By Tanya Randall
Raising prospects for the barrel horse market is a long process fraught with unexpected perils and expenses. Here, Barrel Horse News caught up with three successful breeders—and sellers—of barrel horse prospects to discover their secrets for developing prime prospects.
The recurring theme is the tenant of raising horses of any discipline—raise commercially accepted prospects with popular pedigrees or be willing to take the time and spend the money to prove those without.
Raising horses was something National Finals Rodeo qualifier and NFR average champion Lana Merrick of Norman, Okla., learned from the cradle. “It’s like water and air to me,” says the granddaughter of American Quarter Horse Association Hall of Fame breeder Walter Merrick, who bred immortals Jet Deck and Easy Jet, to name a few.
The past two years, Merrick has raised some of the highest selling barrel horse prospects in the industry.
In 2013, she had French Folly, the highest selling prospect at the Barrel Futurities of America World Championship Select Sale. The daughter of Frenchmans Guy out of the On The Money Red mare Red Torres sold for $50,000 as a broke 2-year-old and placed for her new owner in the 2014 BFA Super Stakes.
In 2014, her homebred colt Famous Twist also brought $50,000 as a broke 2-year-old. The son of all-time leading sire Dash Ta Fame, out of the Flit Bar Beggar mare Flit Bars Ida Bay, a three-quarters sister to her NFR horse, was the second-high seller at the BFA Sale.
“I try to breed something that’s commercially acceptable,” she says. “I really concentrate on raising babies that other people like and want to use, so they get the best opportunity. I’m not actively competing myself right now. Everything that I’m breeding, I’m selling most of them. I’m really proud of the fact that I’ve raised some nice babies that have gone on and done nice things for other people.”
In addition to French Folly, Merrick also raised Angie Meadors’ multiple futurity finalist Famous Falcon.
Even though she’s a stallion owner herself—Merrick owns the Corona Cartel, Streakin Six stallion Heart Of The Cartel—she places a lot of emphasis on her mares.
“You’ve got to have a nice mare,” she says. “Even if she didn’t run barrels or run at the track, maybe she was injured like one of mine, you need to have that solid foundation and bloodlines to know that mare has a good mind. A barrel horse has to have a good mind to be able to go be competitive long term.”
Merrick advises potential breeders to put the emphasis on quality over quantity too, particularly when it comes to mare selection.
“You need to buy one or two of the best mares you can find,” she notes. “You don’t have to have a high number of mares these days, especially if you’re raising Quarter Horses, because you can do embryo transfer. So, if you have an excellent mare with that pedigree, mind and conformation, you maybe get two or three babies out of her each year by different stallions. You wouldn’t have to have a huge expense in purchasing two or three mares. You could go that route and end up with three babies by different studs all out of the same mare in one season.”
For her stallions, Merrick looks for commercially successful sires whose offspring are proven to perform and sell well. Not only does this give her a good return on her investment, the likelihood that those colts will go on to compete increases, thus proving her mares. Now, she has a proven mare to cross to with her young stallion, thus giving his offspring a little more marketability.
“With my stallion, his babies are long-yearlings right now, we understand that we’re going to have to prove those babies ourselves before anyone else looks at them and they become commercially acceptable,” she says. “We’re willing to do that.”
The problem is that a lot of breeders new to the business don’t factor in the time and expense of proving developing programs. It’s the costs beyond reproductive work and stallion fees that catch a lot of people unaware, especially if they’re not raising top-tier commercial prospects.
“You have to be willing to pay someone else to do that if you’re not going to do that yourself,” notes Merrick, who at the time of this interview had brought up her four- and five-month old colts for deworming, vaccinations and introductory farrier work. “You just have to know going in when you have a horse with lines that aren’t proven, you’re going to have to do it. A lot of people don’t want to hear that.
“They look at their stallion that they love or the mare that they love, and they never did exceedingly wonderful on that stud or mare, but they love them. I understand that. I totally do. If you’re going to get the kind of dollars we’re talking about, you’re going to have to prove it yourself for a round or two until people start getting curious about what you’re riding or breeding before they’re going to come to you and pay those kinds of dollars.”
While she does plan on selling some of her stallion’s foals, Merrick already has a game plan on which trainers she will have debut them in the arena.
As difficult and as expensive as it is to prove programs, Merrick notes that everyone has to start somewhere, saying even with Dash Ta Fame it took time.
“There was a time when no one knew who Dash Ta Fame was,” she says. “He was an older stud when he became popular in the barrel horse world. It took a while for someone to get one and do well, and someone else got one and did well. It built like that. That’s what everyone hopes for, but you’ve got to be willing to take the time and effort. A lot of people want that instant gratification and the horse business is just not that way. By the time you breed the mare and have the baby, you’ve got a year. You’ve got a couple of years before you can even break them. It’s a long process.”
