Chelsea Bowen was looking for another horse when she stumbled by chance across an online auction site offering wild mustangs for adoption.
With just a week left to go before the bids were due, she got in on the action and wound up with a dappled palomino mare.
“I totally fell in love with her.”
That was nearly five years ago, and on Friday, the Pennsylvania resident was in Delta to bid on Bureau of Land Management horses from the Cedar Mountain herd, gathered from the drought-stricken ranges of Tooele County just a few months ago.
She took 14 three for herself, while the remaining 11 animals are bound for homes in Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut and other parts of New England.
Bowen is a champion equestrian rider who will bring home for herself a 2-year-old Palomino paint gelding and two 2-year-old fillies, including one with a broken nose.
“The downtrodden ones kind of work their way into your heart,” she said.
She’s developed a network of more than 13,000 followers on her Facebook page, A Mustang Named Folly & Friends, to urge the adoption of wild horses, particularly from the Cedar Mountain herd in Utah.
“I’ve ridden six-figure Grand Prix horses, and I would take one of these over them any day,” she said. “They’re so versatile, sensitive and smart.”
It helps that these are bigger than average mustangs sporting flashy colors and a reputation for being easy trainers.
Both Bowen and Annie MacDermaid from Arizona are part of the Mustang Heritage Foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program that operates in cooperation with the BLM.
The foundation’s Trainer Incentive Program pays trainers to gentle the horses on behalf of their new adoptive owners. Owners still pay the going price of $125 per animal, or $25 for horses over 11 years old.
Bowen and MacDermaid spend countless hours matching would-be adopters with horses or taking requests. MacDermaid has her own Facebook page, Arizona Mustangs & Burros, to spread the value of mustangs.
“At the end of the day, it is about finding good homes for them,” Bowen said.
It’s hectic work, however.
“I was here all day Thursday taking photos, videos, and FaceTiming my clients and going over top bids,” Bowen said.
One of Bowen’s clients had an eye on a stunning gray filly with white stockings.
The starting bid Friday was $125, but a St. George man bid $700 on the animal, which he said he promised to bring back to Washington County for a therapy program.
Bowen had to find a backup animal later in the day, scouring the pens for a suitable substitute and texting photos and videos to the prospective owner. They settled on a dun with a blaze.
Both she and MacDermaid huddled together over horses and gave each other hugs or high-fives whenever they bought an animal on their list.
They were on their phones immediately after a transaction.
“Congratulations,” MacDermaid told one client. “You are the proud owner of two blue roan horses.”
After a pause.
“Yes, I am serious. I got my baby, too!”
MacDermaid drove 10 hours to Utah from south of Phoenix and was returning Friday. But for her, the hours on the road and the tension of the auction is worth it.
“We haven’t found one thing they haven’t been able to do,” MacDermaid said. “I love these horses from Utah. I feel like it is the facility that makes the difference.”
MacDermaid has taken 50 horses from Delta so far this year.
“They are so smart and sensitive and easy to train.”
The horses they adopted will head for their new homes before the end of the month.
MacDermaid found a hauler for Bowen to get her horses back to the East Coast, a $5,500 endeavor.
Bowen said the logistics of the West is something she is learning to overcome.
This was her first visit to Utah, although she already has two horses from the Cedar Mountain herd through other adoption events with pickup locations closer to home. Out of her six horses already back at home, five are mustangs.
“They are so hardy. We fox hunt, galloping over rocky terrain and she loves it,” she said of her horse, Folly.
She’s trained her horse for eventing, which combines dressage, cross-country and show jumping. Folly didn’t flinch.
Bowen was traditionally a thoroughbred and warmblood equestrian, so when she took a chance on a mustang from the West, it stunned her circle of friends.
“Everyone thought I was crazy.”
There was something about that horse, however, that spoke to her heart of promises for big, wide-open opportunities — much like the sprawling ranges of the West — that she couldn’t ignore.
Bowen said she named her first mustang Folly after a line in the 1944 classic “National Velvet,” in which a young Elizabeth Taylor wants to enter her horse The Pie in the Grand National competition.
It takes a lot of money, but her mother agrees because of her own experience of being told as a 20-year-old that no woman could swim the English Channel, and she did.
In the film, the mother says, “I, too, believe that everyone should have a chance at a breathtaking piece of folly once in his life.”
It turns out for Bowen and many others, Folly was anything but.