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Devil's Garden Colt Challenge 2021

By Rachael Stucke


On Saturday, June 19th, we hosted the 2nd Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge at the Alturas Livestock Showgrounds. Twenty of the thirty-two 2021 Colt Challenge youth trainers came from all across Northern California to show off the progress they have made gentling their Devil’s Garden wild horses. With $3,000 in cash and prizes for top scoring participants, the competition was fierce, and the stakes were high.


Goldie and "Bella" completing the pool noodle obstacle.


The Devil’s Garden wild horses live on a high volcanic plateau in Modoc County in northeastern California. They have a rich hundred year history in Modoc County. Today’s population is descended from the working horses of local farms and ranches, and cavalry mounts. However, their current population is 5-10 times the appropriate management level of 204-402 horses. This abundance of horses has led to a negative impact on the ecosystem through riparian habitat damage, annual grass conversion, and jeopardizes the rural economy. The U.S. Forest Service helicopter Devil's Garden gathers started in 2016 to provide wild horses for adoption and sale to the general public. Since the start of the Colt Challenge in 2019, youth in northern California 4-H and FFA programs have had the opportunity to take home a weanling wild horse and participate in the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge.

This year, youth participants located in counties from Modoc to Monterey took home a Devil’s Garden weanling in early 2021. If they chose to compete, participants had just under six-months to prepare their colt for the Showmanship, Halter, and Obstacle Course classes at the Challenge.


The Showmanship class looked at the trainers’ ability to show and set up their horse, while recalling general horse care and knowledge. Showmanship judge, Onalea Sweeney, is seen here evaluating youth trainer Mason Sedillo from Santa Clara county and his horse “Lollipop” during the Junior/Intermediate Showmanship class. Mason and "Lollipop" with Judge Sweeney.


Carlie Chandler, a Senior from El Dorado county, was our first-place Showmanship winner with her horse “Bentley”. This pair also placed first in the Senior age class and third in the Halter class, which positioned them to score second Overall in the challenge


Carlie and "Bentley" with Judge Stevens during the Halter class.


The Halter class focused on the participants’ ability to lead their horse through a variety of tasks in order to evaluate their health, grooming, and behavior. In her evaluations, our judge, Nicole Stevens, paid close attention to tangible horse skills such as being able to pick up feet, halter lead ease, and reaction to new environments such as walking through a new barn.


Finally, the Obstacle Course class, judged by Hattie Wimer, focused on desensitization, basic ground skills, and horse maintenance including picking up feet and loading into a trailer. Horses weaved around barrels, maneuvered over ground poles and a tarp, and walked through colorful hanging pool noodles. While participants knew the nature of the classes ahead of them, the additional heat and new environment at the show grounds presented an extra level of difficulty to the show. Travis Kuendig and his horse "Rusty" took home first place in the Obstacle class with the only perfect score of the day. Combined with his first place in the Halter class, Travis came in third Overall and second in the Senior age class.


Earlier this year, the trainers also had the option of competing in a video challenge, where they submitted a progress video with their horses to YouTube. They were evaluated on creativity and skills shown. This year’s Video winner of the $150 cash prize was Goldie Christofferson, a Senior from Shasta FFA and her horse “Bella.” You can find the winning video challenge submission here. Goldie and “Bella” took home other big winnings at the Colt Challenge by placing second in Showmanship, Travis and "Rusty" during the Halter class. third in Senior class, and fourth Overall.


Our 2021 Overall Colt Challenge winner and receiver of $1,000 cash prize was Kaitlyn Kuendig, an Intermediate 4-Her from Siskiyou County and her horse “Casper.” This is Kaitlyn’s second year in a row taking home first in the Overall category with a Devil’s Garden colt. In addition to her Overall award, she placed first in the Junior/Intermediate class, second in the Obstacle Course class, and third in Showmanship.


Overall winner Kaityln posing with Laura Snell during award ceremony.


In 2022, the Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge is planning to expand eligibility to all California 4-H and FFA youth. We are very excited to continue to grow the program with the help of our next generation of horse trainers. Make sure to stay up to date with new information regarding the Colt Challenge through our Facebook page, Devil’s Garden Research and Education, and reach out to us with any questions you may have about the Devil's Garden Colt Challenge.


A huge thank you to our Devil’s Garden Colt Challenge sponsors, judges, and participants this year! We can’t wait to continue helping more Devil’s Garden Wild Horses find forever homes in the coming years


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If you would like to receive one of the previous photos please contact us via email at devilsgardenucce@gmail.com with the subject line "Colt Challenge Photos-Blog". Photos by Chris Christofferson and Rachael Stucke.


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