Bulkley takes the buckle in Hermosa colt starting challenge
Hermosa Colt Starting Challenge - USA contestants
Ryan Bulkley, Springfield, Colorado
Lucia Clemeson, Moses Lake, Washington
Justin Haines, Florissant, Colorado and Hershey, Nebraska
Zack Kaup, Lincoln, Nebraska
Glen Smith from Gillette, Wyoming
Steve Sward, North Platte, Nebraska
From the first crack of blacksnake whip to the smile the championship belt buckle put on his face, Ryan Bulkley was a star during the Hermosa, South Dakota, Colt Starting Challenge. The Springfield, Colorado, horse trainer’s skills topped
The Circle T arena hosted the Colt Starting Challenge – USA, Sept. 30 and Oct. 1.
The first day, after drawing for a horse, each contestant gets two one-hour round pen sessions with the colt, interspersed by a half-hour break. Audience involvement is enhanced as each contestant wears a portable mic to take a turn explaining what they are doing with the horse and why. They rival professional clinicians in this phase because they can, and because it is a judged category.
On day two each contestant gets two 45-minute sessions with their horse before riding it through a standardized obstacle course. Each pair is in a round pen for the first session, like day 1. During the break between sessions all but one round pen is dismantled, opening up the arena area where some of the obstacles are placed.
Contestants have the option of spending their second session in that larger area or remaining in the round pen. The official obstacle course then begins. Each contestant gets 12 minutes to lead their horse in, mount, demonstrate control at walk, trot, and lope, backing and picking up all 4 feet; plus weaving through upright poles, crossing corduroy poles on the ground, walking through zig-zag ground poles with soft barrel entry/exits, riding over a large plastic tarp, roping a barrel, and dragging a log from the saddlehorn. Any leftover time is theirs to showcase their mount’s compliance.
One paint/quarter filly spiced things up by bucking both days, shedding saddle and rider the first time. Her drawn trainer Justin Haines showed more concern for the owner’s investment and the filly’s sound foundation than for his competitive glory, patiently yet firmly helping her overcome some rebellious quirks. Even opting to remain in the round pen his second 45-minutes Saturday, passing up the herd motivation she could have had interacting with other horses there and having to mount alone in the big pen for the first time, their exceptional performance in the obstacle course proved “slow is fast” in training. Justin Haines commutes between Florissant, Colorado and Hershey, Nebraska.
Lone female contestant Lucia Clemeson and companion traveled almost 1,000 miles from Moses Lake, Washington, and appreciated the Circle T’s evening schedule leaving two glorious autumn days to tour Mount Rushmore and more of the Black Hills. Along with the challenge and satisfaction of starting young horses down a good path, publicity for herself and her business Flying C Farm, Inc., plus a shot at the event’s National Finals, Lucia has explored a lot of beautiful America this year, visiting Colorado, Wyoming, and North Dakota for competition before coming to Rapid City. “I entered my events in April,” she explained, “because they’re accepted on a ‘first come’ basis. Leaving time between to run my business, I chose places I hadn’t been. We’ve driven to every event, and hope the Finals in Las Vegas will be next.”
Contestant Steve Sward of North Platte, Nebraska is an eight-time Extreme Mustang Makeover contestant. He was training horses by the time he was 15, has started more than 1,600 colts, and regularly rides ten or a dozen horses daily. Winner of the first national finals of CSC in 2014 and two of their events so far this year, Steve says he loves the opportunity to discover his strengths and any weak links he needs to focus on.
Hermosa was the first CSC event for Glen Smith from Gillette, Wyoming. With his draw horse experiencing hoof problems, he decided to make the best of it, to the extent the horse was comfortable. In spite of very limited work, the duo turned in one of the most impressive performances through the obstacle course – ending with the colt’s quiet acceptance of Glen standing up in the saddle – the only contestant to do so.
Zack Kaup from Lincoln, Nebraska also competed – winding up in third place.
The judges were from Rapid City – performance horse trainer Jones Pease and Chance Vomacka, who’s been training for a decade and earned a berth in CSC’s national finals last year.
At the end of Friday evening’s opening performance Steve’s 55 points, Zach’s 48 points and Ryan’s 45 points held the leader board. Final scores were Ryan 167, Steve 163 and Zack 141, translating into 10 national finals qualifying points for Ryan, 6 for Steve and 3 for Zack. With only two qualifying events left, those are important points.
Buckle-winning champ Ryan was especially pleased because of family members being there to watch, including an aunt and uncle who drove all the way from their ranch between Gillette and Douglas. Starting out in Wyoming’s Powder River country, Ryan was immersed in cowboy ways before he can remember. After working for the Wyoming division of the huge Deseret Ranch, he tasted California and even studied under trick horse expert Carol Fletcher at Ocala, Florida. He’s trained horses since he was 13, ridden client horses for two decades and is now training at Springfield, Colorado. “I’m always looking for better ways with the horse,” the former rodeo bronc rider grins, “and these events offer opportunities for that.”
And about that blacksnake whip: Ryan respectfully asked other trainers on the mic before cracking it, simply for sound effect, and used it only when alone in his round pen. That’s the cowboy way.
Colt Starting Challenge – USA
Founded by Russell and Cristy Beatty five years ago, the challenge now wraps up each year with a national finals. The first was in 2014.
This event gives unknown horsemen – already anonymously accomplishing amazing results with nondescript equines – a public stage on which to work their magic.
It provides horse owners seeking the right kind of start for their colts a fast, inexpensive solution. And finally, it’s a venue for horse enthusiiasts to learn horsemanship from a variety of “teachers.”
A native Texan, Russell earned a full-ride scholarship to study ranch management at Wyoming’s Sheridan College. There he was privileged to know the late legendary rodeo coach Patsy Hamilton, and became so proficient in bronc and bull riding and calf roping that he enjoyed competition into his 40s. Natural horsemanship attracted him and he pursued it successfully for years, even touring with a pro clinician; yet was disillusioned that high profile events like Road to the Horse remained basically inaccessible to the majority of trainers.
“I wanted to bring these talented people out of back pastures and round pens and give them a stage, a place to prove what they could do. That’s the kind of publicity that builds clientele” Russell explains. “This is a lot bigger than me, it’s about the horse – and horses are my passion!”
Fortunately, Cristy shares that passion -–at warp speed! That’s the only way they can keep major sponsors, find and book venues a year in advance, select the best horses for each event, keep a website updated and produce 40 events across the nation between February and mid-October along with a national finals at Cowboy Christmas; now in its 33rd year with over 200,000 people attending. Like Hollywood producers, the Beattys are responsible at each venue for sponsor backdrops, sound systems, video coverage, all kinds of props, scene setup and removal, plus Cristy sells tickets and refreshments, provides background music, and emcees the show. In her spare time she attends to details like arranging Ride TV coverage for the upcoming national finals.
Veteran competitor Russell, who’d rather still be on that side of the fence, becomes a one-man grounds crew setting up and taking down pens and obstacles. He also has an eye on each contestant and horse, stepping in to consult if needed. Between their own sessions, contestants are generous to lend a hand with the heavy work. The “build it and they will come” principle is working as Beattys’ events grow and spread annually, attracting participants from every corner of the U.S., including Hawaii, plus Italy, Australia and other countries
Horses in CSC events (2- to 4-years-old, halterbroke but never bridled, saddled or ridden) are “entered” with a $200 fee after meeting event requirements to the Beattys’ satisfaction. Owners bring them to the event and are responsible for their care whenever not in the contestant arena.