She sells horses before they ever make a competitive run, but Bo Hill has become a premier source for today’s futurity headliners.
By Julie Mankin, originally published in the April 2007 issue of BHN
In the first nine days of December, futurity horses sold by Bo Hill earned $148,506. That’s an average of $16,500 per day, if you’re counting.
The trainer from Dodge City, Kan., flies a little under the radar because she sells colts before they’re eligible to compete. But she’s quietly carved a niche for herself with high-caliber 3-year-olds, a market that’s fluorishing with the advent of $100,000 slot races.
Eight of the 3-year-olds running at the first ever Lance Graves Pro Classic in Kinder, La., in February came through Hill. Her equine proteges have not only excelled right out of the gate, but have also shone as 4-year-olds. One such standout is the red-hot Miss Fortune’s Fool, on whom Lance Graves had already pulled down $50,000 for Heath Boucher back in February.
This spring, Hill is putting the finishing touches on what remain of the twelve 3-year-olds she had on the market for 2007. When ready to sell, her prospects run about three-quarter-speed and clock within a half-second of a winning time. They sell fastest between the months of March and May, with the top end going for between $25,000 and $35,000.
Promising 3-year-olds that fall behind on the futurity calendar might sell for $7,500 to $10,000, she says. Slower developers or colts that, as Hill says, “ride the little bus,” might go to Northern riders who can put another six or eight months training on them and campaign them as 5-year-olds. However, if a colt shows no aptitude to run barrels Hill will simply send it on to career in a different industry.
Finding Future Fortunes
Hill, 43, grew up on a ranch in Colorado, where her family was in the pawn business. She continues that in Kansas, where she and her husband, Jefry Switzer, have a pawn and payday loan company. Switzer, a former National Finals Rodeo saddle bronc rider originally from California, is half of Hill’s barrel-horse training business.
“Jeff looks and decides what to buy,” states Hill, who says they get half their prospects off the racetrack and raise the others. “He also AI’s and flushes our mares.”
In addition to their broodmare herd of about 10, the couple annually provides home to about 10 colts turning three, plus a few held over from last year and maybe one lingering 5-year-old. They’ve been searching out Dash Ta Fame colts in recent years, and are keeping a 4-year-old stallion named Famous Bugs to stand at their facility in Dodge City.
“Those other studs don’t dominate like he does,” Hill says of Dash Ta Fame. “Most of the great ones had to have good mares, but he’s dominated with a lot of different mares.”
For instance, Dash Ta Fame babies sold last year by Hill have gone to the pay window out of mares with breeding as diverse as Reminic, Chicks Beduino and Bugs Alive In 75.
“(Dash Ta Fames) don’t look alike, but they train alike and turn alike,” she says. “Mentally, they’re a lot alike.”
As for finding prospects they don’t raise, Hill and Switzer look for nice-headed 2-year-olds with big bodies and straight legs. They want an athletic colt with a longer stride that travels softly without pounding the ground.
“And a horse’s eye tells us a lot,” Hills says. “I like a big doe eye that’s intelligent. Empty-eyed horses are just like empty-eyed people.”
The couple has had good luck, too, with full brothers and sisters. Hill bought Runnen Red Lites sight-unseen because he was the brother of a gelding she’d had named KR Silver Spur, who earned about $30,000 his futurity year.
After Switzer locates a talented prospect, Hill usually sends it to Phil Haugen of Weatherford, Okla., to break for 30 days.
“He does an outstanding job,” she says. “It makes my job a lot easier. The top 10 or 12 horses at this winter’s futurities in Oklahoma City and in Memphis, he broke.”
When Hill gets projects back from Haugen, she puts an O-ring on them and gets to work. The reason she prefers former racehorses is that she feels it’s easier to train one that already knows how to run than to add the run in later. On the pattern, Hill keeps things relaxed and repetitive.
“I’m a passive rider, not aggressive,” says Hill. “I want to do as little as possible with my body and still get results. I don’t want to have to stand on my head to get one around a barrel.”
That theory may also be what helps riders who follow Hill enjoy success on her colts. The key, she says, is keeping the horse relaxed in the turn.
“You see young horses in a wire bonnet with their mouth open, braced on someone’s hand,” Hill says. “An athletic man or someone using metal can make a horse turn, but that doesn’t work for a lesser hand or smaller girl. Leave the Schwinn equipment on the bicycle.”
Sell the Best, Ride the Rest
If one of Hill’s prospects doesn’t turn out to be upper-end, she doesn’t try to sell it as a major player in the big futurities.
“Every horse I sell, I want the buyer to win with,” she says. “It took a long time to get people to trust that I’d rather sell the good ones than keep them. If a horse isn’t ready yet, I’ll bring him along myself and sell him later.”
Despite the old saying that trainers “ride the best and sell the rest,” the simple truth for Hill is she can’t do that and stay in business. Her bread and butter is in sales, not competition, so she sells the best she has.
“People like to buy a dream,” Hill says. “When a horse is 3, people are buying a dream and not credentials. And it takes some of the risk away if they can see one go around the barrels.”
Hill spends each day getting on six or eight head, each with the attention span of a kindergartner, where it was so cold this winter the ground froze in her indoor arena. She’s been riding futurity prospects now for more than 20 years, but began competing long before that, qualifying for her first of several circuit finals rodeos in 1977.
She’s banked nearly a half-million dollars at the reins as a competitor, and it all started with a $75 horse.
“My dad traded a Winchester for my first horse,” Hill says. “God trained him, basically. I eventually made the short rounds at Cheyenne and Houston on him.”
Humility aside, you’d have to wonder if Hill misses the adrenaline of the rodeos while she’s trotting circles all day.
“I was a rodeo junkie for years,” Hill says. “It was hard on my horse, hard on my husband, and it wears out my truck. The highs aren’t high enough and the lows are too low. I have a lot of respect for those girls and what they do.”
There are days, she adds, when she wouldn’t mind rodeoing again. But it’s a lifestyle that works best for people without marriages, businesses, houses and say, 15 head of horses. As for jackpots, it’s her personal preference to avoid the popular divisional races.
“I totally disagree with the equal payoff, because I think it provides no incentive to buy a better horse or become a better barrel racer,” Hill says. “It’s not a race if you can be two seconds off and win money.”
Hill’s not afraid to be in the minority on that thinking or to ’fess up to her fiercely competitive nature, which, combined with an eye for great horseflesh, is what’s made her a popular source for potential world-beaters.
“I’m a crappy loser. I want to win whether I’m shooting pool or playing horseshoes,” she says.