Proving the Product
Veteran futurity competitor Ryann Pedone of Decatur, Texas, says she breeds prospects with both selling and keeping in mind.
“If it doesn’t sell,” she says, “it’s something that I want to ride.”
Her program has produced such winners as the recent Old Fort Days Reserve Futurity Champion Hip Swinging Gypsy, multiple futurity winner and professional rodeo money earner Kiss This Guy, and 2015 Greg Olson Slot Race Champion Solid Red Socks, just to name a few.
Pedone puts more emphasis on her mares than she does the stallions that she selects for them. She’s accumulated a dozen or so quality mares, most of which she’s competed on herself.
“I’m getting down to having just ones that I’ve run,” she says. “I have some fillies that we’ve bought as weanlings, specifically for the purpose of being a broodmare. For instance, I’ve got a mare at home that I will run as a 5-year-old; I bought her specifically because I was never going to be able to buy her mother, who was a phenomenal producer. I did the same thing with my Dash Ta Fame filly—I’m going to run her and keep her for a broodmare.”
Knowing her mares’ personalities and competitive strengths has allowed her to raise offspring that she’s likely to be successful riding.
“I haven’t had one that I raised that I didn’t like something about them,” she says. “Some have been better than others. They’re not all going to be your world-beater, superstar 4-year-old, but they’re going to make something. The nice thing when they’re mine, I can read them. They’re not going to get hammered on and hammered on and then chunked.”
She tries to pick stallions that she personally likes, as well, rather than going with popular opinion. That’s how she picked then up-and-coming stallion BHR Frenchies Socks, the sire of her first major futurity standout Kiss This Guy, out of her Kiss Kiss This, by 1997 National Barrel Horse Association Youth 1D World Champion Chain Of Events.
“BHR Frenchies Socks was not a horse that a lot of people bred to at first,” she notes. “I watched him run and I really liked his bottom side. I try to pick stuff that I think I can ride.”
This year she’s bred several of her mares to No Pressure On Me, a royally-bred stallion that she helped her good friend Martha Reeves find. A futurity winner himself, No Pressure On Me is by Leo Nick Bar, an Old Fort Days Futurity winning son of Dr Nick Bar and out of the great producer SX Frenchmans Vanila, one of leading futurity horses of all time. Although he’s not well-known, the proven lineage of both performance and production are generations deep.
Pedone says she gets away with picking “off-label stallions” because she plans on riding the resulting offspring first before deciding what to sell.
“If I was raising to sell, I probably wouldn’t do that,” she advises. “I would pick something that’s more marketable. If you’re going to raise to sell, you need some very good mares and you need to be crossing them right with the (top) studs.”
With her personal program, she waits until her prospects are riding age before selling. She even made her good friend, Pete Oen, wait to purchase Hip Swinging Gypsy. He wanted the filly when he saw her as a baby, but Pedone made him wait until she wanted to trade him for a mare that she thought would be a performer, and later broodmare, for her program.
Pedone sells most of her prospects after they’re started on the pattern.
“A lot of times it works out that I sell them and they send them back to me to train and ride,” she notes. “That works really well for me, because I own those mares. My program is still new and I’m still getting my mares proven (as producers), then I can place those babies.”
Because Pedone does have the talent and time to prove those horses herself, it means she can hold out for bigger prices.
“I’m so picky because I want those horses to have a shot,” she says. “I’m not saying that I’ll always do them justice, but I will give them a shot. If something happens, I will wait on them. With me, they’ll at least get a chance.”
Occasionally, she’ll sell one that’s younger, but even in those cases, Pedone often gets the horse back to train and campaign—who better than the person that picked the bloodlines because she knows and likes them?
“It helps me out, because I always keep a couple of my own and then I don’t have to pay all of the entry fees,” she says. “Too, a lot of people I ride for have kids and they’re going to keep those horses. They’re not going to just buy them and re-sell them.
“I will take less for one if I know it’s going to a good home and going to be proven. I like owning them because I can control it. If I can sell them to people who trust me and want to play the game, I’ll sell them something that I know I can win on for them and everyone’s happy.”
Pedone’s ability as a trainer and competitor allows her to take a different approach to her program than most.
“My dad always says he doesn’t know if my program would work for anyone else, because I’m the one doing all the riding,” laughs Pedone, who was riding at the time of this interview. “It’s fun, but it’s a lot. It’s just me. I don’t care if I have to ride until it’s 2 or 3 in the morning, because I am going to do whatever it takes to prove my mares.”
