Years ago as a saddle-bronc rider, Russell Beatty didn’t get along very well with the bucking horses at the Black Hills Stock Show & Rodeo.
This year, he’s back with a gentler event that will hopefully end with contestants and horses in sync.
Beatty and his wife, Cristy, are bringing their Colt Starting Challenge USA to Rapid City for the event’s first appearance at the Stock Show.
The event will pair six horse trainers, including three from South Dakota, with six halter-trained but otherwise unbroken colts ranging in age from 2½ to 4 years, drawn from local and area horse owners. After spending just a few hours with their colt over the first two sessions of the event, the trainers will attempt to ride the colts through an obstacle course during the event’s third and final session.
Russell Beatty said spectators are often amazed at the success of the trainers.
“I’ve heard it many times when people come up to me and say, ‘That horse had to have had somebody on it before,’” Beatty said. “I’ll say, ‘No, that trainer’s just that good.’”
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The event’s three sessions will run from 7 p.m. to 9 .m. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 26, 27 and 28, in the James Kjerstad Event Center at the Central States Fairgrounds. Tickets are $10 for any one session or $20 for all three.
The Beattys, of Washington state, began organizing colt-starting events six or seven years ago and now conduct about 30 of them around the country, culminating in a national finals each December in Las Vegas at the same time as the National Finals Rodeo.
The winner of the Rapid City event will receive a belt buckle, and the top three finishers will accumulate points toward a potential spot in the national finals, where bigger prizes are up for grabs. As a side benefit, the trainers also make connections with potential local customers who are looking for a horse trainer.
The South Dakotans listed as contestants in the event are Chance Vomacka, of Rapid City; Claude Roebuck, of Sioux Falls; and Thomas Smittle, of Custer.
The event’s judging criteria place a value on gentle horsemanship. Points can be deducted when a trainer gets bucked off, for example, or when a horse or saddle comes into contact with a fence panel.
“There’s no tying a leg up, none of that rough stuff, and it’s not a bronc-riding contest,” Beatty said. “Some of the horses are going to buck, and somebody might get bucked off, but that’s not what the goal is. The goal is to give these horses a really good start.”