In the second of this four-part series about the futurity industry, veteran barrel racers discuss how to responsibly select a futurity prospect, set realistic goals and find qualified professionals to help you achieve them.
By Bonnie Wheatley, published in the September 2010 issue of Barrel Horse News
The allure of seeing your name listed as “owner” or “rider” in the results of a major futurity such as the Barrel Futurities of America World Championships or Old Fort Days is an addicting notion. Most people who take on the considerable investment of time and money would be lying if they said they weren’t in the futurity game to gain some fame, fortune or notoriety in the process. So, in the hyper-competitive barrel futurity realm, how can you shift the odds in your favor to achieve a measure of success, particularly if you are new to the industry?
Here are a few suggestions from veteran barrel racers on navigating the complicated futurity system.
Quality Over Quantity
At only 22, Jordon Peterson-Briggs has experience running and winning at every level of barrel racing, from professional rodeos to the futurity ranks. The 2009 National Finals Rodeo qualifier guided Frenchmans Jester to the 2006 BFA World Championship Futurity title before successfully testing the rodeo waters in 2008-2009.
Because of her experience, Peterson-Briggs knows the importance of making a solid horse investment and does all she can to turn the odds in her favor by working hard to take raw equine talent all the way to the winner’s circle. For her dollar, Peterson-Briggs would rather own one outstanding prospect than a handful of average ones.
“If you’re a new person thinking of investing in the futurity business, my biggest advice is pick quality over quantity,” she says. “In other words, don’t go out and buy three mediocre horses; go spend the money on one really good one. Make the investment in a Dash Ta Fame, Frenchmans Guy or a Dash For Perks – something that is brand name in its pedigree, eye catching and saleable later.
“It’s wiser to go spend the money if you are in a position to do it.”
Along those same lines, she also advises that if you buy a colt and plan on training it yourself, be realistic about the time and commitment required to put a solid foundation on a young horse.
“To me, it’s smarter to go spend the money to buy a 3- or early 4-year-old out of a proven program rather than a younger, cheaper horse that is still going to need a lot of work,” Peterson-Briggs says. “I’d buy a futurity horse from Bo Hill or Liana DeWeese in a heartbeat, because you know that so much work has been done, and done right.”
Peterson-Briggs advises weighing the cost of the seat equity already invested (or not invested) in the prospect you are considering very carefully.
“You could buy a prospect on the cheaper side and spend $10,000 – $15,000 – and that’s what it will cost you – and then you need to budget $700 a month for a trainer to get them ready,” she says. “Just be realistic, and consider if you are willing to spend more money for the time and training already put into that horse because someone has to do the work anyway, and that is going to cost time, effort and money either way, whether its yours or someone else’s.”
Futurity trainer Kelly Conrado says the first consideration for him when selecting prospects is pedigree, because certain bloodlines he has tracked through the years have proven their trainability.
“There are certain bloodlines I favor because I know the horses have the foundation there to quickly and easily progress through training, more so than some others,” Conrado says. “Secondly, I look at eye appeal, because that factors into resale value, and conformation, because that tells you how sound they are likely to stay.
“Gender is important in the sense that, although I am personally a more fan, geldings seem to be very marketable later.”
Conrado always looks at a prospect with that horse’s lifetime career in mind.
“I futurities a horse in 1995 called Fols Goody and won about $30,000 on him,” he explains. “That horse is still running and winning to this day. He had great, great conformation, the bloodlines, the mind and just a ton of eye appeal. Their career beyond the futurities is a big deal to me.”
Find Your Style
What barrel racer doesn’t fantasize about the concept of a shopping trip – particularly when it involves finding the right four-legged style to fit your fancy?
Peterson-Briggs’ top considerations when selecting a prospect hinges up ensuring that the horse has the right career start and fits her own riding style.
“For me, personally, I prefer a 2-year-old to an older prospect because I like to start them myself from the get-go, so I know they haven’t been spoiled or beat or messed up,” she says. “When you’re thinking about buying a futurity prospect, everyone wants the fastest horse and thinks ‘run, run, run,’ and that’s true, but you also need to consider your own personal style.”
Pedigree is a map that Peterson-Briggs uses to help guide her investments.
“One of my favorite quotes is something Bo Hill says: ‘I can get a fast horse to slow down, but I can’t make a slow horse with enough speed, but I also know what breeding fits me,” she says. “I am a very energetic person with a lot of energy in my body and an aggressive rider, so I prefer Frenchmans Guy crossed on race-bred mares, because I know what fits me. I get the ‘run,’ the brains and enough ‘turn.’”
She also says that if you’re not an aggressive rider and kind of like to sit still and ride quiet, you could probably go with more of a running-bred horse. How a prospect is bred is very important, because you’re often making a purchasing decision when prospects are just 2, and they might not mature into themselves until at least 4. Knowing the pedigree helps a prospective buyer predict how a young horse will mature, according to Peterson-Briggs.
