postheadericon Waller County Fair continues to blossom

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The Waller County Fair is more than a local gathering; it’s an exposition in every sense of the word.

Hempstead is a thriving community of 6,000 people just 50 miles northwest of downtown Houston. Over the course of nine days each fall, it’s a boomtown with loads of entertainment. That’s the way organizers have planned things since last fall, and it’s why so many people continue to make it a hotspot.

WallerLogo“Each year we work very hard to come up with a way to make our fair and rodeo even better than it was before,” said Clint Sciba, president of the Waller County Fair Association, a group of volunteers who produce the annual expo. “This year we’ve got lots of things that we’re excited to showcase.”

That’s just what fair-goers have come to expect out of the Waller County Fair, which kicks off at 6 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, with a youth rodeo. That’s just the beginning of a spectacular bazaar, which will continue through Saturday, Oct. 4, at the Waller County Fairgrounds in Hempstead.

“We’ve added to our carnival area to allow Moore Amusements to bring in new and larger rides,” Sciba said. “We have added 400 new amps of power and 27,000 square feet to the area.

“We also have an additional three acres of parking behind the fairgrounds to help everyone get in and out as safe as possible. We want them to get inside the fairgrounds and have a good time every night they are here.”

There will be plenty of good times, from the rides to the displays to a variety of rodeo-related events to the concerts, which will have a Texas Music flavor.

“We are starting our concerts on our first Saturday after Bullmania with Jarrod Birmingham, followed by Cody Johnson,” Sciba said of the Sept. 27 lineup.

They will be followed by Phillip Griffin and Max Stalling on Thursday, Oct. 2; Jody Booth and Josh Ward on Friday, Oct. 3; and Bart Crow and Brandon Ryhder on Saturday, Oct. 4.

“We have invested in two big fans to the entertainment pavilion to help keep everyone comfortable,” Sciba said. “We want a person’s experience at the Waller County Fair to be exceptional.”

Rodeo fans will have numerous opportunities to enjoy the sport, whether it’s through the open ranch rodeo to the open team roping to the Waller County Team Roping on Sunday, Sept. 28. The highlight on Tuesday, Sept. 30, will be the Eliminator Match, featuring six of the top tie-down ropers in ProRodeo competing in a six-run shootout; that follows a tie-down and ladies breakaway roping event.

On Wednesday, Oct.1, there will be a youth 3D and an open 4D barrel race, and the ProRodeo will have its three-day run from Thursday, Oct. 2-Saturday, Oct. 4. The Friday, Oct. 3, rodeo performance will feature the 8 Second Bareback Shootout, featuring veteran Clint Cannon of Waller going head-to-head against newcomer Richmond Champion of The Woodlands – Cannon is a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, and Champion is heading to his first NFR this year.

The Waller County Fair also is a showcase of animal athletic talent from Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, one of the top livestock producers in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Each of the past two seasons, Pete Carr has been nominated for PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year; last season, 27 Carr animals bucked at the NFR, a record number from one livestock producer at ProRodeo’s grand finale.

Of course, all of this revolves around one of the most exciting annual fairs in southeast Texas, which means there will be plenty of opportunities for great food, livestock shows and other exhibits.

“Our community continues to step up to support our fair and rodeo and all the events that go with it,” Sciba said. “We are working to continue improving everything at the fairgrounds, and our ultimate goal every year is to make sure we give back to the community through scholarships. We have given out $250,000 in scholarships over the last six years, so that is very important to us.”

It’s important to fair-goers, too. They continue to make the Waller County Fair a premier destination every fall.

postheadericon Rodeo clown living his dreams


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – For 10 December nights in the City of Lights, John Harrison rolled out an oversized protective barrel that served as his front-row seat for bull riding during the 2013 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

As the barrelman selected for ProRodeo’s super bowl, Harrison’s job was to man the specially made steel keg as an extra piece of protection for bull riders, bullfighters and just about anybody else inside the Thomas & Mack Center’s arena at the time.

“It’s an awesome feeling for me and my family because it’s a position that’s voted on by your peers,” said Harrison, who will serve as the barrelman, funnyman and entertainer during this year’s American Royal PRCA Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 26, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, at Hale Arena.

John Harrison

John Harrison

“You feel it’s something you deserve. I’m tickled to death I got it. As a trick rider, I got to perform at the NFR three other times, but to be there every night and be part of the NFR personnel was just amazing.”

