When it gets right down to it, a very small percentage of horses have what it takes to dominate, or even to run competitively, at the professional level and stay at the top of the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association standings. You don’t always know what the future holds for a young horse when you’re looking, but by carefully evaluating the pedigree, conformation, and mentality of a prospect, you can increase your chances for succes.
By Charmayne James with Bonnie Wheatley
Power of the Pedigree
When starting the search for your next young barrel racing prospect, one of the most important things is seeking desirable bloodlines. Finding the mares that have a proven record of producing winners is a wise place to start. The stallion’s side of the pedigree is of course important too, so looking at both sides of the pedigree and finding other winners the dam and sire have produced should factor into your decision. You’ll improve your odds dramatically by taking time to study the parentage. Equi-Stat is a great resource that gives you the ability to easily access records on sire, dam, progeny earnings, etc.
I think it’s important to look for plenty of speed a horse’s pedigree because it can be disheartening to run at the bottom of the 1D or just out of the money. Sometimes people who find themselves in this situation start to push the horse beyond what it’s capable of, which can blow a horse up that didn’t quite have the tools of a top 1D or rodeo horse. If you know you’re looking for a horse with the potential to excel in professional rodeo, you’ll want to go with a bloodline known for speed to increase your odds of being successful with that horse.
There is a place for every horse, but you must be very objective about your goals and your personal situation. How much time do you have to devote to care, training and seasoning a top futurity or rodeo prospect? Will the travel be problematic if you work? It’s important to be honest with yourself about your situation.
Naturally, I love to hear those stories of people who find that diamond in the rough, but those are few and far between so doing your research when prospect shopping is smart. Even if you prefer cow horse bloodlines, I’ve found that some of the horses bred that way are known to be a little faster than others, so it’s good to do your homework.
The No. 1 thing I look at with respect to conformation is a good-footed horse. Having enough size, correct proportion and conformation of the hooves is important to the soundness and longevity of a barrel horse. I’ve had a number of veterinarians agree with me on this point. Horses’ feet carry alltheir weight and must withstand the demands of riding, travel, making runs on different surfaces, hauling and stalling. So many soundness problems start with the feet getting sore. Of course, heart can’t be measured, and a horse with a big heart can overcome some of what he lacks physically, but I think having good feet is a big advantage for even the toughest, biggest hearted horses.
I’d steer clear of a horse that’s too straight in the hind end. In my experience, horses that are built really straight through their hind legs have a hard time staying sound in their hocks and stifles because they’re not designed to run, get low and push off to leave the turns. A horse that’s straight behind might be fast running on the straightaway but not physically equipped to be quick in the turns.
Scamper, to me, was the perfect horse in so many ways. He was muscular, not too long, too short or too tall—he was just perfectly conformed. I’ve had bigger horses that I loved, too. Running against Deb Mohon’s great horse “Brown” for so many years—he was a taller type of horse that was so solid and great year after year. There’s not one size that works, but when you look at a prospect’s size, you have to consider their ability to stop the clock so you have to consider your size in relation to the horse’s. There are small horses and big horses that have been great barrel horses, so keeping in mind what size of horse you’re comfortable on and how your weight affects the horse are factors to consider.
For barrel racing, I personally don’t want an unresponsive type of horse.
That said, you sure don’t want one that gets overly nervous—look for a horse that is responsive and can get excited about its job, but not anxious to the point of being distracted. This is when knowing the sire and dam’s disposition is so important.
With all great horses, there were things people did to develop their talent and help them be good horses. There are quirks you can live with and some you might want to avoid, so be honest with yourself in the process. Find a horse whose personality that fits you— find a horse you can establish a special bond with. If you can try them and ride them to make sure you fit each other, I advise doing so. make sure you like the horse enough to manage any of its idiosyncrasies. Don’t get in a hurry and try to make the horse into something it’s not. Some horses buddy with other horses, some don’t like noise, some haul better than others—there are going to be little things to deal with that are part of the horse’s personality, so search until you find one you fit.
If you find a prospect that has the conformation, pedigree and attitude that suits you, but it hasn’t been started yet, it’s worth the investment to send it to a reputable trainer for the first 90 days or so. Someone well versed in putting the right start on a prospect can teach them to have a good, responsive handle. That is huge because a young horse’s first exposure to a person who saddles and steps on them for the first time often sets the course for how they take training later.
I prefer a horse to be pretty broke before starting it on the pattern. Once I take the horse to the pattern, I start by loping big circles around the barrels for a while and taking training in gradual steps to build a solid foundation. I want the horse’s first exposure to the barrel pattern to be fun and not scare them.
Whether you are a futurity, divisional or rodeo barrel racer, today’s barrel racing environment is very competitive and there are many great prospects out there, so it’s worth investing a lot of thought and effort into locating the one that’s right for you.
For more information on Charmayne James and her books, videos and clinics, visit charmaynejames11.com. Email comments or questions to bhneditorial@ cowboypublishing.com.