Futurities are a gamble. Racing young, untried horses is exciting, and the potential for that first glimpse of greatness is exhilarating. But of all the potential futurity mounts out there, how can you select one that will be competitive? In this article, notable futurity trainers share what they look for in a futurity prospect, what they avoid and how they choose their horses.
Jordon Briggs of Chilton, Texas, raises a lot of her futurity horses. If you have a colt breaker, she recommends buying a prospect as a long yearling, to be sent to be broke as a 2-year-old. Or, depending upon your budget, you could wait.
“If you’ve got the money to spend, and you want to up your odds, I would actually wait to buy a horse until the first part of its 3-year-old year,” Briggs says. “Then you already have an idea of its attitude, its athletic ability and its maturity. It may cost you more money, but in the long run, it’ll up your odds on making sure it’s going to be more of an athlete.”
Hazel, Kentucky, resident Marne Loosenort’s clients either raise their own prospects, or buy them as 2-year-olds.
“If you’re not going to raise them, it’s just less time that you have the overhead of having them at your place,” Loosenort says. “It’s just cheaper—you have less money invested in them.”
Hallie Hanssen of Hermosa, South Dakota, prefers picking a 2-year-old prospect because you can see how they are when ridden. If she can’t find a 2-year-old she likes, she’d rather get a yearling that hasn’t been started yet.
Hanssen and Loosenort both say how the horse is bred is the number one factor they consider in buying a prospect.
“At this point in the futurity world, pedigree is proven to influence winning, and winners are being crossed on better and better mares that have produced and won themselves,” Hanssen says.
Loosenort sticks primarily to Dash Ta Fame, Eddie Stinson, Frenchmans Guy and Firewaterontherocks horses.
“We look at pedigree first, probably more than anything,” Loosenort says.
Hanssen says the horse’s overall look is the second thing she considers in purchasing a futurity horse.
“I look at the horse’s eye appeal and if they look like they want to do things, do they look like it will be easy for them on the barrels—those factors help me make my decision,” Hanssen says. “At that point, you’re basically looking for a horse that looks like it is going to go out and do its job, because sometimes you can’t ride them yet. You’re looking for something that shows you by how they move around the pasture if they have the athletic ability to be a barrel horse.”
The first thing Briggs looks for with a futurity prospect is a horse that matches her riding style. She says it’s helpful to analyze if you prefer to ride a push-style horse, or if you’d rather sit back quietly through the pattern, because that will change the kind of horse you buy.
“I am a pretty high energy person, and I put a lot of energy into a horse,” Briggs says. “So I am probably not going to buy a racehorse off the track with a lot of run, because I will probably blow that one up pretty fast. So, I’ll maybe take a cow-horse bred prospect, a Frenchmans Guy, Dash Ta Fame—a real turney horse. That’s what I go to.”
If you don’t ride with a lot of energy and prefer not to push the horse, you may get along with a high-powered horse, says Briggs.
When you’re looking for a prospect, Briggs also recommends seeking out horses trained by trainers that you feel have a similar riding style as your own.
Hanssen says if you’ve gotten along with a horse of a certain pedigree, you might seek out a related horse for a good chance at compatibility.
“Certain people get along with certain bloodlines better than others,” Hanssen says. “If you’ve gotten along with them really well, I would look for something close to that bloodline.”
Both Briggs and Loosenort say the best thing you can do with a futurity prospect is to make sure it has a really good foundation of training before starting it on the barrels. Briggs and her husband Justin raise a lot of their futurity horses, and Justin breaks them.
“Having a level of brokeness will really help you out on your training, and you won’t have as many setbacks in your futurity year if your horse is broke really well before it is started on the barrels,” Briggs says.
If you’re buying a yearling or an unbroke 2-year-old, Briggs says to either have the knowledge to start the horse yourself, or make sure you have a highly qualified colt breaker in mind. If you buy a 2- or 3-year-old prospect that is already started, Briggs says it’s a good idea to find out who broke the horse.
“Make sure that person knew what they were doing and has a good reputation to make sure that horse was started on the right path getting ready for the futurities,” Briggs says.