Harrison has been nominated as one of the best in the business for much of his clowning career. The Soper, Okla., cowboy joined the PRCA as a trick rider in 2001, then transitioned to clowning in 2008. The grandson of world champion bull rider Freckles Brown, rodeo always has been part of Harrison’s life. Being part of the NFR is just a big part of a family legacy that makes Harrison special.

“I love packing the barrel and being there for the cowboys, but I wasn’t there to be part of the entertainment,” Harrison said. “I didn’t get a microphone or anything I’m used to doing at a rodeo, but I’m glad I was selected to be there.”

He will be a big part of the entertainment that is the American Royal. In addition to hysterical acts that showcase Harrison’s talent and athleticism, the Oklahoma man serves as a valuable piece of the puzzle that helps make for a near-flawless performance each time he speaks.

“We’ve heard many great things about John and are very excited to have him part of our fall festival,” said Bob Petersen, president and CEO of the American Royal.

Until recently, Harrison traveled the rodeo circuit with his family: His wife, Carla, and their three children, Addison, Cazwell and Billie. Now that Addison is in school, the family outings take place less often; still, family is a big part of who the clown is in and out of the arena.

The key to his job is to reach fans with a variety of entertaining items. Whether it’s a trick riding display that will leave fans in awe or his parody of rodeo queens, Harrison has a lot of ammunition in his bag.

“The one thing I love about the American Royal Rodeo is that with three performances, I can do something fresh every time,” Harrison said. “I do this for the love of the sport. Growing up with it, you enjoy it. Now I can actually make a living at it, so that helps.”

While family is a big part of who Harrison is, he realizes that rodeo serves as a foster family of sorts.

“The friends and the ‘family’ you meet on the road is a big deal for us,” he said. “Plus if it wasn’t fun, I wouldn’t do it.”

Not only does he have fun, he brings a lot of it with him. That makes him the perfect fit for the American Royal Rodeo.

postheadericon Horse lovers enjoy the Challenge

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.

Bill Stiffler

Bill Stiffler

“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.”

postheadericon New challenge accepted


KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The American Royal ProRodeo has found a new fan-favorite event.

The 2014 rodeo will feature the inaugural Businessmen’s Steer Challenge, which will have a preliminary round during the Friday, Sept. 26, performance of the American Royal ProRodeo at Hale Arena.

AmericanRoyalThe top two teams from Friday will then advance to the finale during the second performance, which will begin at 2 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 27, where they will be matched against a team from Bayer HealthCare Animal Health Division.

“This is going to be an exciting new event I think everyone will love,” said Mariner Kemper, chairman of the American Royal and participant in the challenge. “Friday night of the rodeo is corporate night, and what is a better way than having your colleagues cheer you on as you get an opportunity to show your cowboy skills. I think the audience will have a greater appreciation for the professional cowboys and how easy they make it look,”

The Businessmen’s Steer Challenge will feature 12 two-person teams. One will hold onto a lead rope attached to the steer, while the other ties a ribbon around the animal’s tail. The first team to complete the task and cross the finish line is the winner.

“I think everyone should come out and see the fun,” Kemper said. “Even I am going to compete; it will be a great event that I plan on winning.”

In addition to the Bayer HealthCare Animal Health Division and Kemper/Bichelmeyer teams, others will be sponsored by the BOTAR’s, Hilton Garden Inn, Kennedy & Cole LLC, Cerner Corp., Sprint, Livestock Marketing Association, Conway Farms, Raphael Group and Commerce Bank.

postheadericon Wards gunning for circuit titles

DUNCAN, Okla. – Andrew and Reagan Ward’s goal was simple from the start: Get to Duncan in October, then move on.

While the mindset was straightforward, the path was steeped with landmines. From roping competitors to tough-to-handle steers to long drives and little sleep, there have been many challenges in the 2014 season for the team roping brothers from Edmond, Okla.

ChisholmTrailRPCFThe Wards have secured the first step of their plan, qualifying for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-18 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan. The next step is to perform well in the arena and earn spots in the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place next spring in Ocala, Fla.

“What we’d really like to do is to make it to Florida,” said Reagan Ward, 27, the No. 1 heeler in the Prairie Circuit, the ProRodeo region made up of events and contestants primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “I don’t care if we win the year-end or the circuit finals average, but the goal is to get to Florida.”

Only the year-end and average champions in each event qualify for the national championship, which will feature the top two contestants in each event from each of the 12 circuits nationwide.

