OKEECHOBEE — Breaking a young horse to ride often is a weeklong process, but six horse trainers will accomplish that task in just a few hours using Natural Horsemanship, as spectators watch at the Okeechobee Colt Starting Challenge event.
Colt Starting Challenge USA will be showcased on two nights, Friday, April 26, from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturday, April 27, from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Fred Smith covered arena in Okeechobee. Tickets are $15 each night.
Cristy Beatty, who co-founded Colt Starting Challenge USA with her husband, Russell Beatty, said they’re excited to bring the event to Okeechobee for the third time. Six experienced horse trainers will work, starting in six round pens, as they compete to gentle, start and ride six unbroke horses.
“It’s exciting to watch them get started from halter-broke to being ridden all over the place and how they can get that accomplished so quickly,” she said. “It’s not the average performance. This is real-life stuff happening right in front of you. Sometimes, these guys get bucked off.”
By day two of the competition, she said, trainers will be riding loosely together through the arena, then each trainer will have 12 minutes to ride their horse through an obstacle course. Judges will assign points to each trainer to determine the winner, who will walk away with a commemorative buckle.
Mrs. Beatty said her husband was inspired to launch Colt Starting Challenge USA about eight years ago after watching a friend participate in a similar event.
“He felt it was awesome to see and learned how to do it,” she said. “We decided to make it our business.”
They put on about 20 of the popular events each year all over the U.S., mainly at Horse Expos but also at their own hosted events. Horses are brought in from surrounding communities and must be between two and four years of age that have been halter-broke but never have been saddled, bridled or ridden. Trainers, who must have already started 50 to 100 horses or more, are randomly matched with a colt and wear cordless microphones so they can explain what they’re doing to crowds.
“It draws a huge audience because it’s unique and interesting,” Mrs. Beatty said. “Performances are always different due to the individual styles of trainers, and horses are all different temperaments and breeds. It’s never the same.”
One thing all trainers have in common, she said, is their use of Natural Horsemanship methods. Contest rules prohibit the use of items such as spurs or leg restraints. The key, she said, is to build initial trust with the horse.
“Most of the time, they just ride them with a halter,” she said. “Natural Horsemanship methods of horse training speeds up the process of gentling and riding a horse.”
Mrs. Beatty said spectators, no matter who they are or how much they know about horses, can learn a lot from watching the training process unfold before their eyes.
For more information about the competition, and to see a great action video, visitcoltstartingchallengeusa.com.