Watching Blake Powell gently guide “EZ” around the arena at Heart Cross Ranch southeast of Albany, it’s difficult to believe that just three months ago the 2-year-old was a wild mustang roaming eastern Oregon.
Barely moving the leather reins, Powell moved EZ backwards, side to side and circled the arena.
“It’s all about super soft motions,” explained Powell, 28, of Lebanon. “I don’t believe in having to jerk the horse around, or to spur it. Our way of training takes time, but the benefits far exceed the extra effort.”
A journeyman plumber by trade, Powell competed in rodeos for many years, riding bulls and bareback horses, “until the kids started coming along.”
Five years ago, he began learning how to train horses with Marv Ramsey, who has more than 30 years experience in the field.
“He started as my assistant and he’s turned into a really good hand,” Ramsey said of Powell.
The men train horses of all breeds for other owners, focusing on the Vaquero style of horsemanship, gentle motions and trust.
EZ is Powell’s first wild mustang and he will compete in the Extreme Mustang Makeover set for June 29 to July 1 at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center. EZ comes from the Bureau of Land Management property in the Owyhee area in southeastern Oregon.
“The horse is actually pretty young for training,” Ramsey said. “We like to start them at 3 years of age. But he’s done very well. He’s very smart.”
Powell said EZ never “bucked, kicked or bit,” even during his first days in a new home.
At 14 hands tall and 900 pounds, EZ still has room for growth over the next three years.
“He was pretty thin when we got him in March,” Ramsey said. “He has filled out nicely. He knows where the feed is.”
Ramsey said over the years he has broken three mustangs and only one turned out well.
“Some just can’t get over being wild. One of them just kept attacking people,” Ramsey said. “That’s not the case with EZ.”
Powell said the first task in training EZ was to establish that Powell was the leader.
“Horses look for a leader, whether it’s another horse or a human,” Powell said. “The first thing I did was establish trust with him and then slowly, he let me touch his nose, then his neck. We just moved along slowly. It has taken a lot of time, every single day.”
Powell said he has no intention of teaching EZ to do “circus tricks” for the competition.
“He doesn’t have to put on a show,” Powell said. “He’s already survived in the wild. There’s nothing else to prove.”