Local teen trains wild mustang

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GUNLOCK – A local girl is set to compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover, which starts today in Lexington. 

Emilee Ann Knepp, 17 years old from Gunlock, was selected earlier this year to be one of the youth trainers in the contest. Knepp has had roughly 100 days to tame an 11-month-old mustang named Desert Dreamer and the two will be competing with the theme “I Love Rock ’n' Roll.” 

Last year Knepp competed in the competition for the first time, training the horse Vegas, but she has loved horses since she was two years old.

“When she was little she watched ‘Spirit’ so much she wore out the DVDs,” her mother, Gladys Knepp-Wireman, said. “She’s just always had a dream of taming a wild horse.” 

Wireman said this year’s mustang has proven that all mustangs are different.

“She got Dreamer at age 11 months,” Wireman said. “She was bigger than last year's yearling. This year was a bigger challenge, as she juggled high school, got a new job at McDonald's, and training. She chose to take the month of June off work to concentrate solely on her training.”

Knepp said she had to cater her training to the individual mustangs.

“Training each horse is different,” she said. “You have to be patient and find what works for each different horse.”

She kept last year’s mustang after training, but this year she has chosen to reassign Dreamer to a home with a young girl who has a dream of owning her own mustang but doesn't have the opportunity, because they are wild and have to be tamed. She will receive a "trainer's" fee for taming and training her.

Even though she is sad to see her go, Knepp said Dreamer is going to a wonderful home and she plans to train more horses.

Her mom told the Independent she thoroughly enjoys training and working with horses and wants to maintain a future in doing so. She plans on investing any winnings toward college tuition as she pursues her dream of becoming a veterinarian. In the process, she said she wants to give a mustang a new home while bringing more awareness to the Mustang Heritage Foundation and the process of adopting and training a mustang. 

The Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge will be held June 21 through 23 at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Youth trainers are competing for an estimated purse of $3,000 in prize money, as well as a custom-made “A Cut Above” belt buckle. 

The purpose of the competition is to showcase the beauty, versatility and trainability of wild horses. Mustangs roam freely on public lands throughout the West, where they are protected by the Bureau of Land Management under federal law. The BLM Wild Horse and Burro Program periodically removes excess animals from the range to ensure herd health and protect rangeland resources. Thousands of the removed animals are then made available each year to the public for adoption or purchase. Over 9,500 mustangs have been placed into private care through Mustang Heritage Foundation events and programs since 2007. 

The young mustangs competing in the Extreme Mustang Makeover challenge are virtually untouched prior to the February pick-up. The youth trainers and their adopted mustangs will compete in a series of classes that will showcase their new skills. The horses will compete in a handling and conditioning class, a pattern class, a combined trail class and freestyle class. 

Knepp is the granddaughter of Johnny Mack and Delores Owens, and the great-granddaughter of Gladys Wireman.