“That’s why we go to rodeos; we’re trying to make it to Florida,” said Andrew, 24, who has virtually clinched the region’s heading year-end title. “We went to more circuit rodeos just trying to make it to Florida.

“You want to do good at the circuit finals. We’ve (finished) second in the average two years in a row and didn’t go to as many circuit rodeos as we did this year.”

The Wards have done quite well over the last few seasons, and this year is no exception with each earning more than $16,500 in circuit cash through labor Day. They won rodeos in Woodward, Okla.; Hastings, Neb.; and Topeka, Kan. They also fared well at big-money Kansas rodeos in Dodge City and Phillipsburg. Andrew owns a $5,700 lead over the No. 2 header, Troy Boone of Mutual, Okla.; Reagan’s lead is just $1,100 over Billie Saebens of Nowata, Okla.

“Getting to Duncan and giving us a chance to win the average is important for us,” Reagan said. “It’s just important that we go in there and catch three.”

The circuit finals features three go-rounds, and the team that posts the fastest three-run cumulative score will be crowned average champion. Each dollar counts, too, with the season’s top money-earners at the conclusion of the finale winning the year-end titles.

“We’re just trying to get better while competing in the circuit,” Andrew said. “That way you can stay closer to home and keep your money around while still rodeoing.”

What’s even better is that the siblings do it together.

“He’s really the only guy I’ve ever roped with,” Reagan said of his younger brother. “It’s still fun. We high school rodeoed together and college rodeoed together.

“I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful is because of the work we’ve put in together. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”

That assurance goes both ways.

“We really don’t know anything different,” Andrew said. “It’s fun when we win, because we’re winning double.”

The brothers are just two of the circuit standings leaders with about two weeks remaining in the 2014 season. Other leaders are bareback rider Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; steer wrestler Cole Edge of Durant, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa; barrel racer Gretchen Benbenek of Aubrey, Texas; tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City, Okla.; steer roper Chet Herren of Pawkhuska, Okla.; and bull rider Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla.

They’re all locked to compete during the finale in Duncan, a showcase of the greatest ProRodeo stars in the game aligned in one three-night championship.

postheadericon American Royal preparing for festival with youth as the beneficiary

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Every move made inside the American Royal complex is specifically designed for the association’s mission.

As the foundation that holds the footing for everything involved in the American Royal and its fall festival, the mission is to promote and celebrate the excellence in agricultural progress and develop future generations of leaders through agrarian values, disciplines and expressions of skills.

AmericanRoyal“At the heart of what the American Royal does is as a children’s charity,” said Bob Petersen, the American Royal’s president and CEO, explaining that the association’s purpose is to provide scholarship, education, awards and competitive learning experiences that reward hard work, leadership skills and agrarian values.

“We are very proud that we provide more than a million dollars every year for youth and education, and we are equally proud of the variety of ways we do that.”

This year marks the American Royal’s 115th year with its marquee event on the horizon. The fall festival begins in early September and runs for two and a half months, from various horse shows, livestock shows, youth events, rodeos and the World Series of Barbecue.

“Last year we had more than 270,000 people who came through our doors during the fall festival,” Petersen said. “In addition to that money going toward youth in Kansas City, having that kind of attendance is important to everything we do.”

It also is important to Kansas City. The American Royal provides a substantial economic impact to the area. Thousands come to town to participate in the fall festival, and thousands more arrive to take in the festivities. It’s the perfect fit for its theme: “Kansas City’s Most Authentic Asset.”

“We have been around for more than a century, and we’re looking to build on that history,” Petersen said. “We want everyone in Kansas City to know that the American Royal is more than our fall festival; the American Royal is Kansas City, and we want youth to benefit from everything we do.”

postheadericon Trainer brings her passion to work

Michelle Gilles works with a young roan horse during a recent Colt Starting Challenge USA event in Cortez, Colo. Gilles has utilized techniques she gathered in the competitions to aid in her training business, and she continues to compete. (COLT STARTING CHALLENGE USA PHOTO)

Michelle Gilles works with a young roan horse during a recent Colt Starting Challenge USA event in Cortez, Colo. Gilles has utilized techniques she gathered in the competitions to aid in her training business, and she continues to compete. (COLT STARTING CHALLENGE USA PHOTO)

STILLWATER, Okla. – Michelle Gilles is a horse trainer and a competitor.

