Trainers shooting for finale

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STILLWATER, Okla. – There is tremendous excitement centering around the unique Colt Starting Challenge USA.

The new venture features horse trainers showing off their natural horsemanship skills over a two-day contest. The word is getting out, and the popularity of the events is growing rapidly.

How fast?

“We have developed to the point that we will have a finals this year,” said Russell Beatty, founder of the Colt Starting Challenge USA. “To make our finals, you have to go to at least two of our events, and we’ll take the top eight trainers.”

The finale will take place from 2:15-4:45 p.m. Pacific Time, Saturday, Dec. 6-Monday, Dec. 8, at the Cowboy FanFest Arena at the Las Vegas Convention Center during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“It’s really exciting to be part of Cowboy FanFest and to have an opportunity like that,” Beatty said.

The opportunity arose because the competition has a solid foundation. Based on natural horsemanship methods in working with young horses, the Colt Starting Challenge affords trainers the opportunity to show their skills in front of fans and other competitors.

Trainers will work with their colts over two days, then will showcase the horses by riding them through an obstacle course. Such is the case at the next event, set 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.

“We wanted to create Cowboy FanFest to attract ore of the male demographic that might not be as interested in shopping during the Cowboy Christmas at the Convention Center,” said Bo Gardner, the vice president for corporate marketing at Las Vegas Events. “We wanted to explore other areas of the Western world.

“We love the opportunity to do that with the Colt Starting Challenge. We got a sponsor that is going to help us support the finals. It’s something new that we can show our fans, and I think it’s something people are going to start following.”

They already are. At events across the country, interest is growing, and it’s not just the fans. Trainers are seeing the potential.

“If this has already grown to where there is a finals, I think this is something that can be big,” said Victor Sundquist, 20, a two-time event winner from Olathe, Colo. “What we do is through natural horsemanship training. We don’t use any spurs or twitches or hobbles. We use a horse’s natural instincts and communication. The horse wants to do it because of you.”

That’s one of the purposes of the Colt Starting Challenge. Trainers know that horses enjoy work, and communicating with the animals on their level is the key to success. Now rodeo fans that are in Las Vegas for ProRodeo’s championship will have the opportunity to watch it closely.

“Last year we had 196,000 people through our doors, which is a larger attendance than for the Thomas & Mack Center for the NFR,” Gardner said. “Over the course of 10 days, we broke several records.

“Our boss is one of those outside-the-box guys. We wanted to create an experience within the convention center, which has hosted Cowboy Christmas for some time. Cowboy Christmas has always been very successful, but if you continue to offer the same thing every year, it loses its flair. Also at Cowboy Christmas, there really isn’t a place to just sit down and relax. That’s what we wanted to do with Cowboy FanFest and to have a live stage and offer good entertainment.”

That’s how the Cowboy FanFest Arena was developed. In addition to the Colt Starting Challenge finals, the arena is home to the Miss Rodeo America horsemanship competition, mini bull riding, ranch shorting and a variety of other activities throughout the showcase.

It’s the perfect fit for horse trainers to showcase their talents.


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