Barrel racer and small breeder Katie Jo Boyd shares tips to prep your horse and yourself for success when sending a prospect off to a trainer.

Sending a young prospect to a professional trainer is an exciting step toward building a future barrel horse. Whether your plans are to eventually compete on it yourself, sell after its futurity year or have a professional continue to campaign the horse after the aged-event years, getting your horse started correctly and maintaining a good relationship with your trainer is crucial. There’s a lot you can do as an owner to help ease your horse’s transition into a professional training program.

Raise Them Right

Katie Jo Boyd imprints her foals when they’re born and handles them for the first two to three months before turning them out to grow. She says a hands-off approach allows the horse to learn naturally from its peers.

“After that, I don’t touch them unless they need to be trimmed,” Boyd said. “I just let them learn how to be a horse. When they get into the trainer environment, they’ve learned respect from another animal; they don’t learn it just from us.”

Boyd raises five to six foals a year and eventually sends all her prospects to futurity trainers. She admits learning through trial and error.

“The first foal we ever raised, she was more of a pet because we were so excited and just goo-goo in love with her,” Boyd said. “She is super pushy and disrespectful now, and I think it’s because we messed with her and babied her and made her into a pet. I’ve learned from that, and I think it has a lot to do with their success in the future.”

Keep in mind that many trainers have different preferences on the demeanor of young horses and may not prefer a colt that’s too docile. Whether you’re buying a prospect or raising them yourself, find a trainer that will best suit the type of horse you have or raise your horses to fit the trainers you like.

Boyd says this is especially important for your colt starter.

“Figure out what your colt breaker wants. I think that will set your horses up for success more than anything else you can do,” Boyd said. “If your colt breaker wants them wild, then you need to keep them wild so that your colt breaker can do the job that he’s supposed to do and what works best for him. They know what works for their program and their training style, so if you can form your colts into what they need, that sets them up for success.”

Loping a young barrel horse prospect.
The physicality of being trained can put a lot of stress on a horse’s body. Getting a thorough vet check with X-rays before sending your horse to a trainer will help you decide if the horse is sound enough to withstand training before you invest the money. Photos by Kailey Sullins.

Vet Check Before Training

Boyd insists on a thorough vet check with complete sets of X-rays to make sure the horse is healthy and sound before investing money to have the horse trained.

“We’ll get them checked and X-ray the back, neck, hocks and every part of their legs just to make sure there’s no spurs or early onset arthritis or OCDs (osteochondritis dissecans),” Boyd said. “I did have a colt one time that we didn’t do a vet check before he got sent off, so when Joy [Wargo] started working him and making him do small circles, he couldn’t stay sound. He ended up having a huge OCD on his stifle, and he’s a pasture ornament now.”

Having X-rays will also provide you with a benchmark as your horse moves from the colt starter to a barrel training program and into the early years of competition.

“It’s good to have a starting point, because once they go to a barrel trainer they’re going to get X-rays,” Boyd said. “If you have a picture from when they’re 2-year-olds, you know what’s changed and what was there before they started getting worked and ridden hard.”

Clearly Communicate Your Goals

Set realistic goals for your horse before it goes to the trainer and be up front with your trainer about how long you want to keep the horse in training, what you hope to accomplish and what your future plans are for the horse.

“Clear communication is key to a working relationship. Trainers don’t make their money training; they make their money winning on these horses,” Boyd said. “If you send your colt in for six months and then pull it out a few months before the futurities start, you’re really taking away that chance those trainers had of making money on the horse. They put a lot of work into these colts, and to not get anything out of it is really hard for them.”

Trust Your Trainer

Once you’ve prepared your horse, done your research and picked a reputable trainer who aligns with your goals, Boyd suggests taking a step back. Try not to micromanage or overcommunicate.

“Kerby Montgomery, Jolene Montgomery’s husband, has one of my 2-year-olds and she’s been there two months and I haven’t heard a thing from him, but I trust him,” Boyd said. “If there was a problem, he’d be calling me. No news is good news, so I don’t push my trainers—my horses are there because I trust them.”

First published in the August 2020 issue of Barrel Horse News


Blanche Schaefer is an avid barrel racer and managing editor of Barrel Horse News. Email comments or questions to [email protected]

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