Event challenges horse trainers

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STILLWATER, Okla. – For centuries, training horses has been a major part of ranch work worldwide.

The key, all horsemen say, comes in the early stages of a colt’s development.

“The funnest time of training horses is the first few days,” said Victor Sundquist, a lifelong trainer from Olathe, Colo.

Such is the foundation for Colt Starting Challenge USA, an association of two-day competitions that feature trainers utilizing natural horsemanship methods with young horses. The next event is scheduled for 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.

Victor Sundquist shows off his trophy buckle for winning the Colt Starting Challenge USA event in Cortez, Colo., last month.
Victor Sundquist shows off his trophy buckle for winning the Colt Starting Challenge USA event in Cortez, Colo., last month.

Sundquist is a two-time champion who has excelled at numerous challenges, most recently at the event in Cortez, Colo., where he walked away with the championship.

“In the first two days, the colt is able to learn new things really fast,” said Sundquist, 20, now in his fifth year of training professionally. “It’s amazing what you can do in the first hour. I’ve actually been able to stand up on a horse in the first couple of hours.”

That quick timeline becomes quite evident during the Colt Starting Challenge. Each trainer is matched with a horse via random draw; the colts have not been started and have never been saddled nor bridled. The trainers will work with the animals over the course of two two-hour sessions set up over two days, and judges will determine which of the trainers wins.

“We will have two hours of work the first day with a half-hour break in between,” said Russell Beatty, who founded the Colt Starting Challenge USA. “This is all done with an audience, and each contestant has a microphone so that when it’s their time to talk, they can say what they’re doing and why they’re doing it.

“The second day has two 45-minute sessions with a break in between. After the second session, we tear down the round pens, set up our obstacle course and the contestants ride their horse through the obstacle course. The winner gets a buckle.”

The contestants love the idea.

“I honestly see this as a great idea with a great future, which is why I’m doing it,” said Bob Mundy of Norco, Calif., who has competed in two events, including one victory. “I really like the whole philosophy behind it. This gives the smaller guy, the guy that has no name, the opportunity to go out and show his skills and promote himself.

“I also think it educates people, because you will have four guys who do things similarly but they do them differently.”

It’s a brilliant opportunity for horse owners to see what professional trainers can accomplish in a short amount of time.

“For anybody that does this, our goal is to promote how we go about it,” Mundy said. “I like colt starting because I like being able to start horses and get them a good foundation. The first few days with a horse makes all the difference in a horse.

“The people who come to these events can see the different methods coming together. They can see the different things going on. I really see the Colt Starting Challenge growing and making something positive. I think it’s something that’s needed. What I really like about it is, in the competitions I did, everybody was really helpful. We’re there to support each other. We want everybody to succeed.”

It’s that type of progress that makes the Colt Starting Challenges a draw not only for competitors but also for horse-loving fans who come to see the trainers at work. They can take some of the lessons they learn inside the arena back home or consider utilizing one of the trainers with their animals. The shows are set up in a fan-friendly environment that makes each performance enlightening.

“It’s really fun because it’s something new,” Sundquist said. “I really enjoy it and think it’s awesome.”

So do other trainers and the fans who witness it first-hand.


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