Loosenort prefers a horse that is soft in the mouth.
“We don’t want a horse that’s real heavy in the face,” Loosenort says. “Some are naturally going to struggle more to stay soft, and some of them are just naturally lighter in the mouth.”
Both Briggs and Loosenort look for a horse around 15 hands tall, with straight legs. Loosenort says poor leg conformation is a big negative.
“If the horse is turned out, or is pigeon-toed, that’s a red flag to us,” Loosenort says. “As much as we have to train on these horses to get them ready for a futurity, they have to have the conformation to go along with it.”
She prefers a horse to be low-kneed, low-hocked, with a short back and a long underline for maximum stride.
“Stride is really important,” Loosenort says. “I rode a futurity colt last year that was 14.3 and placed fifth or sixth at Fort Smith, but he has a really long stride so he was still able to run in the bigger pen.”
Loosenort pays close attention to how the horse moves.
“We’ve been watching this horse lately, watching her move around a round pen, watching her stride, making sure she doesn’t have a lot of knee action,” Loosenort says.
Look out for a horse that is spooky, says Briggs.
“If a horse is spooky day in and day out, in your own arena or when you haul, I think that’s one of the hardest things to get over during their futurity year,” Briggs says. “Even if you haul them constantly, if they’re going into the arena and they are looking at boogers instead of paying attention to the barrel pattern, it’s going to take you so long to advance.”
Briggs says if she has a really spooky horse, but it showed a lot of athletic ability and she thought the horse could overcome the spookiness, she will save it for a 5-year-old futurity colt.
“Spookiness is hard,” Briggs says. “It’s a red flag to me.”
Briggs also looks out for a horse that gets agitated during training.
“If they’re not very easy to train right off the bat and they get hot, agitated and irritated at you, they might just not be able to handle the pressure of the futurity world,” Briggs says.
Loosenort wants a horse that indicates to her that it willingly accepts training by staying quiet and relaxed during the first phases of being started. She also wants a prospect to have had the right pace applied during initial training.
“I steer clear of a horse that is hot, getting pushed too hard or not staying sound while in training,” Loosenort says.
When looking at horses consigned to horse sales, Loosenort says she’ll look closely at the horse’s mouth.
“If I see that the horse’s mouth is cut up, I feel someone was probably hard on them there, and that’s a red flag,” Loosenort says. “Maybe they were started a little too fast.”
Hanssen says the horse’s upkeep has an effect on how quickly it can prepare for the rigors of futurity season, so pay attention to how the horse is presented.
“I make sure the horse has been taken care of,” Hanssen says. “I want them to have had their feet done on a routine schedule, I want them to have been well fed, had their vaccinations and worming up-to-date. I think when you start out with a horse that has been well-maintained, your end result is a lot better.”
Briggs says a good prospect will usually not come cheap.
“You get what you pay for,” Briggs says. “We can always find a diamond in the rough every once in a while, once in a blue moon, but people really need to understand how much it costs to even get these colts on the ground, let alone broke and going as an athletic, nice horse. Don’t expect to go out and buy a broke horse and put it on the barrels for $2,500. Up your odds, spend the money and get a nice, quality horse that has the good foundation and the right fundamentals to be a good horse.”
Both Briggs and Loosenort advise readers to look for a horse you enjoy riding, because you might own that horse for longer than just the futurity season.
“When you put two or three years into this horse, and you might want it to be a rodeo horse after the futurities, make sure that this is a horse you’re going to want to keep for a while, and one that is going to fit you in the long run,” Briggs says.
Briggs says if you’re considering entering futurities, don’t be intimidated—dip your toe in and try it out.
“Don’t be afraid to enter the futurity on your horse you are just getting started on,” Briggs says. “It’s a really fun experience to come to futurities. Everyone is on the same playing field. Everyone only gets one or two exhibitions and we’re all running on the same day. Don’t be afraid to go against all the people that do this for a living. Come and have fun at these futurities and see where you end up.”
Article originally published in the August 2016 issue of Western Horseman.