“Consider the horse’s breeding and your style and personality,” she says “I’ve done it a few times, where I’ve gotten a young horse that is all race bred, and it makes me a little nervous because I know my style of riding, and I know that the combination of cow horse and race breeding works the best for me because I’m aggressive.”
Peterson-Briggs studies the mare side of the pedigree and prefers the older racing bloodlines, having had more experience with them.
“I’ve ridden more of them, like horse out of Easy Jet or Wimpy bred mares,” she explains. “I think some of the newer racing bloodlines have bred out some of the bone and substance. Bill Myers is so helpful to have in my corner, because with his knowledge and experience as a breeder he has tested and tried things and knows what works. He has tried Confederate Leader and Mr Eye Opener mares, for instance, and can tell me about the results.”
Weatherford, Texas, barrel racer Lynn K. Brown, whose background prior to barrel racing included ranching, roping, racehorses and show horses, puts a great deal of emphasis on the dam side of the pedigree, as well, and favors the older racehorse breeding versus going for the “flavor of the year.” She says she will take a good-minded horse that can think in its turns over one bred to have a 100-plus speed index.
“I like to turn a young horse out in the round pen or arena and watch them move out,” she says, “watch how they travel and observe, how they react to me. Do they jump, buck and kick and act like they love life? Do they come up, interact and seem interested? Or act wild and evasive?”
She agrees with Peterson-Briggs that it’s critical to evaluate your riding style and shop accordingly.
“Match personality to personality and choose something that fits you,” Brown says. “My experience has been mainly with 2- and 3-year-old horses off the racetrack, and I like it because they’ve been exposed to competition and seen the world a bit, but that’s not for everyone.
“If you have what I call an ‘electric butt,’ or a lot of energy in your body, stay away from the race-bred horses.”
4 or 5?
Regardless of the event you are working, a performance horse needs a special mind in order to be a winner, particularly if you’re asking them to clock 1D times on the barrel pattern as 4- and 5-year-olds.
“The biggest thing for me is I don’t care for a spooky one,” Peterson-Briggs says. “For instance, a horse that spooks at the jackpots every single time and doesn’t get over it is tough. I do not like a horse that spooks at every banner every time you take them, and you just have to season and season them, and they are still so scared and distracted. Taking them to the jackpots and exhibitions will tell you if they are going to grow up mentally. I expect them to get over it.”
In order to determine if 4- or 5-year-old futurities are right for a prospect, Peterson-Briggs carefully evaluates the prospect’s mental capacity to handle pressure, as well as the competitive environment.
“It really depends so much on their mind,” she explains. “What I like to do is haul my young horses and buy several exhibitions and test them. For example, I will trot, lope and then make a run and see how they handle it. I will mix things up too, like, run first, then trot and then walk. A young horse that will come back after making a run and walk nice and calm tells me that they are pretty good minded and won’t let the run scare them.”
Peterson-Briggs finds that mixing things up in her exhibitions helps her determine if a young horse can make it mentally as a 4-year-old futurity horse.
“If I and exhibition and run into some problems, then I just need to determine how much I can make on the weaker points,” she says, “or choose to take them the next year.”
Conrado says the determining factor for him is just a matter of how well a young horse progresses and handles pressure.
“If they develop a physical issue, such as sore hocks or stifles and get frantic acting, I just back off,” he says. “I want the end result to be a horse that can handle the demands and make a confident, solid pattern. I do not want them used up mentally or physically after a couple of futurities. I prefer to back off if they get too worried.”
In addition to testing your training, Peterson-Briggs says it’s important to take advice from qualified people. In addition to sound advice, constant evaluation enables her to be fair to the horse.
“In Texas, you can exhibition on the stakes after the Open,” she says. “I push them and see where they’re at. If they’re 1-1 1/2 seconds off, I evaluate what mistakes they’re making and work on that.”
Peterson-Briggs says you must stay the course and work hard in order to be competitive.
“If you’re going to go to Oklahoma City in December, you figure your horses have to be running with the Open horses in August for sure,” she says. “They have to be running in there and hunting the barrels and knowing what they’re doing. I took four head to Oklahoma City that had never been anywhere and made it back to the finals on all of them, so I can say I have had good success with that being their first futurity, although it can be a little nerve wracking to do it that way.”
Still, she believes there can be an advantage to taking a less experienced futurity horse to a big show because, at that stage, a young horse can be a little insecure and will rely on a good jockey for some assistance.
“If you have good timing with them, it works because they aren’t trying to think ahead of you, take over and do it all without you,” she says. “You might see a horse that makes a real strong showing at Fort Smith that starts outthinking the rider by Oklahoma City and doesn’t do as well.”
Once you’ve shopped the market and selected the horse that you feel is capable of making your goals a reality, you may decide to seek out help from a trainer. The question is, where do you look and what do you look for?