She also is a wife and mother, and no matter where she goes, she does so with her family involved. Whether it’s working her business at their home near Lubbock, Texas, or on the road at competitions, it’s certainly family time.

“A family that works together, plays together and stays together,” said Gilles, owner of Michelle Gilles Horsemanship. “Everywhere I go, it’s me, my husband and kids.”

That works just fine. By combining family, work and competition, the native Californian is living her perfect life. That includes her ventures for Extreme Mustang Makeover events, reining contests and competing in the Colt Starting Challenge USA, the latter of which showcases trainers’ work with young horses.

In fact, the next challenge is 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.

“The Colt Starting Challenge is a really great way to further your education with horses,” Gilles said. “It makes you have to learn who you truly are, because you are putting a lot of training in such a short period of time. You have to know your stuff.”

While she utilizes the challenges for self-training, Gilles’ true competitive nature comes out in full force when it’s time to enter the arena.

“The Colt Starting pen shows you where your holes are and where you have to go back and fix,” she said. “I do it to better myself and hopefully educate the public that there’s a new way of doing things.”

The Colt Starting Challenge focuses on natural horsemanship, which better utilizes a horse’s natural instincts. The techniques used are a far cry from what was done a generation ago and what many have seen regarding breaking horses on TV and in the movies.

The competitions are the brain child of trainer and horseman Russell Beatty. In the two-day challenges, trainers are matched via random draw to horses that have had limited handling; there has been no saddle nor bridle ever on the animal. To close out the challenge, trainers take their hoses through a variety of obstacles in order to show how far their animals have come in a short amount of time.

“I’ve been watching different competitions, and this was interesting because I am really good at getting these young ones going, and I enjoy getting the colts started,” Gilles said. “I got started by watching them, and I’ve already been to four. I watched Russell, and I really liked the sportsmanship and that with his competitions, it’s all about the horse.

“If you get in a bind in your pen and need help, another competitor can come in and help you. That’s an awesome part of the competition.”

As a trainer, she has taken a lot from the Colt Starting Challenges. In fact, some of the lessons learned have enabled Gilles to upgrade the techniques she utilizes in her home practice.

“I’m much quicker and more aggressive,” she said. “When I would get a green horse before, I would go slower and be methodical in the process. Now I have the tools to speed up the process of my training. Ideally the public wants a horst that’s past green broke in less than 30 days.

“Now I’m able to give a much better product to the horse community in a short amount of time.”

While trainers in the Colt Starting Challenge utilize the same philosophy, they go about their work using a variety of methods. For Gilles, adapting along the way is outstanding for her business.

“I was raised around horses my whole life,” Gilles said, noting that she began focusing on training while in college. “I started taking equine science classes. That’s where I started learning about starting colts.

“I fell in love with it. Horses are honest and pure, and they get out of it what you put into it. Horses have no bad intentions. What you give that horse, they give right back to you. The horse is really a reflection of who you are.”

Gilles’ passion is evident in everything she does, and she’s excited to share it through the Colt Starting Challenge USA.

postheadericon Trainers shooting for finale


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.

postheadericon I am not Lazy Johnny Jackson

Over the last couple of days, I’ve had two dear friends contact me about Lazy Johnny Jackson, a character on Facebook.

To set the record straight, I am not Lazy Johnny Jackson, though I do follow his posts.

Ted Harbin TwisTED Rodeo

Ted Harbin
TwisTED Rodeo

For those not in the know, LJJ likes to stir the pot. In fact, he follows professional rodeo closely and posts about topics that will get folks thinking. Whoever the person is behind Lazy Johnny Jackson, he/she is very well written and has a sharp wit.

That wit is a little biting, especially if you don’t agree with LJJ’s comments. There have been exchanges and barbs shared with some of the greatest players in the sport.

The message I received this morning pushed me to write this. In the note, my friend spelled out the name of one accuser that is contacting many in rodeo, telling them that I am Lazy Johnny Jackson and that I’m purposefully stirring “crap” on Facebook.

It’s not me. While oftentimes I find LJJ’s posts and comments humorous, I’m not the kind of person to make comments under an assumed name. I also don’t possess LJJ’s quick wit. Since I first found LJJ on Facebook, I have, too, wondered his true identity.

But it’s my business to promote the sport of rodeo, its events and its people. It’s my passion, and it’s something I’m truly blessed to do. To accuse me of anything but that – in an effort to discredit my name and my credibility – is something I will fight against.

It’s much too important to me.

postheadericon Event challenges horse trainers


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.