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How Three of the Nation's Leading Collegiate Equine Programs & Performance Horse Sales Are Turning Out Tomorrow’s Stars

One generation before us, ranching was a common way of life. Horses were the backbone of those ranches, respected as both revered athletes for sport and valued tools to get the job done. Small family ranches coupled with vast beef operations contributed greatly to the United States economy and the culture of the American West. Western heritage didn’t just play out in movies, it was lived every day.

Today, the face of ranching has changed considerably, with the ranches of yesterday consolidating to create fewer, larger enterprises. While the family ranch still exists — some thriving and some struggling — all have had to adapt to a technology-forward environment while still holding tight to the traditions and values that make the industry a special place. Amongst those that are committed to breathing new life into the ranching world are a select group of high-level collegiate programs that build on the skills of born-and-bred ranch kids while teaching the skills necessary to bring more urban young people into this way of life.

Each program is unique, but all share an unwavering commitment to preserving, modernizing and expanding the western way of life through in-the-saddle education and real-world experience gleaned through their top shelf performance horse training programs and annual sales.

horse hoof abscess

Colorado State University

Offering paths that include how to handle, break and train a young horse but also event management and sales management.

cracks in a horse hoof

Feather River College

A program built around what the next generation of ranchers and horsemen wanted and needed: to ride, rope and learn ranch management.

horse with white line disease

Cal Poly's Equine Sciences Program

The long-standing program ranges from equine reproductive physiology to nutrition and behavior modifcation or training.

The Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale

“Cal Poly has historically been passionate about a hands-on ‘learn by doing’ approach,” says Dr. Jaymie Noland, Department Head, Animal Science, at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), in San Luis Obispo, California. "We’ve had horses on campus and involved with our students since the beginning." Cal Poly’s long-standing equine sciences program ranges from equine reproductive physiology to equine nutrition and equine behavior modification or training. From foaling out mares to embryo transfers, ICSI (Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection) and everything in between, the educators at the famed university believe in getting hands dirty and carefully mixing science and practicality.

Students at Cal Poly start from the beginning, literally. Mares are foaled out with help from students, then raised up through the ranks. “When foals are born they’re handled by students during the foaling enterprise program, then they go into our halter breaking class where they’re worked with as weanlings and yearlings. We then have an advanced class that takes those long yearlings and early 2-year-olds and starts them under saddle,” explains Dr. Noland.

“The basis for the sale is all of the science-based activities we put so much effort into. That all leads to a product that we sell,” says Dr. Noland, an equine veterinarian and polo player herself. Under her guidance and that of her faculty and staff, the Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale has grown into a respected source for top tier horseflesh, offering ranch-bred horses together with cutting and reined cow horses from champion bloodlines. The horses are cared for to the highest level, trained with commitment, handled with heart and sold as broke and durable candidates for ranch and show.

Beyond the intricacies of breeding, raising and training a large number of horses while managing an even larger group of students from varying backgrounds, the Cal Poly program puts equal emphasis on horsemanship and training abilities together with business savvy. “The students learn how to host a sale, do some marketing, plan a large event, talk to clients and see what it would be like to do this in a commercial environment professionally,” says Dr. Noland. Her goal is to turn out good horsemen but more importantly, to graduate students who know what hard work, responsibility, humility and professionalism really mean.

“There’s a lot to be said about the character these programs are building. It’s very different than sitting in a classroom or pipetting in a laboratory ...”
— Jaymie Noland, DVM,
Department Head, Animal Science; California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo

The Feather River Performance Horse Sale

It’s been nearly 30 years since Feather River College and Agriculture Department Chair, Russell Reid, started their now widely respected Equine Sciences program. Reid is an old soul and a student of both the American West and the horse itself. He committed from the beginning to build a program around what the next generation of ranchers and horsemen wanted and needed. It was practicality; an applied program that taught them the skills needed to go hard-charging into the industry. The students wanted to ride, rope, learn ranch management and graduate capable of contributing on day one. “We respect what the students want,” says Reid, “that’s one of the reasons the program has succeeded the way it has.”

Feather River College has never been afraid to do things differently. They’re mavericks in the world of two-year programs, offering the only four-year agriculture degree at a two-year college in the state of California. “We now offer a Bachelor of Science in Equine and Ranch Management,” Reid says proudly, "along with a two-year degree in Equine Studies and also general agriculture.” With a mix of backgrounds, the commonality shared by Feather River students is their dedication to shaping themselves into the equine and agriculture leaders of tomorrow.

A key facet of the Feather River program is their widely acclaimed performance horse sale which, this year, celebrates its 20th anniversary. “We have our own stallions,” says Reid. “We live cover and A.I. our school mares, and the foals are born on campus. The students are involved in the foaling process, then they’ll see those foals all the way through until we sell them as three-year-olds.”

