Starting them off right: Colt-breaking challenge expected to draw crowds at Minnesota Horse Expo

posted April 2, 2018 7:52 a.m. (CDT)
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by / Heidi Clausen, Editor |

  • con_Colt_Challenge_032818
    A horse trainer did some ground work with his newly saddled horse during a Colt Starting Challenge USA competition. The unique competition will come to this year’s Minnesota Horse Expo.

Breaking a young horse to ride often is a weeklong process, but four horse trainers will accomplish that task in just a few hours using natural horsemanship, as spectators watch at this year’s Minnesota Horse Expo. 

Colt Starting Challenge USA will be showcased all three days of the Expo, set for April 27-29 at the Minnesota State Fairground. Show times will be 8:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday and about 9:30 a.m. Sunday. Shows will run about two hours in length.

Cristy Beatty, who founded Colt Starting Challenge USA with her husband, Russell, said they’re excited to bring the event to Minnesota this spring. Four experienced horse trainers will work, starting in four round pens, as they compete to gentle, start and ride four unbroke horses. The horse trainers are from Minnesota and Iowa, and the horses entered come from the Upper Midwest.

“It’s exciting to watch them get started from halter-broke to being ridden all over the place and how they can get that accomplished so quickly,” she said. “It’s not the average performance. This is real-life stuff happening right in front of you. Sometimes, these guys get bucked off.”

By day two of the competition, she said, trainers will be riding loosely together through the arena, and by the third day, each trainer will have 12 minutes to ride their horse through an obstacle course. Judges will assign points to each trainer to determine the winner, who will walk away with a commemorative buckle.

Beatty said her husband was inspired to launch Colt Starting Challenge USA about eight years ago after watching a friend participate in a similar event.

“He felt it was awesome to see and learned how to do it,” she said. “We decided to make it our business.”

They put on about 20 of the popular events each year all over the U.S., mainly at horse expos but also at their own hosted events. Horses are brought in from surrounding communities and must be between 2½ and 4 years of age that have been halter-broke but never have been saddled, bridled or ridden. Trainers, who must have already started 50 to 100 horses or more, are randomly matched with a colt and wear cordless microphones so they can explain what they’re doing to crowds.

“It draws a huge audience because it’s unique and interesting,” Beatty said. “Performances are always different due to the individual styles of trainers, and horses are all different temperaments and breeds. It’s never the same.”

One thing all trainers have in common, she said, is their use of natural horsemanship methods. Contest rules prohibit the use of items such as spurs or leg restraints. The key, she said, is to build initial trust with the horse.

“Most of the time, they just ride them at a halter,” she said. “Horsemanship methods of horse training speeds up the process of gentling and riding a horse.”

Beatty said spectators, no matter who they are or how much they know about horses, can learn a lot from watching the training process unfold before their eyes.

Attendance of Colt Starting Challenge USA is included in the regular Expo admission price. For more information about the competition, visit

Draft horses featured

Draft horses will be highlighted at this year’s expo. Horses and an array of farm equipment — both vintage and more modern — will be demonstrated and displayed with help from three Minnesota draft horse associations. A 12-horse hitch finale is planned. There also will be horse-logging demonstrations and an appearance by the Young Living Essentials Oils Percheron Draft Horse exhibition hitch piloted by Jason Goodman.

Other Expo features will include:

• Cirque Ma’Ceo, a family-friendly acrobatic equestrian show last seen at the Expo four years ago, will put on five performances throughout the weekend in their own big-top tent. Ten different breeds of horses and artists will perform Roman riding and classical dressage movements. These shows are not included with regular admission; tickets must be purchased separately.

• Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeo performances will again be offered in the Coliseum. Shows will be at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, with a matinee performance at 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are not included in regular admission and must be purchased separately.

• Clinicians will include Dan James, originally from Australia, who was recognized as a world-class colt trainer when he won the “Way of the Horse” at Equitana Asia Pacific in 2008. In 2012, he won the Road to the Horse International Colt Starting World Champion title.

Arizona mule trainer Steve Edwards also will be a presenter. Edwards has more than four decades of experience in training horses, mules and donkeys and helping people get along with them. Throughout his career, he has trained, packed, driven, ridden, cared for and gamed equines and mules and has covered more than 20 states and traveled internationally to Canada, Brazil and Egypt.

Local presenters will include the Long Lake hunt group, who will share a presentation on fox hunting. This is a scent drag hunt, so no live foxes are harmed. Also, Lainie DeBoer, owner and trainer at Dreamfield Stables in Forest Lake, Minn., and an American Quarter Horse Association judge, competitor and hunt seat speaker, will discuss Hunt Seat Equitation.

• An hourlong Parade of Breeds will be presented each day in the Coliseum. Attendees also can stop by and visit with horse owners in the barn and view breed demonstrations on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Stallions have their own daily presentations in the Coliseum and AgStar Arena.

• Vendors of horse equipment, feed, care products, tack, trailers and more will be set up in the six State Fair buildings and along Judson Avenue. The tack and clothing consignment to benefit 4-H will be in the Dairy Buildings. Last year, more than 20,000 items were consigned, with more than 13,000 sold.

The Minnesota Horse Expo is owned by the Minnesota Horse Council, and proceeds are used by the council to benefit the state’s equine industry. Last year, the Expo contributed $185,000 to the Council.

If you go

What: 36th annual Minnesota Horse Expo.

When: April 27-29.

Where: Minnesota State Fairground, Falcon Heights, Minn.

Gate admission: $13 for adults (ages 13-61), $9 for seniors (62 and up) and free for children (5 and under). Three-day tickets are $35 for adults, $25 for seniors and $25 for children. Tickets for Cirque Ma’Ceo and the PRCA rodeo performances must be purchased separately.

Information: 952-356-2029 or

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