Headed to your first futurity? Here’s what you need to know.

Competing at your first barrel racing futurity can be exhilarating. But it can also be a bit nerve-wracking, especially if you don’t know what to expect. While running a barrel pattern is the same everywhere, there are some nuances and logistics that go into futurities that you’ll want to be aware of. Barrel Horse News has gathered some advice from experts to help you prepare for your first futurity.

What is a Futurity?

A futurity is a barrel race for horses that have not run at any races for money, points or awards prior to November 15th of the year before they’re going to compete, says Ross Wright of Better Barrel Races. Futurities vary, but most are for horses ages 5 and under. Derbies are for 5-7 year olds, and sometimes 8 year olds.

Entering the Event

You need to know any restrictions or requirements for an event before entering, Wright said. And that can vary by event. Make sure you understand what you are entering, and that your horse meets all requirements and restrictions. If you are unsure, be sure to ask the producer.

“It’s a whole different world than divisional races,” Wright said. “If you think you have a futurity horse, start by figuring out what futurities you want to go to before you start having to pay a bunch of late fees. You’ll want to start thinking about where you want to go really early on.”

Wright said if you have a nice 3-year-old, you’ll want to start researching the futurities you might want to enter, and pay attention to the dates when fees are required to be paid. Not every futurity is an incentive — and not every futurity requires your horse to be registered with a breed association.

Put dates on your calendar and set reminders to avoid late fees.

Futurity trainer John Ressler looks at futurity calendars online — he goes to performancehorsestallions.com.

“It’s just a calendar, a list of all the different bigger futurities, and they often have entry forms, the due dates and dates of the futurities all laid out,” Ressler said. “I would definitely suggest staying organized and making sure that you’re on top of all your pre-entries, and making sure you don’t miss any payments. Late fees get expensive.”

Futurity trainer John Ressler barrel racing at Pink Buckle.
Ressler says some horses do better with several exhibitions — others don’t need any. Photo by Lexi Smith Media

The most important thing you need to know going into a futurity is if your horse is eligible, and know what will make it ineligible, Wright says.

“You need to keep in mind that you are going to preclude your horse from being eligible if you run your horse in a local playday before November 15 prior to its futurity year, for example,” Wright said. “That’s going to make him ineligible [for a futurity].”

Read the rules for each futurity in which you’d like to run. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

“Each futurity has their own specific guidelines about age requirements, for example,” Wright said. “My advice to anyone new to futurities is to call the producer of wherever you’re wanting to go and ask if your horse is eligible. Because if you can’t find it in the rules, then you need to call.”

It’s also important to know the format of the event — if it’s 2D and a half-second split, or 2D and a full second split — and if it’s a straight payback barrel race.

“You want to know how they pay back, whether it’s a divisional in the average, or not,” Wright said. “I would go back and read the rules. Then, if you are still needing clarification, then you can call with a question.”

A lot of divisional barrel races don’t do an average, or an aggregate, whereas many futurities award money based on the aggregate.

“You need to know how they’re splitting the added money, plus your entry fees,” Wright said.

You may also want to clarify who is getting a check if you win. Some futurities will make the check out to the owner of the horse. In any case, you’ll want all paperwork to be completed.

“If the rider is not the owner, or you’re riding for somebody else, and it comes time to get that check, the w-9 is going to have to be filled out and turned in on behalf of the owner, in order for anyone to get the check,” Wright said.

That being said, do your due diligence, but don’t overly stress about every single detail of how the event is going to be run, futurity trainer Vauna Walker says. She aims to keep her focus on her horses and how to best prepare them for their runs.

“The futurity horses we run are age 4 or 5, and I think it’s easy to run a horse more than is good for them in that first year,” Walker said. “Ideally, I like to spread the futurities out when I can, running two or three times in our busiest months with some months less busy. I am always planning for our horses to go on and have a long career of barrel racing and too many runs in that futurity year can lead to injuries or becoming mentally overstressed. Every horse is different in the way they respond to pressure, and it’s important to ‘read’ your horse and make adjustments accordingly.”

