Colt Starting Challenge events benefit horses, trainers and horse lovers
A competitive event at which everyone wins … now that’s rare. Nevertheless, Colt Starting Challenge USA returns to Centennial, Colo., Aug. 4-5, bringing with it exactly that outcome for six horses and their owners, six trainers, a local rescue organization and a mesmerized audience.
CSC is the brainchild of horse trainer Russell Beatty, who, while residing in Hawaii in 2010, conducted his first event designed to showcase skills of up-and-coming horse trainers who employ natural horsemanship techniques on young horses not yet started under-saddle. In 2012, Beatty and wife, Christy. moved to the mainland, where the current CSC competitions took off at a fast-paced gallop.
CSC’s calendar includes up to 30 annual competitions across the continental U.S., from South Dakota to Texas, North Carolina to California. In fact, the Beattys’ travel schedule is so unrelenting that “homebase” has become a motorhome whose wheels seldom stop going round.
The way it works is simple, yet brilliant. Horse owners who have a horse between ages 2½ and 4 pay a registration fee if accepted as one of a pre-set number of animals to be saddle-trained. The animals must be riding stock (no drafts, BLM mustangs, mules or stallions are accepted) that, other than halter-broke, haven’t been previously started.
When Friends of Horses Rescue Founder Bill Stiffler attended his first CSC, he marveled at the talent of the trainers involved and subsequently contacted the Beattys about hosting a competition, which would benefit the FOH. That initial event occurred in 2014, another following each year since. He estimated that 100-plus spectators attend the nightly sessions at which trainers vie for superb results, as well as a championship buckle. The rescue organization provides a beautifully engineered deep sand arena in which six round pens are erected, one for each trainer and their assigned (by draw) horse.
After touring his facility at past events, some CSC spectators ended up purchasing one or more rescued horses. Stiffler said others decide to send their horses to trainers they admire during the challenge. Creating more winners.
HOMES FOR HORSES
Stiffler said that his 10-acre facility has been saving horses since 2001, consistently maintaining approximately 100 animals at any given time. The rescue continuously places equines in new homes and brings in more lucky individuals as their predecessors leave. As a 501c3 organization, FOH sources their needy saves at low-end horse and livestock auctions; directly from kill buyers — off-the-racetrack Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, Arabians, Paints, Appaloosas — owner-surrendered horses.
A devoted army of volunteers keep the gears of this finely tuned rescue machine properly greased, allowing FOH to now place more horses annually than any other horse rescue in Colorado, Stiffler said. Some weekends bring 30-40 people out to groom and lead equines, scoop poop, and otherwise work with animals each awaiting their special person to come take them home. A few juvenile volunteers are fulfilling their court-ordered community service hours. These individuals may not initially be horse-smart but they quickly learn which end of a pitchfork or scoop shovel does the duty and pays their debt to society.
“I like to call their time spent with us ‘aroma therapy,’” Stiffler said. “Really helps clear their heads about what they did that got them there so they maybe won’t do it again.”
Stiffler prefers that prospective owners lease a horse before actually purchasing it to make sure the arrangement is a good fit in their life and environment. Other rescued equines are loaned pro-bono to therapeutic riding groups. FOH provides camps for at-risk Denver-area youth, as well.
As with the community-service volunteers, proper horse training corrects something that’s awry with a horse’s abilities or demeanor. Horses end up at slaughter through no fault of their own. Many are awesome, sound and beautiful performance animals (slaughterhouses prefer fat, healthy, young equines which fetch the highest meat prices per pound). A few equines, however, were taught by ignorant or heavy-handed riders to mistrust and fearfully lash out at humans.
THE RIGHT START
CSC events get young equines off on the right hoof, so to speak. Its trainers can also rehab soured animals pulled out of the slaughter pipeline and bring out their true potential.
Camaraderie between CSC trainers is palpable at competitions; they’re all willing to lend a hand to one another and to owners of the participating horses, even beyond the CSC events. Stiffler said that many CSC trainers over the years have gone on to national fame, including Sam Wilson. The Hawaii-born woman eventually competed in Bureau of Land Management Mustang Makeover competitions, winning several national championships.
The ticketed event ($15 each) is open to the public, whose only caveat is to BYOC (bring your own chairs). Over the course of the two consecutive evenings, several work sessions will bring the horses along from untrained to skilled enough under saddle to compete in the final obstacle course, a mind-blowing accomplishment that proves out the incredible talents of their natural horsemanship trainers/riders.
Cristy Beatty said the two days of training and competition: Friday evening’s session (6-9 p.m.) will begin with an introduction of the horses, owners and trainers. Then the real fun begins, starting with critical groundwork and saddling, mounting and basics under saddle — all over the course of just two hours. Trainers are each equipped with a cordless headset/microphone. As all six simultaneously work their horses in separate pens, one trainer at a time explains to viewers the rationale for their actions designed to mold the animal into a compliant, trusting and trustworthy mount.
Saturday night’s competition (5-9 p.m.) commences with a 45-minute refresher followed by a break, Beatty said. When audience members return to the arena, they’ll marvel at the obstacle course to be navigated within a 12-minute time limit by each horse/trainer team. Challenges include walk/trot/canter, walk across a tarp, zig-zag poles, ground poles and rope a barrel. Judges base scoring on natural horsemanship techniques employed, with two-thirds of the total accrued points based on ground work.
Not only do the horses, owners and trainers gain great benefits from participation at CSC competitions, spectators pick up valuable training tips at the sessions. Because the Centennial event is a benefit for FOH, with one-third of the gate receipts being donated to the rescue, untold more numbers of otherwise doomed horses also eventually win.
Additional 2017 CSC competitions are scheduled, including one Sept. 15-16 in McCook, Neb. CSC displays at expos as well. These venues include Rocky Mountain Horse Expo; Hoosier Horse Fair in Indianapolis, Ind.; Black Hills (SD) Horse Expo; and the Western Heritage Classic in Abilene, Texas.
CSC videos can be viewed on their Facebook page. Further information such as entering a horse in an upcoming competition, the 2017-2018 events calendar, driving directions and trainer bios with contact information can be found at http://www.coltstartingchallengeusa.com.
— Marty Metzger is a freelance writer from Fort Collins, Colo. She can be reached at email@example.com.