Lewiston family prepares mustangs for auction

Lewiston family prepares mustangs for auction

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LEWISTON, Utah (AP) -- Annaka Cutler gallops bareback past a round pen with a half dozen dogs and a few guinea hens trailing behind her.

The wind whips through her bay gelding's mane on a blustery October day. She seems completely comfortable with him, smiling broadly as they race around the Cutler family's large property.

After a slight pull on the reins, the horse eases up and stops, lowering his head placidly.

Watching the calm, well-behaved animal respond to the teen's commands, it would be easy to think they had been together since he was a colt.

In fact, only a few months ago, this mustang was as wild as they come -- eking out a hardscrabble existence in Utah's west desert with the rest of his herd.

Then, in early August, the bay's life changed dramatically.

As part of the Bureau of Land Management's new Extreme Mustang Makeover program, the 3-year-old animal was captured and assigned to train with Annaka, who recently turned 18, the minimum age for participants.

Annaka's stepfather, Kim Cutler, also took in a horse -- a large black gelding.

As competitors in the program, the pair had 100 days to tame their mustangs for a contest and horse auction that will take place Nov. 7 in Heber.

And from the looks of it, the father-daughter team has succeeded wildly.

The black horse, now named Ringo, can drag a log with a rope and walk across a teeter bridge -- a board with a small log under it.

The bay, dubbed Trooper, has conquered his fear of a flag that flies near the round pen and even does well when Annaka dons a long coat that he can see flapping from the corner of his eye.

And of course, there's that trick of riding him bareback, something that's difficult even with the best horses.

It's an incredible transformation, considering both animals flinched from the slightest touch when they first arrived in Lewiston.

"They've come so far," says Annaka's mother, Karen Cutler. "You can't even recognize them as the same horses."

The Cutlers are hoping that the competition judges will agree.

Kim, a professional trainer with three decades of experience, is shooting for the event's top prize and its $5,000 purse.

Roughly 30 mustangs will take part, going through tests that showcase their ability to follow a variety of commands, including completion of an obstacle course and exhibiting three gaits (walk, trot and canter or lope).

Karen says she is excited about the competition but feels sad at the prospect of seeing the horses go. She's grown particularly attached to Ringo and hopes to buy him back during the auction. Most of the mustangs will sell for about $1,000.

"I love him; I love riding him," Karen said of Ringo. "He's a very sensitive horse. He's aware of what's going on around him."

Annaka also wants to keep Trooper. But even if she doesn't win him at the auction, she'll be proud of her work with the formerly wild mustang.

"I'm glad I've given him a good start in life," Annaka says. "Wherever he ends up, he'll have that good start."

(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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