“Comanche did great, everybody loved him,” Sarah said after the event. “He got an awesome home; that’s the ultimate goal.”

Sarah plans on continuing to compete in the wild mustang training challenges. She is heading to Burns in April to pick up two horses to train for the 2018 Washington Mustang Madness in July. She is also participating in the Oregon Rescue Challenge, June 29-30, in Powell Butte to aid in the adoption of abused and neglected horses.

She plans on taking the next two mustangs to Welches and the surrounding region to train once the weather permits.

By Benjamin Simpson/MT

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