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Man sitting on horse with reins in hand
C.J. Benoit served two tours in the military before returning to college at the University of Montana Western and winning the 2024 Colt Challenge.
C magazine
Animal nutrition

Horsemanship exemplified in Colt Challenge

The University of Montana Western offers a bachelor’s degree in natural horsemanship, which culminates in a two-day exhibition called the Colt Challenge.
Adam Hester
Jun 7, 2024

Every spring, life-changing experiences occur on the University of Montana Western (UMW) campus in Dillon, Mont., a self-proclaimed cowboy town.

The miracle that is calving season fills the air across stubbled fields and conversations around ranch offices and kitchen tables 24 hours a day. A rangy squall carrying a harsh combination of snow, sleet and freezing rain makes visitors wish they had packed a warm scarf like the ones locals wear in April.

This is the setting where more than three dozen students in the natural horsemanship program at UMW gather up their nerve and take part in the annual Colt Challenge. They have spent the past six months readying their unbroken colts — and themselves — for work in the equine industry.


UMW is the only school in the U.S. to offer a bachelor’s degree in natural horsemanship. More than 70% of students in the program are from outside Montana.

Equine nutrition is a large part of the curriculum and CHS supports the learning by providing Equis® feed for the colts. Students can observe how good nutrition supports all-around performance.

“It’s a large commitment for students to come five days a week, three hours a day, through the long winter months and deal with hard horse problems every day,” says Eric Hoff man, who directs the four-year program. “The really neat thing is watching them on these last two days [during the Colt Challenge] and seeing just how much they’ve learned. It makes me proud.”

Passing the test of successfully guiding their colts through the challenging course might be the most rewarding experience of all for the students and their supporters.

See more photos from the Colt Challenge:

Horsemanship exemplified in Colt Challenge

Check out the full Spring 2024 C magazine with this article and more.

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