Horse Shopping 101
What to look for when you’re searching for a new barrel horse.
By Charmayne James
I hear pretty regularly from students who bring new horses to my schools, “Well, I’ve never really run the horse but was told it runs 1D times.” More so than people would like to admit, they’ve purchased a horse solely off what they’ve been told and not one they’ve tested themselves before buying. It’s apparent in those situations the horse may have run a few 1D times in the past, but the new match of horse and rider is not producing consistently fast times. You wonder if the buyer did their homework to make sure the horse was a good fit.
My first piece of advice for those buying a new barrel horse is do your homework. There are resources, such as EquiStat, you can use to check credentials. Watch videos to determine if the horse performs well on a consistent basis. If it’s represented as a 1D horse, it should clock in the 1D most of the time, not just once or twice.
Reputable sellers have good references and reputations. Those sellers want you to ask questions and ride the horse, because they want the right home and happy, repeat customers.
Through the trying and buying process, the most important thing is to ride the horse and see if you get along. Ride in different situations while being considerate not to take advantage of the opportunities allowed by the seller. I don’t recommend riding a horse one time and buying it. For the seller, a couple practice runs at home and one at a jackpot might be reasonable. They probably won’t let you haul the horse off-premise to multiple races for liability reasons and out of fairness to the horse.
A practice run in the seller’s home arena is usually different than a competition run, because the energy changes at a show. You might experience two different horses—a horse that rides one way at home and differently at the show.
It takes a lot of training and hauling to make a solid 1D horse. If a horse is being sold as a 1D horse, there should be videos to prove the claim. If the horse has hit the 1D a time or two, be honest with yourself about the time you have to invest in seasoning to make the animal consistent at that level.
Know what type of rider you are—such as if you fit a free runner or a ratey horse. Being objective about your skill level will help you find the right fit.
Buying a horse from a good rider who can help you transition from the trial phase to competing and winning is important. There’s always a learning curve, because things feel different for the horse as well as the new owner. It’s hard for someone who buys a horse but doesn’t get help from the previous rider to fix issues. Getting assistance from the trainer will help if the horse needs tuning, so keep a good rapport going.
For novice riders, it’s hard to determine when to train and when not to train, so they need a person experienced with the horse they’ve purchased to help keep the horse working as well as it did when they bought it.
Vet checks are another topic altogether, but I will say a vet usually points out everything to avoid liability. Weigh the results of a vet check and determine what you can or cannot live with. No one knows how long any horse will last—risk is involved in every horse purchase. If a horse has a soundness issue but you are equipped to manage it and prepared for the cost of maintenance, the risk might be worth the reward.
Really good horses are difficult to come by—that’s the hardest part. For example, if you fit a horse that toes out or has small feet or another less ideal characteristic, but the horse wins on a consistent basis, then it’s proven to have the immeasurable qualities of heart and try and is worth your investment.
This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BHN.