Find the right prospect at a barrel horse sale with tips from sale expert Jim Ware.

It can seem daunting to find the right prospect at a barrel horse sale with so many horses available. How do you decipher pedigree information? How important is conformation when horses are so young? What should you do to make a successful bid? Here to help you prepare before you head out to a sale, experienced sale manager Jim Ware shares advice on how to find the horse you want.

Starting Young
Ware says buyers of prospective barrel horses have focused primarily on 2-year olds for many years. However, he believes yearlings are the purest prospects within the performance or racehorse industries.

“With the yearling, you are getting a product that has not been started incorrectly or culled,” Ware said. “The breeding and selling of yearlings also supports more of an ‘industry’ with the production of prospects.”

With a yearling, Ware says some of the success he’s seen in horses can be detected from the breeder, and he recommends finding a horse from a breeder—often the stallion’s owner—who has a good track record of breeding and promoting successful barrel horses.

“You know [a really successful breeder] understands proven crosses and is going to make sure the offspring from their stallion or mare is going to get a fair shot,” Ware said. “They’re going to do little extra things to help promote your horse. And with any type of horse, the success of that horse starts the day it is bred—the decisions made on which mare is bred to which stallion, and why—that’s where it begins.”

Building a Team
Unless you plan to train your horse yourself, Ware recommends teaming up with a trainer prior to finding a prospect.

“Visit with the professional about what bloodlines they prefer, the kinds of horses they prefer and try to match the prospect with the trainer before you make your investment,” Ware said. “That will help you save money in the long run.”

The right trainer can help you throughout the process—researching bloodlines, evaluating conformation, looking over veterinary information and even bidding on the horse.

Pinpointing Pedigree
With a long background in conducting cutting and ranch horse sales and participating in racehorse sales, Ware says that although the barrel horse breeding world seems to be in its infancy compared to those disciplines, it has progressed significantly in even just the last five years. He attributes this progress to outstanding stallions and knowledgeable breeders.

“There are so many nice stallions in the barrel horse industry,” Ware said. “Young horses as well as older, proven sires. If you’re going to buy a nice prospects, that’s what you need to focus on to begin with—something by a nice stallion and out of a proven mare.”

When looking at a prospect’s pedigree,Ware says you’ll want to focus on finding the right mix of attributes from the dam and the sire. A prospect by a proven barrel stallion or out of a proven barrel mare is a good place to start.

“It’s easy to pinpoint the proven horses, but young studs and mares with incredible ability and genetics can often be overlooked,” Ware says.

He adds it’s important to look for success in performance to round out the horse’s potential.

“You want to look for the pedigree of a champion,” Ware said. “With a barrel horse, you want something that’s going to be athletic but also with a good mind so it is trainable, but have that speed too. That’s an incredibly hard combination. You’ll really need to look deep into the pedigree to find that and have something that’s not strictly a racehorse, not strictly a performance horse. You want a combination of both. You want to strike a balance in that pedigree.”

Ware says the horses he sees winning in barrel racing and as successful sires right now are often a combination of racing and performance or cow horse blood. It seems that mix is what is developing the prevalence of today’s modern barrel racing bloodlines.

Critiquing Conformation
Once you’ve narrowed down your list of potential horses through pedigree, Ware says the next step is evaluating the horse’s conformation. You can often research the horse beforehand, thanks to the prevalence of photos and videos available at sale websites.

If the horse has been sent to a professional fitter prior to the sale, you can often visit the facility and look at several horses at the same location—even though all may not be going to the same sale.

Even if you can’t see the horse online or at a fitter’s facility, Ware says you can still evaluate the horse before you bid.

“You can arrive at the sale early and take a look at the horses,” Ware said. “Watch the horse walk, watch its mannerisms and the little things you may like or dislike.”

If you don’t feel comfortable judging a horse’s conformation on the fly or aren’t sure what to look for, Ware recommends including an experienced horseman or professional to help you.

He recommends looking at the conformation of horses preferred by the industry leaders for attributes that indicate a good prospect.

“Strive to find a horse that is going to ride and perform, be able to handle the pressure and turn around and do its job,” Ware said. “You’ll look for the pedigree that balances speed and performance, look at the horse as an individual and then you want to always look for balanced conformation.”

Ware says a horse shorter than 16 hands and taller than 14.3 is usually preferred for barrel racing. A blend of good, balanced conformation with athletic ability to get around the barrels and speed can be a winning combination. It’s hard to know if your prospective yearling will possess those traits, but you can look at its sire and dam and the conformation of those individuals to get an idea.

Don’t get distracted by things like the horse’s color, Ware cautions.

“A lot of people let the color of the horse get in the way of their judgement, and they don’t really look at the conformation of the horse,” Ware said. “But just like any other discipline, the horse needs to be built well. Nothing tops the importance of good conformation, to have a sound horse, one you can enjoy for many years to come.”

Health Report
Another element to pre-sale research is the veterinary perspective. In today’s climate, providing radiographs of the horse’s limbs is standard for many sales, and Ware says they are an important piece of information.

“It’s extremely important to know what the horse’s X-rays look like,” Ware said.

Again, working with a professional to evaluate this information can be helpful. A veterinarian versed in barrel horses can help you determine if a horse has issues that can be lived with for this particular sport, or if they’ll cause problems down the road.

“The X-rays can help determine if the horse is sound before you purchase,” Ware said. “Your vet can go online beforehand to look at them at many sales.”

Red Flags
A big thing to watch out for in a prospect is a poorly cared-for animal. An underdeveloped horse for its age might be an indication of this. Some grow out of it, but Ware says in his experience, unfortunately, most don’t.

“If you’ve got the pedigree figured out, and the conformation figured out, the other factor is the care of the horse,” Ware said. “You don’t want somebody else’s problems. Sometimes people get excited about breeding a mare and then they kind of forget about the resulting colt. They’ve got to be well cared-for from the beginning.”

At the Sale
If at all possible, bring your trainer with you to the sale, recommends Ware. Know your budget and have more than one prospect thoroughly researched.

“Bid up to the amount you can afford,” Ware said. “If you don’t get that first
horse, have another one in mind. But don’t just settle for anything at a sale. There will be other sales. Don’t feel like you have to buy one on a specific day. Be open-minded.”

He recommends keeping your maximum amount confidential as you bid, and don’t let your emotions sway your decision.

“You don’t need to share that number with anyone, because you may end up getting the horse for half of what you were prepared to pay,” Ware said. “Don’t bid too fast—the auctioneer will wait on you. If you have a little more money and you think the horse is perfect, then you can up what you want to bid. But only you know what you can afford to spend on that horse.”

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of BHN.

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