Perhaps one of the greatest accomplishments of Reid’s career has been his insistence that the program he created stay authentic and true to its initial purpose. “A lot of programs that started off giving students a hands-on approach and a practical approach have now evolved to be heavily focused on academics. A lot of the time that’s not what the students on this path are asking for. They want hands-on, real-world knowledge,” he says emphatically. “We’ve stayed true to teaching the skills that these students need and want. We’re proud of that.”

“We’re not here to teach you, we’re here to help you learn.”
— Russell Reid,
Agriculture Department Chair, Feather River College

Colorado State Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale

“The Legends of Ranching program is so much more than just a sale, it’s a program with many different moving parts,” explains Dr. David Denniston, Director of the famed Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale.

A true star in the world of performance horse sales, the Legends of Ranching program has carefully crafted intricacies that come together to produce some of the finest horses available. “About 30 young horses are consigned to the Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale in August of every year,” says Dr. Denniston. “Those young horses come to us in Fort Collins from ranches around the country through an invitation-only process.” Not just anyone can consign a horse to the storied program, that invitation is extended only to those consigners that have a long history with the program, a proven record in the industry and breed the type of horses that the Legends of Ranching program is looking to train, promote and sell. But most importantly, consigners must have a commitment to working with students to turn out not just exceptional equine athletes but quality people and future professionals as well.

“At the end of the day, everything we do revolves around student education and the benefit that our students get from our efforts,” says Dr. Denniston. “The majority of those horses that come to us are yearlings, coming two-year-olds. Those horses are enrolled into our Fall horse training class, where students will learn how to handle, break and train a young horse that has been handled maybe twice in its life,” he explains. After nearly seven months of hard work, care and immeasurable time, students see their horses sold each April in the Legends of Ranching Sale.

Aside from the extensive program built at Colorado State and stewarded by Dr. Denniston, the Legends of Ranching sale is a monumental undertaking in and of itself. “We’ll sell about 30 horses that we had consigned the previous August and that the students have worked with the whole time, then we’re also able to accept about 30 aged horses from our consigners as well,” Dr. Denniston explains. “We’ll catalog about 60 horses each year into the sale.”

While some students may be devoted horsemen, others have a more business-focused interest in the industry. Dr. Denniston is quick to point out that it takes both of these paths to create success. “We incorporate a lot of students into the Legends of Ranching program that aren’t necessarily interested in working with a two-year-old. They have no aspiration to become a horse trainer, but they want to be involved in the horse industry in a different way. For them, we offer event management and sales management classes, and these are the students that actually help me prepare for and run the Legends of Ranching Sale. They’re doing everything from communicating with consigners, working with contracts, hiring people, managing sponsors, managing trade show space and all of the behind-the-scenes parts of managing a large event like this.”

Colorado State University

College of Agricultural Sciences

Founded: 1870
Total Enrollment: 33,058

Colorado State University is a public research university. The university is the state's land grant university, and the flagship university of the Colorado State University System.

horse with white line disease

David Denniston, PhD
Director, Legends of Ranching Program Colorado State University

Feather River College

Agriculture Department

Founded: 1968
Total Enrollment: 1705+ (as of 2015)

Feather River College is a public, two-year community college. Bordering Plumas National Forest, the campus is more than 400 ac. and hosts a variety of wildlife, including a resident deer herd.

horse with white line disease

Russell Reid
Agriculture Department Chair Feather River College

Cal Poly's Equine Sciences Program

College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences

Founded: 1901
Total Enrollment: 21,306

Cal Poly is a nationally-ranked public university on California's Central Coast that offers valuable academic expertise and hands-on experience.

horse with white line disease

Jaymie Noland, DVM
Department Head, Animal Science California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly), San Luis Obispo, California

Western Heritage

Perhaps one of the greatest contributions of programs such as those offered by Cal Poly, Feather River College and Colorado State are the lessons of past generations of western titans, modernized and applied to today’s environment while staying true to their core. “In agricultural programs across the United States, 80 percent of the students entering those programs are from urban backgrounds now,” says Dr. Noland. “We are really in a period of transition.”

These programs have handled that state of flux with a determination to stay authentic and hold steady on the lessons they set out to teach. Inevitably, those lessons are made more impactful when taught from the back of a horse.

“All along, our principals and our vision have been based on western heritage and good horsemanship,” says Russell Reid. “We find that if you’re good with horses, ironically, you develop other good skills like thinking, planning, being kind to others and your livestock and the importance of taking care of the land.” He ought to know. Reid has witnessed 30 years of students come through the Feather River program, some from major ranching operations born into the saddle, and others from more urban backgrounds but eager to lead the western lifestyle. Witnessing the same diversity at Cal Poly, Dr. Noland affirms that, “as those students learn how to be around animals, they develop a work ethic; they develop character because they have to problem-solve, and they have to conquer their fears and trepidation, especially when you’re getting on a two-year-old for the first time.” Those fears set the stage for months of focus, steadfast effort and a horse and human relationship that teaches humility, compassion and grit. “We want our students to grow to be thinkers, and those western heritage skills are what we try to uphold in our program,” says Reid. “We try to build those skills by getting them on horses.” Dr. Denniston sees the evolution of students from varied backgrounds as well. “Some of our students are hunters and jumpers from the East or West Coast,” he says. “They’re some of the best riders that we have and they come through the program with an appreciation for the kind of horses we produce, which are ranch and western performance horses.”