Futurity trainer Vauna Walker barrel racing.
Walker chooses horses for futurities that she feels are bred to run, look and feel like they can run, and that she likes to ride. Photo by Knippling Kustoms

Hauling and Stalling

How you procure a stall varies from one futurity to another. That’s why you need to know that information before you leave for the event.

“If I was giving advice, it would be to look over the paperwork and see what your entry fee covers,” Wright said. “Sometimes it will and sometimes it won’t cover a stall. You don’t want to get somewhere and then not have a stall, because at the other futurities you went to, it included a stall, but this one didn’t.”

Before you head out to the race, make sure to look at schedule. You might run an exhibition on a Monday, and the futurity might be on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“It’s not always back to back on Thursday, Friday, Saturday,” Wright said. “If you read the rules, that can point you in the right direction, and you can then ask the producer questions if it’s still not clear.”

Bring original paperwork to the event, even if you’ve entered everything online, Wright says.

Ressler says to bring your horse’s registration papers, health papers from your veterinarian, and a Coggins test if you’re going out of state. He also suggests making sure everything is correct on your entry, including any side pots.

Always check the spelling of your name and especially your horse’s name.

“Those results are going to get turned in to EquiStat and Q Data, and they’ll start keeping track of your horse’s lifetime earnings,” Wright said.

If possible, try to arrive at the futurity early so your horse can settle down, Walker said.

A girl loading a horse onto a trailer.
When hauling your futurity horse, plan for their comfort throughout the journey. Don’t forget to add shavings to your trailer. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

“That also gives you time to actually get the lay of the land, get your stalls arranged and you are not in a rush — that is always better for your horse,” Walker said.

She tries to plan to not be both tired and hungry when arriving, to make sure she’s patient with her horses — young and inexperienced with travel as they are.

A futurity is often a bit longer than an average barrel race, so Ressler will pack more hay and feed. He says the priority for hauling and stalling at the event is the horse’s comfort.

“Try to keep them as comfortable as possible while you’re hauling,” Ressler said. “Whether that be making sure you stay on top of your [horse’s] stomach meds or chiropractic work, or the cold spa when you get there — you’re going to be going a lot of miles and a lot of hours, so make sure your horse is comfortable and taken care of.”

Figure out in which stall of the trailer your horse hauls in best. Which horses they prefer to be stalled beside — and which ones to stay away from. How does your horse like to haul — opened windows with a screen, or closed?

“Just knowing your horse and knowing what makes them happy and comfortable, you do what you have to do to assist them and make it happen,” Ressler said. “You can’t show up to a futurity and expect to win it if your horse had the bottom knocked out of them and they’re tired and upset and sore.”

It’s very important to give your horse enough shavings in the stall at the race, especially if there are concrete floors. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

Parking at a futurity can be a challenge, especially if you wing it, like Ressler does usually. He always tries to park as close to his stalls as possible so he can check on his horses frequently, but he also has to roll with the punches and stay flexible.

“If you can pre-reserve an RV spot, by all means do so,” Ressler said. “Some places sell out, and there’s been plenty of times where I’ve had to park far away and run my generator, or just be flexible on the spot. Sometimes it’s first serve, and you don’t have an option.”

The same principles of care apply for your horse’s stalling situation. Maybe your horse needs an extra bucket of water. Perhaps they prefer to sleep lying down — they’ll need more shavings.

“Don’t skimp on the shavings, in the trailer and particularly in the stall” Ressler said. “A lot of times we’re on concrete, and a horse with one bag of shavings in their stall can’t get comfortable. Horses that are winning, you typically don’t see them standing on concrete. They’re bedded down and comfortable, and able to rest well at night.”

For a stall with dirt floors, Ressler uses at least six bags of shavings. A concrete floor, he’ll up it to 12.

“If that means at the end of the week you have to scoop those shavings back out and put them in the trailer so you get your money’s worth, do it. But don’t skimp on it — that makes a big difference.”

Preparing for Your Race

Ressler gets his horses out of their stalls as often as possible while at a futurity — even if it’s a short walk around the barn.

