Several years ago, Allyson Butler went horseback riding for her birthday. Today, at age 16, she’s training wild mustangs and competing against riders from across the country and Canada.

“Mustangs are my priority,” said the Town of Cottage Grove girl. “After my family, my horses come first.”

Allyson will be one of 56 equine trainers competing in the Mustang Challenge as part of the 40th Midwest Horse Fair on Friday through Sunday at the Alliant Energy Center. Many competitors are from the Midwest, but some are from as far away as Florida, Texas and Canada.

“My trainer told me about it (the Mustang Challenge),” Allyson said. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever.”

She first entered the challenge in 2017 with a mustang she named Rosalina. After the event, she kept the horse, who is almost 3 years old.

In January, each contestant was matched with a wild mustang and has been working with the horses since then. Allyson was paired with a 1-year-old brown male she named Gus.

“I work with him at least two hours every single day,” she said. “The first thing you have to do is earn their trust. That means just talking with them, sitting in their stall to get them used to you. It takes so much patience to train a wild mustang.”

Allyson said it can take a week or two before the horse even allows the trainer to touch them.

“The first touch is the hardest part,” she said. “Once the halter and lead rope are on, they pick up things super fast. They are super smart.

“Eventually, they get attached to your hip. When anything upsets them or gets them anxious, they look to you to keep them safe.”

Preliminary Mustang Challenge competitions take place Friday and Saturday, with the top 10 finalists earning the chance to perform a musical freestyle act and compete for their share of $20,000 in prizes at the fair’s signature Saturday evening event, Legendary Night. Famed equestrians, world-renowned equine acts and talented horses join together for an evening of entertainment, fun and competition at Legendary Night.

“We’re so excited to see the progress our Mustang Challenge contestants and their respective horses have made in just a few months,” said fair Executive Director Megan Hanuszczak. “Each trainer has been working hard to train and establish a unique bond with their horse.”

In addition to the Mustang Challenge, other competitions throughout the weekend include world championship blacksmiths, dressage freestyle and horse judging. World-class trainers, Olympians and equine experts will lead more than 300 clinics, seminars and educational events throughout the weekend.

Attendees can also enjoy breed and discipline demonstrations, activities in the Kids Korral, and pony and carriage rides. The entertainment stage will host live music acts all weekend long, and shopping is available at more than 500 vendor booths throughout the weekend.

Admission to the fair is $13 in advance and $20 at the gate for a one-day pass, or $30 in advance and $45 at the gate for the three-day pass, which includes parking. Admission is free for children 7 and younger.

Advance fair tickets are on sale at all 41 Blain’s Farm & Fleet locations until April 11. Separate tickets are required for some events, including Legendary Night and the PRCA Rodeo. Seat prices begin at $10 and are available on TicketMaster.

For more information about the weekend, visit the fair’s Facebook and Twitter pages.

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