Multiple futurity winner Amy Schimke of Wessington Springs, S.D., never set out to raise barrel horses; it just happened.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I figure I would be a breeder,” she laughs. If anything, her buckskin stallion Frostman San Peppy (“Pablo”) is to blame. “When I got Pablo, I didn’t plan on having a stud, but he ended up being one. I just got thrown into it. I had a pretty good background in cattle before I ever started doing the reproductive work on the horses. I think I had somewhat of an advantage there. Living where I do, there aren’t many reproductive vets that you can go to that can do the things that we do here ourselves.”
Her background and location also influenced why she sells her foals as weanlings.
“It seems like growing up that’s what everyone did up here,” she explains. “You sold your colts as weanlings. Like calves, you got them in, weaned them and got them gone. It just seemed like the right thing to do. It’s not really hard to sell those babies because they always look nice. They’re fat and they’re cute, and let’s face it, they’re not going to look that good again until they’re maybe two years old as they did coming off of that mare.
“Honestly, if I have kept something until it was old enough to ride, I never felt like I made much money on it either. That’s a lot of time and lot of feed. I just feel like I’m better off to peddle them when they’re babies and hope they get in the right hands—that right there is a whole other ball game.”
Raising a handful or so of colts also keeps her numbers down and makes it easier to move her foals.
“I don’t have super-high priced stuff,” she says. “My foals last year averaged $6,600. If I had to go pay someone to do all my embryo work and flushes, my stud fees and shipping fees, I would definitely be in the hole. Since we can do everything here, I feel like I get paid for my time, and I get to keep a couple of them for myself.”
Both of Schimke’s two stallions are proven performers themselves. Pablo, a versatile performer and rodeo winning barrel horse, is a son of leading sire Frenchmans Guy. Firewater Finale (“Dazzler”), a son of leading sire Fire Water Flit out of a proven barrel producing daughter of Bully Bullion, is also proven in the arena. Their performance ability alone sold their offspring in the beginning.
“When you’re running the studs, it’s easier to sell them it seems like,” she says. “When I couldn’t run my studs anymore, I had to rely on the mares.”
Since her studs are “barrel bred,” Schimke crosses them on race-bred mares to stay competitive.
“I think the game gets tougher each year and more people get educated,” she notes. “We see a lot better bred barrel horses than we did say 15 or 20 years ago. Anything went back then. If it ran fast and turned good, it would make a rodeo horses. Now, it seems like it’s getting so specialized, you’ve got to have that speed.”
Her commitment to the speed portion of her mare program led her to breed her two proven barrel mares Three And Out, a daughter of Tres Seis, and Milliondollar Secret, a daughter of Dash Ta Fame, to Ivory James this year.
“They both have really good bottom side for the track, so I went to Ivory James with the both of them for this year,” she explains. “This will be my first year of having a crossover that could go the track and run barrels. Of course, I’m hoping for fillies that I can keep. If it doesn’t happen, then at least I have something that’s marketable.
Schimke makes regular trips to the Heritage Place Sale in El Reno, Okla., to purchase mares.
“When I go down to Heritage, I don’t buy the best stakes producing mares,” she says. “No. 1, I can’t afford it, and No. 2, you don’t need that stakes mare for a barrel horse. You don’t need that $40- or $50,000 mare to do this. I like to have mares with a good female family. I like to have horses with something recognizable on the bottom side. Maybe I’ve got to go back a couple of generations, but every one of those mares has produced something or won something. That’s what we’ve strictly gone to with our program.”
She’s typically looking for younger, well-bred mares that she can flush embryos out of all the while training them for 5-year-old futurities.
“I’m mostly after daughters of known studs, your Dash Ta Fames, your Tres Seis, your Royal Shake Ems,” she says. “Things like that, which have been proven in the barrel pen and proven as producers. Maybe the Tres Seis mares aren’t quite proven as producers (in the barrel pen) yet, but I think the more of them that get bred and flushed for embryos, I think we’re going to see them produce. I kind of pick what I want to ride. Lately, I’ve been buying a lot of mares that I want to ride and I flush (embryos from) them, so I get the best of both worlds.”
Proven popular bloodlines plus her ability to do her own reproductive work makes Schimke’s program work, but it’s not without its costs.
“It’s a ridiculous amount of work and a ridiculous amount of things that you have to do to make it work,” she admits, pointing out that a reproductive short course is a great place start for people looking to get into the breeding business. “People are jealous that I do my own work, saying it must be nice, and I tell them no it’s not. I used to be able to go to rodeos and futurities, but now I’m stuck here. We have our own recip herd and we have to check those. It’s a lot of work and it’s a huge commitment. Having your own stud is bad enough, but throwing your own recip herd into the mix makes it really hard.
“You have to do it because you like to do it, not because you’re going to get rich, that’s for sure!”
Tanya Randall is a veteran contributor to Barrel Horse News. Email comments on this article to [email protected]