“I try to get my horses out at least twice a day, morning and evening, if nothing else,” Ressler said. “A lot of times, there will be designated turnout areas — a round pen or a small lot. Utilize those times as much as you can. If nothing else, get them out, find a little grassy area for them to graze, or a quick walk around the barn is always better than nothing.”

A girl lunging her horse in an outside pen.
Throughout your time at the futurity, make sure to ride, turn out or handwalk your horse several times a day. Photo by Abigail Boatwright

The Exhibition Dilemma

For many newcomers to futurities, the logistics of exhibitions can be confusing, Wright says.

“It’s helpful to know the format of how you’re going to get your exhibitions,” Wright said. “At the bigger futurities, you’ll run through the numbers and then come back a second time, but that doesn’t mean you’re getting two exhibitions. It means you have two shots at getting your one exhibition.”

Some futurities include a free exhibition, but others it may cost $5 or $10. Check your paperwork to see what’s included, Wright says.

Ressler plans for exhibitions depending on the horse.

“Some horses do better with several exhibitions,” Ressler said. “Some are better off without any and just making your run. Just because you get a free exhibition does not mean you need to use it. You’ve got to know your horse, and do whatever is going to benefit the both of you and your confidence.”

Walker feels exhibitions are one of the most stressful parts of a futurity.

“I’m less stressed the day of my run than I am during the exhibition,” Walker said. “The day of your run, you’re going to have done your homework and you’re going to be prepared. It doesn’t matter where you are in that draw, you’re going to get your turn. It’s more unpredictable in the exhibitions.”

Troubleshooting

Many futurities run the second go-round in complete draw reverse order. That is not the case at many divisional barrel races, so it can take getting used to.

Wright suggests checking the futurity producer’s website and social media page leading up to and especially during the event. This is particularly important with regard to the schedule.

“There might be a last-minute change to the schedule, and you want to make sure you’re aware,” Wright said. “Keep yourself current on the schedule.”

Ressler recommends reading the schedule, screenshotting it, printing it off and posting it in your stalls.

“I’ve always set the schedule as my background on my phone so I look at it when I’m at an event,” Ressler said. “I can pop my phone up and there it is. Just make sure you really read the schedule and know where you’ve got to be, and when you have to be there, and plan out as best you can.”

Worrying about the footing is a common issue at barrel races, and futurities are no exception. Walker tries not to let ground conditions bother her.

“If that gets into your head, it’s going to impact your run,” Walker said. “Sometimes people do that in their own anxiety, so I try to politely get out of the conversation. Watch a few runs and make your own decisions — don’t let other people’s anxiety raise yours unnecessarily, because you will know better than anyone else what your horse can handle.”

Walker will visit with friends while at a futurity, but she’s careful about going out and socializing at night.

“In my experience, you need to concentrate on your horse, and I try to stay in that mode as much as possible,” Walker said. “I try to cut down on extraneous discussions. It can change your focus from you and your horse to what somebody else did or what they might do. If I ran a fast time or didn’t have a good run the first day, talking about it a lot can make you nervous for your second run. Either way, it’s best to just focus on getting your second run to be a good one.”

Final Thoughts

Ressler says there’s a lot of pressure surrounding futurity competition. But it doesn’t have to overwhelm you.

“Realize, everybody’s got to start somewhere, and just go out there and make the best of it,” Ressler said. “Don’t be embarrassed, and don’t be afraid to fail, because every single person at that event has been there, and has failed, and kept on going.”

Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Be willing to learn and listen, Ressler said.

Walker says when choosing a horse to run in futurities, she tries to pick one that is bred to run, look and feel like they can run, and one that she likes to ride.

“Once I choose a horse, I throw my heart over the fence and don’t stress about it too much ahead of time,” Walker said. “The ground is different everywhere you go. I put limited emphasis on what their early times are. You can bring down your own confidence by putting too much emphasis on the clock.”

Futurities are an exciting way to test the mettle of your young horse.

“When you see these horses who are running for the first time, it’s like seeing little kids play a sport for the first time,” Wright said. “You know they’ve spent at least a year in training, with all that effort and money to see if it’ll come to fruition. It’s just exciting to watch. You never know when the next great horse is going to be there.”


This article was originally published in the October 2023 issue of Barrel Horse News.

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