Colts Broken, Ridden As Spectators Watch At Colt Starting Challenge

Andrew Fice lunging his paint horse in the round pen.

Six horse trainers will each break a young horse to ride in just a few hours as spectators watch. Often a weeklong process, the task will be accomplished using the Natural Horsemanship techniques in front of a live audience at this year’s Okeechobee Agri-Civic Center’s Covered Arena.

Colt Starting Challenge USA will be showcased on two nights, Friday, April 13 from 6 to 9 p.m. and continuing Saturday, April 14 from 6 to 10 p.m. Tickets are $15 each night.

Cristy Beatty, who co-founded Colt Starting Challenge USA with her husband, Russell Beatty, said they’re excited to bring the event for the second time to Florida. Six experienced horse trainers will work, starting in six round pens, as they compete to gentle, start and ride unbroke horses.

“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 the second evening of the competition, she said, trainers will be riding loosely together through the arena, and then 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 two-and-a-half and four years of age and 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 the crowd.

“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, is their use of Natural Horsemanship methods. “Contest rules prohibit the use of items such as spurs or leg restraints. The key is to build initial trust with the horse,” she said. “Most of the time, they just ride them at a halter. Horsemanship methods of horse training speed up the process of gentling and riding a horse.”

For additional information about the competition, visit