Days of ’47 and Road to the Horse Co-host a collegiate challenge in Utah, and the University of Montana Western claims the title.

Top hands and a nice remuda coalesced to leave an indelible impression on the minds of officials, judges and fans alike on July 23–24. The impressive horsemanship was displayed at the inaugural Days of ’47 and Road to the Horse Collegiate Challenge at the Salt Lake County Equestrian Center in South Jordan, Utah.

These top hands—students representing horsemanship teams from the University of Montana Western, Casper College and Utah Valley University—strove to showcase the highest standards of horsemanship while gentling a colt over a two-day period. The stakes included $30,000 in scholarships.

At the beginning of the competition, each team selected a colt to start from the remuda provided by the Diamond-McNabb Ranch. According to Ken McNabb, who not only provided the remuda but served as a judge, all three teams chose the three colts he would have chosen himself.

“They’re all nice colts, all really great young horses, but the ones that they picked just excel in that disposition area and in trainability,” McNabb said. “I’m really impressed with the horsemanship programs and the talent and ability that these kids are displaying out here. It’s encouraging. It’s uplifting to see that there’s young people out there studying and learning and trying really hard. It’s fun to watch.”

Road to the Horse Collegiate contender.
Jacob Christenson works with Playguns Little Cash in the RTTH Collegiate Challenge. Photo courtesy of Road to the Horse

Renowned horsemen Ken McNabb, Wade Black and Jeff Williams judged each team on a set of criteria that incorporated milestones including catching and haltering, saddle preparation, saddling, introduction of a rider and obstacles in the first three rounds. In the final round, teams were scored on rail work, obstacles and overall riding.

Williams considers it refreshing to see college students work with a young horse in a competitive setting.

“So many times, they’ve had to compete on aged geldings or aged horses, and vice versa,” he said. “To have a kid compete on a horse that hasn’t been handled really makes them appreciate an older horse and learn where the basics come from.”

Colt starting is the most important day in any horse’s life, according to McNabb.

“If the horse was messed up when he was a colt, it makes your job a lot harder [to succeed in competition],” McNabb said. “So the day that colt is started is critically important to him.”

McNabb related that a lot of young trainers ask him how to advance in horsemanship, and, that in his opinion, a colt starting competition such as the Days of ’47 and Road to the Horse Collegiate Colt Starting Challenge, is a great step in the right direction. 

“Iron sharpens iron,” he said. “So, when we go out and put ourselves in a situation where we have to learn and where we have to compete, we can come back and look at our scorecards and say, “Okay, the proof is in the pudding. This is what three different judges felt I need to work on.”

The horse industry gains ground from the accountability and standards provided by an event such as a collegiate colt starting challenge, he said.

University of Montana Western wins Road to the Horse Collegiate Challenge.
The winning team included (from left) James Ramirez, coach Eric Hoffmann, Jacob Christenson and Katie Ross. Photo courtesy of Road to the Horse

The University of Montana Western, comprised of team members Katie Ross, James Ramirez and Jacob Christenson, and coached by Eric Hoffmann, the director of horsemanship and head horsemanship instructor at the Montana Center for Horsemanship and the University of Montana Western, claimed the top spot, earning $15,000 in scholarship money. The University of Montana Western selected the winning bay colt named Playguns Little Cash, sired by Playgun Will Travel and out of Miss Cut N Cash.

“The ability to bring this win back to University Montana Western will mean so much to the University, the natural horsemanship program and the community,” Hoffmann said. “It’s not just a win for the team, but for everyone who has worked so hard for the program over the years.”

Hoffmann emphasized the significant impact an event of this nature has on the horse industry.

“The future of horsemanship and education lies in the future generations of horsemen and horsewomen,” he said. “This event brings these aspects to the forefront of the horse industry. As an industry, we need these educational events to secure the quality of horsemanship, not just for the future of our youth, but for the future of the horse.”

The Casper College horsemanship team, comprised of Carson Johnson, Ty Christensen and Beau Rees, and coached by Sandy Bob Forbes, the assistant rodeo coach at Casper College, placed second. Casper College selected a bay colt with a star named DLL Curiously Catty, by DM High Brow Prince and out of Curiosly Trashy. The team earned $10,000 in scholarship money.

Utah Valley University, comprised of Hayden Boren and Brett Olsen, and coached by Whittney Dansie, assistant coach of the Utah Valley rodeo team, placed third. Utah Valley University selected a bay roan colt named DLL Shutup N Dance, by Playgun Will Travel and out of Starlight Dance, and it earned $5,000 in scholarship money.