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Students train horses for colt sale

May 7, 2009

The annual UW-River Falls colt sale, held on May 2, turned out to be another successful one for the students involved in the Colts in Training program.

The auction was preceded by a preview session. Potential buyers watched as the students rode their young horses around the arena. The buyers examined how the colts moved. Next, buyers talked to each student individually to inquire further about the ponies they were interested in. After the preview session, the auction began and lasted about three hours.

Jack Brainerd and Jim Dollahon established the Colts in Training program at UWRF in 1972. The program gives students an opportunity to start and train young horses with supervision and needed assistance from expert trainers.

After a couple of years, the program was thought to be a bit boring, and students were not getting any recognition for the time they were spending with the colts.

In 1976, the idea of hosting a sale arose. The sales attract a higher quality horse because it gives the breeders an incentive to send their colts to UWRF. In addition, students receive acknowledgement for the work they did with the colts.

“It’s a pretty unique program. It’s probably the oldest Colts in Training program in the country,” Kris Hiney, UWRF equine science professor said. “A lot of other programs have tried to model it off of this one.”

This semester there were 45 students in the program. Each student got about 90 days to work with their horse and to get them broke. When the students received their colts, the animals were only halter-broke. This means that the horses could walk alongside people and other animals on a halter and remain calm. For their first ride on their colts, the students did not use anything to hold on to the horse; they were just getting a feel for how the body of the animal moved.

The horses are contracted to UWRF from all over the United States. The owners of the colts will get the money the animal makes from the sale. The owners also have the option to no-sale the horse if it did not sell for very much.

“Because the horses are fairly well bred, a lot of them do go on to be performance horses,” Hiney said.

The majority of the colts are bred as reining and cutting horses. Reining is a competition for horses where the riders guide them through a precise patter of circles, spins and stops. A reining horse must be quick and agile as well as responsible to the rider’s commands. The aid of the rider should not be easily seen, so the horse and rider must be quite in tune with each other. Students train reining horses to have an excellent temperament to perform with both speed and precision.

Cutting is a competition where a horse and rider are judged on their ability to separate a calf away from its herd and keep it away for a short given period of time. When the calf attempts to return to its herd mates, the rider loosens the reins, and it is entirely up to the horse to keep the calf separated. Cutting horses must be suave, mature, patient and independent. It’s the job of the trainer to get the horses into cutting-shape.

The colts are broke by the students and then auctioned at the sale. This year, the top colt sold for $9,000.