Buying a horse can be a frustrating and lengthy process for even the most seasoned competitors. If you’re new to the sport or have never purchased a horse before, it can be an especially daunting mission. Professional barrel racers Tammy Fischer and Joy Wargo shared their best tips for helping you select a beginner barrel horse to launch your journey into barrel racing.

Checking the Boxes

Fischer, a National Finals Rodeo qualifier who has extensive experience coaching riders of all levels through clinics and lessons, suggests throwing looks out the door and remembering that horses have personalities—theirs needs to mesh with yours for a successful partnership.

“A lot of people want to buy a pretty horse so they buy on looks, or just on the horse’s talent on what they’ve seen on a video, and when they do that they’re buying on what the horse did with somebody else,” Fischer said. “When you go try it, you need to ride it and make sure it does what you want it to do, because the two personalities have to get along.”

She also advises buying safe over fast. Fischer says a horse that knows its job and will go into the arena and turn three barrels at a speed you can control will teach you the fundamentals so eventually you can level up to a faster horse.

“People want to buy too fast. Buy to your ability and learn how to ride,” Fischer said. “A horse can teach you, but they can also wreck you if they know too much, because they will get away from you and do things too fast—they can make you doubt yourself because they’re getting ahead of you. You have to buy at the riding level you’re at, no matter where that is.”

Wargo concurs, adding that being honest with yourself about your riding skills will help narrow your horse search.

“Start with something older that’s patterned well and safe for your level,” the champion futurity trainer and clinician said. “If you’re just starting to barrel race and still learning to ride, look for something that’s gentle and real quiet, maybe a little lazy. I know it’s a speed event and not judged, but the faster you go the more difficult it is to sit in the middle of those horses and do your job. If you haven’t rode much, you’re probably going to balance on their face and get out of shape a bit, so you need a slower, gentle horse.”

Questions to Ask

Both Fischer and Wargo agree that learning all you can about what the horse is like on a daily basis away from the pattern will help you select a good match for your lifestyle.

“Establish what you’re comfortable with as far as if they have quirks,” Wargo said. “Are you OK with a horse that’s squirrely or cinchy or that you have to lunge if you skip days riding, or do you want one that’s real quiet? Do I need one that will stand quietly and be good tied to the trailer all day long or do I mind if one paws or kicks or paces in its stall? I want to know what behaviors they have outside of the barrel race. I want to know if there’s any maintenance issues and what they are so I know how to keep them sound, happy, healthy and running.”

A huge factor in selecting a horse for a beginner is if the horse can take repetitive practice sessions. Not all barrel horses can handle going through the barrels 10 times a day at home.

“If you’re not a very experienced rider, you’re going to need to practice the events,” Fischer said. “Can the horse take practice? Some horses can take the repetition of practice, and some horses can’t. Some horses can only take a little bit of work on the barrels before they get too hot [tempered], and then they’ll do bad.”

Fischer also advises asking how often the horse needs to be ridden versus how often it needs to be worked on the pattern.

Before buying, you need to know how much time you have to dedicate to the horse in order to perform well at the race.

“How many times a week do they have to ride it? Does it need to be worked [on the barrels] every day, or only worked one day a week?” Fischer said. “Professional barrel racers ride our horses every day. A lot of people don’t have that option. You may only be able to give that horse three days a week. If it has to be ridden every day because it’s high-strung, that’s not a horse you need.”

Wargo strongly advises doing your homework, asking around and pulling records to avoid falling victim to horse traders. A thorough pre-purchase veterinary exam, preferably set up by you and not the seller, should also be mandatory before making any final decisions or transactions.

“Unfortunately there’s so many of these guys who are horse traders and horse brokers, and they’ve won some stuff, so automatically people assume they can trust they won’t take advantage of you,” Wargo said. “Use your resources like Equi-Stat to find out if the horse has won anything and what division it’s won in, so you have that information and did some research and not just going off someone’s word that it won at a local jackpot. You’re making smart decisions about your investment.”

Finding the right beginner barrel horse.
Tammy Fischer and Joy Wargo both advise buying a horse that fits your riding level instead of buying a fast horse. Look for one you can trust to walk calmly into the arena and turn three barrels at a speed you can control. Photo by Tammy Sronce.

Where to Look

Though there are an abundance of ads on social media and horse sale websites, Fischer and Wargo advise finding a horse through word of mouth and reputable sources. A local barrel race is a good place to start meeting friends who can help.

“Go to some events you want to compete in once you get a horse, and make friends and find some knowledgeable people and educate yourself on what you’re doing besides just browsing ads,” Fischer said. “Watch somebody who rides well, and then go make friends and ask that person for help. When you start any other sport, whether it’s baseball, basketball or volleyball, you don’t just go out in your backyard and start doing it on your own. You get on a team, find a coach, and have some help. When people start barrel racing, they go pick up the ads, start looking and doing it all on their own, and they don’t have any help other than what they read and do online.”

Wargo says futurity trainers can be an excellent resource to consult because of their knowledge of bloodlines, soundness issues, conformation and potential issues on the pattern. She suggests seeking advice from a trainer, even if you don’t plan to have a young futurity horse.

“I think the futurity trainers are all very approachable. Most every one of us got started by having a nice little horse and deciding to try the futurity deal, so we all came from a pretty down-to-earth [background], starting from the bottom working our way up—we appreciate the people who were willing to help us along the way,” Wargo said. “Even if you have no intention of buying a young horse, I would feel really good about sending somebody to a futurity trainer to ask about horses, watch some videos of the horse and tell you what their thoughts are on if they see some major bad habits, and then go to get help if things start to unravel. We all want to see people barrel race. It’s good for the industry and it’s good for all of us.”

This article was originally published in the September 2019 issue of Barrel Horse News.


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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