SHOSHONE - What kind of horse is Raven?
Some might say the mustang is merely one of tens of thousands of unwanted and untrainable feral animals spread across the West, burdening taxpayers with a $71.8 million annual management tab.
But to Dana Lovell, Raven is a multifaceted creature whose wild instincts she hopes to tuck under his developing gentle nature. Daily, she has witnessed these opposite sides clash as she trains a steed that once ran wildly and freely in southeast Oregon's Barren Valley.
Still pumping through Raven's 5-year-old body are the raw instincts and herd mentality he relied on to survive as a colt. They make him leery of strangers and hesitant in strange places.
But the black horse with a white spot on his nose has another side.
"He's a thinker," Lovell said.
"My philosophy is that you have to accept the horse for who they are," said Lovell, a Shoshone resident and professional horse trainer.
So what kind of horse is Raven? A trail-riding horse? A ranch horse?
After 17 days, it's too soon to know for sure. But Lovell said his thoughtfulness and responsive gait will serve him well when the two compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover in late July.
The competition is a partnership between the Bureau of Land Management and the Mustang Heritage Foundation. Competitors have 100 days to break a wild mustang and show off the creature's talents in front of an audience.
Lovell will compete against 30 other adult horse trainers for a $10,000 purse during the July 25-26 event in Nampa. Fifteen youths will compete for a $3,000 purse. The trainers and horses will be judged on handling and conditioning, a pattern class and a leading-and-riding class. The top 10 horses will move on to the freestyle finals the next day.
Once the competition is over, the adult competitors' horses will go up for adoption. This is Idaho's first time for the event, which has been in 15 states so far, said Kyla Hogan, foundation marketing director.
The idea is to give trainers and horse enthusiasts incentives to break wild horses so they can be adopted.
The BLM manages the herds. Unmanaged, their populations can double in three to four years. Without government control - gathering and adoption programs - their populations would boom to unsustainable levels and cause starvation, said Steve Leonard, wild horse and burro specialist for the BLM in Boise.
About 33,780 wild horses roam on BLM-managed lands across 10 states; 47,128 are held in corrals and pastures under government care. They have been removed to keep herd numbers in check and the range healthy, Leonard said.
Groups such as the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign long have criticized the BLM's management as a "cruel, expensive and needless" program by an agency that seeks to eliminate wild horses from the range to "make room for taxpayer-subsidized livestock grazing."
The horse adoption program, meanwhile, has suffered as the economy sank and the price of hay skyrocketed. Last year, the BLM had 2,671 horses adopted, compared with 5,701 in 2005.
Since the first makeover competition in 2007, more than 5,000 horses have been adopted through the foundation, Hogan said.
Hogan said the program also aims to ease the taxpayer burden of caring for the tens of thousands of horses under federal watch. In 2013, Congress spent $71.8 million on its Wild Horse and Burro Program. Of that, holding costs totalled $46.2 million, the BLM reported.
With 775 horses in six herds, Idaho has significantly fewer wild horses than its neighboring states. Nevada has 18,764, Oregon is home to 2,674 and Wyoming and Utah hold more than 3,000, the BLM estimated.
Idaho has 80 horses up for adoption, Leonard said.
There was standing room only at the first mustang makeover, she said. "I think people were expecting to see these wild animals running around, bucking and attacking the crowd, and that's not the case."
Lovell said she and Raven have had their "challenging moments." Sometimes the mustang thinks about "getting mouthy," but Lovell gets in his face and asserts herself.
"It's like dating a new guy," she said.
When Lovell brought Raven home, she worked with him 10 to 15 minutes at a time to reduce stress and make sure he didn't enter "fight or flight mode."
"They are designed to survive. If they are stressed out, they'll withdraw and go within themselves and they won't process or learn," she said. "You think, 'Oh, look how broke he is, he's so gentle.' Well, no, he is just not processing what's going on, because it is so stressful and unusual that they don't process it."
Surrounding his pen are plastic bags and other items that blow in the wind to desensitize the horse. Lovell has several other training items in the back pasture, including a teeter-totter and a tire upon which Raven now can stand on command.
Lovell also prods anyone who visits the ranch to pet Raven. Horses often bond closely with their handlers, she said. Introducing Raven to others is one of the many things she does to prepare him not only for the competition, but also for life with another owner.
Raven has his own Running T Horsemanship Mustang Makover Facebook fan page and several local sponsors, she said.
Kali Castle, a 14-year-old Carey resident, is training her mustang, Razor, for the makeover as well. Castle said her 2-year-old horse is very curious despite his skittishness.
"It's hard to get him to be your friend and trust you," she said.
Kali said she's glad she won't have to give Razor up for adoption after the contest. She hopes to turn him into a barrel-racing horse.
Despite knowing how to work with horses, she said, she is learning a lot about herself.
"I think it's helping me become more patient with animals and trying to understand them and where they're coming from," Kali said. "If you are really angry when you are around your horse, it makes him all tense and tighten up."
On Day 12, Lovell rode Raven for the first time in his life.
She had spent many hours handling him. When he got a soft look in his eye and his muscles relaxed, she swung her leg over. There was no Hollywood moment, no music from the sky - just a photo of Lovell fully embracing the once-wild creature, smiling.
When Lovell gives him up in July, she knows she'll cry. The bond between mustang and trainer goes both ways. But it's critical that they train quickly. The BLM normally won't adopt out wild horses older than 6.
"This is Raven's last chance at having a future," she said.