A Forestdale teenager has been given the opportunity to tame a wild mustang, fresh from the Nevada wilderness, and possibly win the title of Youth Trainer of the Year.
Lauren A. Shell, 18, of Boardley Road is taking part in the Youth and Yearling Mustang Challenge, competing against 21 other youngsters, ages 8 to 18, for the top trainer title of the year.
The Mustang Challenge is an annual event, but this year is the first time it has come to Massachusetts.
Lauren and her mustang, whom she named Jackpot, met for the first time two weeks ago.
Jackpot is only 2 years old and not developmentally ready for riding but he is ready to be gentled to the human touch and ready to be trained to wear a harness and to follow Lauren's lead.
For the next 90 days, Lauren's job is to teach him to trust her.
"This is the part we were told that will be different with every horse and that you can't try to rush," Lauren's mother, Joyce A. Shell, said.
Each young trainer has been matched with a local mentor to help them through the process.
Lauren's mentor is Beverly Chagnon, also of Boardley Road.
Beverly has a degree in equine management from Findley University in Ohio. She will help Lauren with Jackpot's handling and initial haltering.
" 'Isn't that dangerous?' is the first question people have been asking me about this experience, and it would be if the kids were not matched with a knowledgable mentor," Ms. Shell said.
The Mustang Challenge is a cooperative effort between the US Bureau of Land Management and the Mustang Heritage Foundation.
The goal is to increase the adoption of the wild horses that are overpopulating some of the government lands in the West by showing the public how intelligent and trainable they are.
Lauren heard about the challenge on Facebook from a friend in Rhode Island who applied to participate. Lauren asked her parents for four years in a row if she could apply.
Finally, because she was about to age out of the contest and because the program was coming to Massachusetts, her parents said yes.
The gelded yearlings and the Mustang Challenge participants were matched randomly by numbers drawn out of a hat. Jackpot's lucky number was 5719.
He was the tallest of the bunch, at 14.1 hands, and was the only blue roan out of a pack of chestnut and bay mustangs. Blue roan coloring is a full black coat at birth that gradually turns to a blueish gray all over.
Ms. Shell and her husband, Larry J. Shell, put Lauren on a horse for the first time when she was a baby, about the same age as Jackpot.
"Lauren took to the horses right away and would only cry when we took her off of a horse," Ms. Shell said.
Lauren was riding by the time she was 3 years old and now competes in barrel racing with her own two horses, Dolly, an American quarter horse, and Rocket, an Arabian cross.
Lauren and Dolly were the barrel-racing champions at last year's Barnstable County Fair.
Lauren prefers barrel racing over other horse activities.
"It doesn't matter what your horse looks like in barrel racing. It only matters that you get around those barrels first; it is a true competition of timing and skill," Lauren said. Her next barrel-racing competition will be in April.
In addition to Dolly and Rocket, Lauren's family also has her mother's horse, Cash, which is a breed known as a paint, named for the splashes of different colors in its coat.
The Mustang Challenge will culminate in June, when all 22 young trainers and their horses will travel to Athol to be judged.
The horse and trainer will be judged in three classes: handling and conditioning, hand trail guiding, and a freestyle category, where each youth trainer will show off their progress with each horse in whatever way they choose.
Lauren has aspirations to become a career horse trainer.
She just turned 18 on Sunday and is now eligible to get her riding instructor license.
Lauren attended Sandwich public schools until the 9th grade and was home-schooled after that. She expects to graduate within a year and then travel to Tennessee to apprentice in the large horse training community there.
This is the very first untouched, untrained horse Lauren has had the opportunity to work with.
"Most parents I talk to think I am crazy for letting her do this but this was the last year that she was eligible. I didn't want to hold her back from her dream," Ms. Shell said.
Fllow Lauren and Jackpot on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/pages/Lauren-Shells-Mustang/239348719582612.