Over $135,000 generated by online UMW Annual Colt Sale

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

It wasn’t the way it was planned, but it was a great success- the annual, national Colt Sale of the University of Montana Western, traditionally held every spring in Dillon. But this year was different.

When the coronavirus crisis hit, one of the nation’s leading equine education centers – the Montana Center for Horsemanship in partnership with the UMW were faced with a dilemma – 30-plus colts, well-trained and ready for the sale - what to do about the live auction scheduled at the end of March?

The horses, all of whom are donated by area ranches, are well-bred with excellent bloodlines and extensive natural horsemanship training. But with the health crisis looming, the face-to-face auction event had to be canceled.

“It’s one of the most important fundraising events of the year,” according to University of Montana Western Foundation Director Roxanne Engellant.

To the ranches that donate the colts, this is about the future. Lynn Hirschy of Harrington-Hirschy Quarter Horses, one of the original donors, says the ranch has donated about 50 AQHA colts over the years to both the University of Montana Western and to Montana State University. She says they do it because it gives students in the program a great advantage in the real world of training and they get the kind of experience that will help them throughout their future with horses.

Not unlike the NFL draft, the organizers, Montana Western and Montana Center for Horsemanship made the decision to take the auction and sale online, via the Internet. Rivers West Auction Service in Arlee, Montana was called on to manage the sale and bidding turned out to be brisk, with serious horse buyers bidding online from all over the nation.

Cal Erb, one of the original colt donors, said he was pleasantly surprised at the national interest and participation even at this time of crisis.

In the end, there were bidders from 27 states, as far east as Pennsylvania and Florida, all the way west to California, Oregon and Washington. There were 231 bidders and many more following live online.

Cal and his wife Brooke Erb are committed to the Natural Horsemanship Program and say they love helping to fund the program, which encourages many young people to go to college who might otherwise not, and he appreciates the exposure for their horses.

As Erb says, “The horse industry has grown a lot because of recreational interests and this program helps to support that.”

When the Colt Sale ended, in under three hours, more than $135,000 had been raised from this online event. The net proceeds will go towards class costs and scholarships.

Director of Horsemanship for MCH Eric Hoffmann said, “The auction was a great success because of student dedication and community and national support of the sale. It’s a true team effort and a major commitment to education and community collaboration.”

Verna Holland, who with her late husband Chad, has been donating colts from the Holland Ranch from the very beginning and are lifetime members of AQHA, says they love being part of the Natural Horsemanship program and the Colt Sale because “we love the horses. Our feeling is this is a better way to train. The program is teaching students and future horsemen and horsewomen, to work with the mind of the horse, more than the muscle,” adding, “the horse talks to you, you have to teach the human to communicate, to read a horse; this program helps to encourage that.” Stan Weaver, of the Weaver

Quarter Horse Ranch, another ranch that donates colts, said this is a real tribute to the Natural Horsemanship program of UMW & MCH.

“The colts sold really well, even though bidders could not see them perform in person and they sold well based on their reputation.” Weaver added, “That says a lot for the program and people want to support the program but also, people want to ride good horses. Good horses always sell well.”

All the donors agree, this program offers students interested in horses and horsemanship, a better way to learn, to train and to communicate with horses. With people staying so close to home because of the health crisis, many of the bidders were anxious to contribute and support young people and education.

According to Janet Rose, Director of Development and Communications for the Montana Center – “this is about the future – supporting future horsemen and horsewomen, future equine veterinarians, students who will pursue agricultural and other horse-related industries. It connects the dots between the horse world, natural horsemanship, an exemplary education and natural horsemanship studies.”

Natural Horsemanship is taught exclusively at the Montana Center for Horsemanship. The annual Colt Sale is one of the culminating events of the school year for Natural Horsemanship students who are part of the nation’s only Natural Horsemanship Bachelor of Science University degree program in the United States. This year, 22 students from UMW participated in the horse training and 6 students in the equine studies program worked on event planning and sponsorship as well as 8 students and colts from Montana State University.

Horsemanship Director Eric Hoffman said, “It’s an incredible, real world experience for students interested in the horse industry.”

At the close of the online auction, some horse owners were already on their way to the La Cense Ranch in Dillon to pick up the horses they had just won, to take them home and continue their education.

UMW press release