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Horse sale entrants face intensive tests

Tim Hearden
Horse entrants in the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale go through an intensive series of exercises and competitions to qualify for the horse and mule auction, which is as much pageantry as business.

RED BLUFF, Calif. — For a 6-year-old horse nicknamed Randall, the trip to the Red Bluff Bull and Gelding Sale was a new experience.

“This is a ranch-raised horse,” said his rider, Zak Morgan, who works at Roaring Springs Ranch in Catlow Valley, Ore. “This horse on Friday, I took him out for a 30-mile trot and cowboyed on it. It’s his first time coming to town.”

Morgan and his pal Randall — whose actual name is RSR Lil Coconut — were in the midst of two full days of intensive competitions and exercises leading up to the horse sale here Jan. 31. Nearly 100 horses were entered in the sale, and by the middle of the first day of sifting, the number of eligible horses was down to 82.

Sifting of geldings begins with a halter round, in which judges check the horses’ appearances to see that they are healthy. In the afternoon on Jan. 30, horses took to the floor of the Pauline Davis Pavilion to walk, trot and demonstrate their stops and turns.

Horses also work with cows and participate in roping, cutting, hackamore/snaffle bit and stock horse contests.

While the purpose of the activities is to provide reliable working horses and mules for ranches, they also offer pageantry and entertainment. People fill the stands for the horse workouts, and the Friday night sale is the only auction during the week for which spectators must buy a $10 ticket.

Organizers say the gelding sale tends to be more of a party atmosphere than the bull sale.

“It’s a really fun event for everyone,” said Bryan Owens, a horse sale committee member. “I know people that are not going to buy a horse but they come to it every year.”

The horses that survive the sifting are big sellers. Last year, Glenn Barrett of Bonanza, Ore., paid $17,500 for the top-selling horse. In 2012, Richard Nelson of Freedom, Calif., bought the top-selling horse for $25,000.

J.C. Sykes, who works at Cobian Quarter Horses and Paints in Lakeview, Ore., was bringing a horse to the Red Bluff sale for the first time.

“I heard it was a really good sale,” Sykes said as he waited on his horse for his turn in the arena. “My brother-in-law brought horses here years ago and said it was a good one to bring your horses to.”

Entries of quarter horses, paint geldings and mules were down from a few years ago, when more than 150 horses participated. The increasing cost of feed in recent years has deterred many from keeping horses for pleasure, horse owners have said.

But horse sale organizers believe there will always be a demand for high-quality ranch horses.

“Even if the cost of dog food went up, you’d still feed your dog,” Owens said. “It (the sale) is something we’d like to continue into the next generations. We want to keep traditions going in Red Bluff for as long as possible to protect agriculture.”



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