According to Peterson-Briggs, the number one consideration when selecting a trainer should be that the individual knows and understands your game plan.
“If you’re the kind of person that says, ‘I want to win no matter what,’ then that’s the kind of trainer you need,” she says. “But if you’re the kind of owner who wants to do the futurity experience with your horses to get them seasoned to competition, just make sure your trainer understands your long-term and short-term goals.
“The second major factor is the environment at the facility,” she continues. “For me, I would not want my young horse worked on the pattern every single day. I would prefer a training facility where there is access to riding out in the pasture because it’s not desirable to me for a horse to be drilled on the pattern constantly. That’s not what I want. I’m also not a big fan of keeping horses stalled up. I like to turn them out and keep them happy. Check out the facility you are considering and make sure it’s an environment where your horse will be happy rather than bored or depressed.”
Beyond environmental factors, 11-time WPRA World Champion Charmayne James says that a shared mindset between a trainer and owner can make or break a horse’s training experience.
“If I’m looking at sending horses out to another trainer, I want to know that the individual shares the same philosophy I have,” James says. “They have to be respectful of the horse and of life. I want my trainer to commit to take care of the horse in the same way I would, so I can trust them with my horse.
“I think you’ve got to build a relationship with that person beyond just checking their credentials. My overall thought on all of it is that we are stewards here and we are supposed to take the crew of our animals seriously.”
James says that she has several horses with Andrea Cline-Herron near San Antonio largely because they share many of the same thoughts on horse care, and she has gotten to know Cline-Herron well enough to feel comfortable with her methods.
“She’s ridden with a lot of different people in order to constantly learn and improve, and the bottom line is she loves the horses,” James says. “Make sure your trainer has enough knowledge of shoeing, equine dentistry, chiropractic and veterinary care that they can recognize the subtle changes in a horse’s health that need attention.”
Brown acknowledges that trainers and breeders who are in it for the long haul have a reputation to look after, which will motivate them to maintain a credible business.
“Tell a barrel racer something, and the news will travel fast,” she jokes. “To make a name, you have to do a good business and follow up one win with another and another. People talk.”
Brown has been active as both a trainer and an owner and says there are several key considerations for her when she thinks about sending a horse out.
“The first thing is how many horses are in their barn and are they doing all the riding themselves?” she says. “I want a facility that is neat, clean and safe where there is plenty of feed on the premises.”
Brown says she checks credentials and seeks recommendations from persons she trusts, however, she doesn’t necessarily use rider rankings to guide in her decision-making process.
“‘Successful’ is a strange term, because it’s not always the top-ranked trainer with the most promotion behind their name who does the best job,” she says. “Plus, many of those top-ranked individuals, you can’t get into [their barns] anyway.
“You have to look at the person’s results, the philosophy, safety at the facility, reputation, their level of honesty and integrity. It also takes getting out there in the world and asking around. You might discover someone whose riding you admire that will take one or two outside horses, and you might also notice someone who is out back thumping on their horse who you want to steer clear of.
“My dad said something that’s always stuck with me, ‘About anybody can make a great horse work good, but a great hand can take a mediocre horse and make it a really good horse.’ That’s so true. You see a lot of trainers who start the year with 40 to weed through and have a high rate of rejected horses each year. Those rejected horses might be immature or need more time, and in patient hands, can become great horses.”
In today’s economy, it doesn’t seem to matter whether you’re selling barrel horses, magazines or paper umbrellas, quality and market-ability are everything.
Brown is emphatic about doing a wide variety of jobs on young horses, whether it’s tracking a donkey, doing cow work, roping or riding in the pasture.
“We want to be well-rounded people with well-rounded horses, right?” she ask. “I don’t think people have the right to ride them just to get through a few events and then throw them out. That said, i don’t see the point in taking two years to try and make one that isn’t equipped to do the event, but if you have a horse that is nice to ride and can do other things, it’s going to make someone a real nice horse.
“Owners should always be looking at the end consequence, such as sales, the derbies or rodeos. It takes consistency and a lot of wet saddle blankets, but ask yourself. ‘What do I want to accomplish today?’ and it might be 15 minutes of riding or some cow work or hauling to do exhibitions. It’s not just one thing. That monotony will create boredom for the horse.”
Like Brown, Peterson-Briggs feels that a horse must be well rounded in order to be marketable, even if barrel racing doesn’t end up being their calling in life. She cites nerves as one thing that can undo a futurity horse’s potential quicker than anything.
“If a young horse gets too nervous or starts balking in the alley, and their nerves just take over, then they need a new job,” she says. “If their nerves are so bad that they’re just not comfortable running barrels, they need to probably go chase some cows or ride in the pasture for a while. I will only work a horse like that about once a week on the barrel pattern and then just look for other things for them to do. Justin will go work cattle on them; he goes and rides for some big ranches. Or we’ll rope the Hot Heels, ride in the pasture, do other kinds of work with our horses to keep them well-rounded.”