The fourth annual Top of the West Performance Horse Sale will be held Saturday, May 1, the same day as the Kentucky Derby, said Bill Brewster, a member of the equine program's advisory committee and one of the sale organizers.
People who attend the sale will be able to watch preliminary events for the Kentucky Derby and the race on a large screen in a state-of-the-art indoor arena near Four Corners in Gallatin County. The first 100 women who come to the sale wearing Kentucky Derby-style hats will receive a free mint julep, the traditional beverage of the Kentucky Derby. Wearers of the three winning hats will be awarded silver cups for mint juleps.
"I think it will be a really fun day," said Robin Choate, one of three judges and an organizer of the hat contest.
The horse sale will be held at the Copper Spring Ranch, but it will also be broadcast over the ranch's Web site at http://copperspringranch.com, Brewster said. He added that ranch managers Gary and Sandie Metcalf volunteered to hold the sale as a way to work toward a nationally recognized performance sale while contributing to MSU's equine program and supporting the growth of the horse industry in Montana. Horse owners can still consign broke, performance-bred horses to the sale by calling Headwaters Livestock of Three Forks, the sale managers, at (406) 285-0502 or (406) 855-3971.
A preview of the sale horses will be held between 1:30 and 3 p.m. May 1 in the outside arena. The auction will begin immediately after the Kentucky Derby race, which normally lasts about two minutes. The sale -- which will include booths by more than 40 vendors -- is free to attend and open to the public.
Approximately 50 horses will be offered for sale, Brewster said. Of those, about 35 will come from top ranches in the region and will be sold on consignment. Another 15 were donated to MSU in 2009, and they are now in their second semester of training at MSU.
Jess Holloway, instructor of the Colt Breaking and Training Courses, said the donated horses had varying abilities when they came to MSU, but his students have started them well. The horses now go all speeds willingly and calmly, inside and outdoors. The horses walk through water without balking and carry riders even when the riders wear slickers. The horses are gentle and ready to be trained for their future jobs, whether those involve roping, trail riding or working cows.
"I'm really pleased with what these students are doing," Holloway said.
Sandy Gagnon, one of five founders of the Equine Boosters of MSU, said the training benefits students and future owners. It also makes the horses more marketable in this economy where top horses are still in demand, but "unbroke horses, you can hardly give them away."
Proceeds from the horse sale and hat contest will go entirely to the MSU equine science program, which began in 2002 with 11 students. It now has 65 students and was featured in the January issue of Western Horseman magazine. The program is an option in the Department of Animal and Range Sciences.
Funds from past horse sales have been used to replace the arena surface in the Bob Miller Pavilion at MSU, construct new arena fencing, buy equipment to smooth out and level the arena surface, and obtain necessary supplies for the horse training courses, Brewster said.
Choate said the hat contest, new this year, costs $5 to enter. Women can pay in advance or at the horse sale. They can buy or make their hats. They can make them ahead of time or at the sale, where hats and decorations will be provided. The hats can be any style, from simple to over-the-top. Choate plans to wear a blue straw hat with lots of tulle, flowers and ribbons.
Hat judging will finish by 3 p.m. the day of the sale, Choate said. Winners will be announced just before 4 p.m.
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or email@example.com