STILLWATER, Okla. – Bill Stiffler saw the Colt Starting Challenge USA competitions as the perfect opportunity for his horse rescue operation.
Stiffler, president of Friends of Horses in Centennial, Colo., needed good trainers to work with the horses that are at his complex. He found the right people through the unique competition, which matches trainers with young horses that have had limited handling, had never been saddled nor bridled and needed, and needed the understanding of great horsemen and horsewomen.
It’s that very competition that will take place from 6-9 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, and noon-4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at the Oklahoma State University’s Animal Science Arena on the west edge of campus.
“When I first became aware of it, it came at an opportune time for me,” Stiffler said. “I had a number of younger horses that had never been started, some as old as 5 or 6 that nobody ever did anything with.
“Those horses don’t have very many options.”
Enter Russell and Cristy Beatty, who founded the Colt Starting Challenge USA. Competitions take place over two days and showcase some of the best trainers in the country. By the time the contest concludes on the second day, trainers will take their horses through a series of challenges to show just how far the animals come in a short time frame.
“I love it,” Stiffler said. “I think it’s very entertaining. When they first contacted me, it was to enter some horses, so I entered two. One had been turned out in a ranch next to an Indian reservation. The other came from an animal hoarder, and she was probably 4 or 5 years old and had never been touched.
“The guy that won the competition did so on her. I didn’t think there was ever any way they’d ever get to ride that mare, much less do what they did on her that second day.”
The trainers utilize natural horsemanship techniques, which utilize each animal’s natural instincts. Mike Major is a horse trainer now living in Texas, and he has served as a Colt Starting Challenge judge – each trainer receives markings by judges to decide the winners of each competition.
“The one thing about it is they give a lot of people an opportunity to get some recognition that would’ve never gotten it before on their ability to start colts and other things, too,” Major said. “The good thing, too, is that it gives the public some more awareness of other methods to start colts. I think that’s what everybody’s looking for: knowledge on how to do this without getting killed.”
This isn’t the old-school style of breaking horses to work under a saddle, whereby cowboys would saddle a young horse, then ride through the bucking and kicking in order to teach the animal to work. Natural horsemanship allows the horses the opportunity to understand its surroundings while gaining confidence.
“What you look for as a judge is for the trainer’s ease around horses, being comfortable and confident,” Major said. “The horse feeds off that. You also judge on the ability to accomplish what you need to accomplish.”
That’s what makes it exciting, not only for the contestants but also horse owners and those viewing from the audience.
“I’m an old-time trainer,” Stiffler said. “I have a cowboy, and I put a horse with him for 30 days, and that horse comes back dead broke. Now I’m looking to expedite the process. That’s what I enjoy, seeing them take a green horse and ride them through the event. They work the crowd, and they make it more interesting.
“I think for anyone who loves to see what horses can do, this is an opportunity for them to see something really special.”