These collegiate programs build on the skills of ranch kids while teaching the skills necessary to bring more urban young people into this way of life.
PHOTO BY ELIZABETH HAY PHOTOGRAPHY

Bringing Back Science

Aside from lessons learned in the saddle and through the bond between horse and rider, these programs are strict advocates of the role that science plays in the industry. “We’re very interested in putting nutritional science into this program,” says Dr. Noland, adding, “in the equine industry, a lot of what we do is because it’s always been done that way, but we feel as an educational institution that we need to show our students what good nutrition really is. We use Platinum Performance as a teaching tool for our students and the public at our sale. We want to ensure that our students know what’s in the forage and Platinum formulas chosen for their horses and why that matters.”

Dr. Denniston and the Legends of Ranching program pay equal attention to the nutritional regimen chosen to nourish their training and sale horses. “From a university standpoint, nutrition has been steadfast in our science-based program. We practice what we teach,” he says. “With picking a group of 30 young training horses, they’re growing and they’re in a very controlled fitting and exercise program. We have the opportunity to do some educational models in teaching students how to feed horses, and that’s evolved over the years as research has evolved. This year, we’ve had the best results we’ve ever had. We started them on Platinum and our feed program earlier than we have in the past, and we’ve had more positive comments about how the colts looked throughout their training program, how they responded and their mental brightness.” Feather River has seen similar results. “The condition of our horses when they go to sale is simply amazing,” says Russell Reid. “Before Platinum, they didn’t look that good. We know it works, and it makes such a difference for us.”

woman riding horse in a field

The condition of our horses when they go to sale is simply amazing. Before Platinum, they didn’t look that good. We know it works, and it makes such a difference for us.”

Russell ReidAgriculture Department Chair, Feather River College

Building the Future

“There’s a lot to be said about the character these programs are building,” says Dr. Noland. “It’s very different than sitting in a classroom or pipetting in a laboratory; this program is teaching life skills and people skills that are so important for success when you go on to a career.” She is a firm believer that communicating with another person is one thing, but she wants her students to recognize the skills, understanding and respect it takes to communicate properly with a horse. Dr. Denniston agrees, “it’s a life changing program, it really is. I see a group of students that come through the program, they’re paired up with a horse, they form a bond, they learn so much and they’re just transformed as an individual. It’s a maturity process and the horse is teaching them more than we ever could in a classroom. We push them in the right direction, but the horse takes it from there.”

After 30 years in front of students, educating from the back of a horse, Russell Reid looks back with pride and ahead with a drive to connect students and horses for mutual benefit. “We’re not here to teach you, we’re here to help you learn,” he says seriously. “Programs like this, we’re the real deal.”

High Sellers at the Horse Sales

Colorado State Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale

Colorado State Legends of Ranching Performance Horse Sale

April 21, 2018 in Fort Collins, Colorado
Aged High Seller: Smart Lonewood — $17,000
Young High Seller: SCR CD Peptoes — $10,500
Red Roan AQHA Gelding
Foaled: 2016
Sex: Gelding
Sire: Peptoes
Dam: Pardon My CD (CD Olena)
Rider: Makayla Dahley
Ranch: Spur Cross Ranch, located in Gallatin Gateway, Montana, is home of Ingram Quarter Horses. They have been breeding, raising and training quality American Quarter Horses for over 27 years and are dedicated to producing quality horses with proven bloodlines.

Feather River Performance Horse Sale

Feather River Performance Horse Sale

May 19, 2018 in Quincy, California
High Seller: FRC Heza Jazzy Memry — $15,750
Honest 3-Year-Old Bay AQHA Gelding
Foaled: 4/28/2015
Sex: Gelding
Sire: Shooting From Memory
Dam: Shesa Sparklin Jewel
Rider: Haley Garcia, a sophomore in Equine & Ranch Management Bachelor’s Program. She is from Ojai, Ca and has always had a deep love for horses and competing. Haley’s career goal is to compete in reined cow horse events. “FRC was one of the best decisions I have made. This school is perfect for me, and I cannot wait to see where this school takes me,” said Haley Garcia.

Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale

Cal Poly Performance Horse Sale

June 2, 2018 in San Luis Obispo, California
High Seller: SJR Diamond Laredo — $18,000
2016 AQHA Palomino Gelding
Foaled: 3/9/2016
Sex: Gelding
Sire: CD Diamond
Dam: Whiz N Spark (Topsail Whiz)
Rider: Teresa Job
The Ride: With long, smooth movement accented by his eye-appeal, SJR Diamond Laredo has the pieces to be competitive in the performance horse pen from ranch versatility to reining

Jessie Bengoa
  • by Jessie Bengoa, Platinum Performance®