Keizer teen tames wild mustang


Keizer teen tames wild mustang

9:12 a.m. PDT August 8, 2016

Elisabeth Burleson likes to spend her free time with wild horses.

Burleson, 15, usually rides Suzie, a 16-year-old Quarter Horse and Pony of America (POA) mix, a few hours a day.

But this spring and summer, she spent 113 days working with a 17-month-old mustang named Delilah for the national Extreme Mustang Makeover competition.

This is the third BLM horse Burleson has trained and her second year participating in the Extreme Mustang Makeover competition. She was the only youth participant from Oregon this year.

She has been part of the Keizerettes and Kings and the Saddle Slappers 4-H horse clubs since she was 9 years old.

Burleson tied for fifth out of 13 competitors.

Delilah is a filly from a herd of nearly 300 mustangs removed after the Soda Fire in eastern Oregon and southwestern Idaho last year.

After a DNA test, Delilah is thought to be one third Garrano, a breed believed to be brought to the U.S. by Spanish conquistadors; one third Hanoverian, a German horse breed; and one third Morgan horse, a breed brought to the area by Keizer’s namesake. Both the Hanoverian and Morgan horse breeds were brought over the Oregon trail, said Tamra, Burleson’s mother.

“She truly a little piece of American history,” Tamra said.

Though she wasn’t responsible for “saddle breaking” Delilah, Burleson needed to groom and train Delilah so she could be resettled.

In order to train Delilah, Burleson first had to establish trust.

Burleson said she had to establish she was the person Delilah would get food from and she was the person to give commands.

At first it was pretty dangerous, Burleson. Delilah was wild and went through phases of stubbornness.

Tamra said it took the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) three tries to remove her herd as they are notorious for being particularly wild.

“She was a kicker,” Burleson said.

Burleson wore a helmet for the first two months of working with Delilah and continued to make Delilah face her hind feet away from Burleson so she knew to look to the young woman for instruction — and so she couldn’t kick her again.

Burleson said she also had to do a lot to de-sensitize Delilah, like having her around other people, parks, loud sounds, and cars.

At the competition last weekend in Idaho, Burleson had to show the judges a variety of things to prove the work she did with Delilah was effective.

She was judged on three classes — conditioning and handling, trail, and freestyle.

In conditioning and handling, Burleson was judged on Delilah’s general appearance and body condition, her ability to be taken off the lead and caught again, her ability to load and unload from an unfamiliar trailer, and more.

During the trail portion, Burleson had to go over various terrains with Delilah, including bridges, to show her comfort.

Lastly, Burleson used props and music to do a freestyle routine, during which Delilah went on a pedestal and bowed, among other tricks.

After the competition, Delilah was able to be re-homed in Boise, Idaho at a riding school.

Tamra said there will be six or so pre-teen girls “doting on her all the time” there.

Burleson said she wants to compete in the adult division one day.

“That’s when I get her an inflatable vest,” laughed Tamra.

Without programs like this, many wild horses starve due to overgrazing.

Since 1971, when the U.S. Congress passed the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act, the BLM has placed more than 235,000 wild horses and burros into private care.

Though Burleson was sad to part with Delilah after all the work and bonding they went through together, she said she is looking forward to being able to spend more time with Suzie again.

Contact Natalie Pate at, 503-399-6745 or follow on Twitter @Nataliempate or

Published by Natalie Pate

Natalie Pate is a freelance journalist and author based in Salem, Oregon. She wrote about education for more than seven years at the Statesman Journal and now covers education and other topics throughout the Pacific Northwest. She is originally from Colorado and earned her B.A. in Politics and French from Willamette University.

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