Horse trainers get new challenge

Colt starting | Contest gives young trainers 
60 days to get colts ready for sale

WATERTON, Alta. — A typical horse trainers’ challenge gives participants three days to take a horse from untried to under saddle.

Marc Garner wondered about that.

As an instructor at Lethbridge College, the horse breeder knows that cramming for an exam might yield a passing grade, but the information is unlikely to be retained.

After pondering a suggestion from a friend, he and his sister, Melody, father, Jim, and mother, Angel, who operate Rocking Heart Ranch near Waterton Lakes National Park, launched a new type of horse trainers’ challenge.

They selected 10 young horse trainers in Western Canada, provided each of them with one of their ranch’s young horses, and gave them 60 days to train the animals for riding and basic manoeuvres.

The trainers’ efforts will be judged by professionals, and the 10 horses, plus another five from Rocking Heart Ranch, will be sold Aug. 24 in Taber, Alta. The winning trainer will receive a $5,000 prize, with second and third placers winning a team roping saddle and silver buckle, respectively.

“Most trainers will tell you, to properly and thoroughly start a young horse, you need 60 days,” said Garner.

So the family decided to help young trainers while increasing the profile of their horse breeding program.

“This colt starting challenge is the first of its kind in Western Canada,” Garner said.

“It is summarizing 108 years of what we’ve been doing and that is just raising versatile and dependable horses that, in time, the entire family can use. And I believe we’ve employed 10 of Canada’s most promising trainers.”

Jon Blackmore of Magrath, Alta., is one of those trainers. In the random draw for horses, Blackmore drew RHR Valentine Blu Te, a gelding he said is training well.

“He’s a good, quiet horse,” Blackmore said July 22.

“I can do most everything with him already. I think this horse will sell for more than I can afford.”

Rod Olsen of Cardston, Alta., trains horses for a living and has participated in trainers’ challenges of the shorter variety. He said the 60-day challenge is unique, and the filly he drew, BB Hickory Hancock, is working nicely and will be ready for Aug. 24.

Both trainers, as well as fellow trainer Calvin Bevans of Lethbridge, say they would consider buying their respective horses, although price will be the deciding factor.

“She doesn’t have a mean side to her,” Bevans said about Weavers Cee Heaven, the filly he drew. “She’s very calm and very attentive.”

The Garners have a process by which trainers can bid on the animals they trained, with plans to ensure it is transparent to all potential bidders and buyers.

The Aug. 24 event will also involve a 4-H component, which is of special interest to Melody Garner-Skiba, a 4-H alumnus.

Club members who register will be allowed to judge the 10 horses and by doing so, enter a draw for a horse, a saddle and tack. Though the 4-Hers’ results will not be used to determine the winning trainer, the experience may help build their enthusiasm and interest in horses.

“We’re engaging them and trying to help educate them and show them that there’s a future in horses,” said Garner-Skiba.

“We want 4-H kids to stay enthused about the horse industry.”

She shared her brother’s concern about keeping young people interested in agriculture in general and horses in particular.

Garner-Skiba remembers her own childhood love of horses, which has continued throughout her life.

“If a girl falls in love with a horse, she won’t fall in love with a boy quite as soon … so if I can help more little girls fall in love with horses and keep their dads’ hair from growing grey.…”

The professional judges for the event, all from Alberta, are Dr. Heather-Lynn Smith of Taber, Rose Perozak of Fort Macleod and Ryan Smith of Champion.

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