The Old Fort Days Futurity at Ft. Smith, Ark., is quite intimidating for a first futurity, especially for someone in their forties who hasn’t even sat on a barrel horse in five years, let alone run above 4D times. I’ll be the first to admit that I got into the futurity scene completely backwards. Instead of picking a futurity prospect, I picked the horse first and then decided I’d better run him since he was already nominated to run at Ft Smith.
Joel and Nancy Sherlin, parents of futurity rider Clint Sherlin, deserve all the credit for training and selling me the perfect horse. The Sherlins put such a solid foundation on a horse that they can go out and do literally anything. They get them broke and soft and that’s what I wanted. They also knew that SV Shawne Fire N Te, barn name Fireman, and I would be a great fit.
Frances Thomas and Fireman. CREDIT: Frances Thomas
Not only did I go about the futurity business backwards, but I was a bit behind the eight ball when I purchased Fireman in late December 2011, right after he ran at the BFA Juvenile race in Oklahoma City, Okla., with Clint. I was recuperating from a freshly broken wrist that was the result of getting bucked off of one my other horses when it spooked, so I had been laid up for a couple of months.
The Sherlins invested a lot of time in me and I couldn’t have done it without them. Every week throughout the spring I would haul to their place in Athens, Tenn. and breeze and then work the pattern. Nancy and Joel both spent hours helping me gain some confidence and just learn how to ride my horse. They don’t sugar coat anything, but that’s what I love about their style of teaching and training. I always left feeling like I had to do more, but I never felt beat down or hopeless. Their boot camp is the best!
One piece of advice that I’ve learned the hard way is to just enjoy the process. It is a lot of money to put up, especially for someone like me. Because of that, you start to put some pressure on yourself to improve and you lose sight of the big picture and what a blessing it is just to be able to go. You just have to work at it as best you can, when you can, and let what happens, happen.
I also have to give a ton of credit to my husband, Steve, who is my biggest cheerleader and who drives me everywhere. On the days when I doubted I could ride, he’d look at me and tell me he believed in me. We own Fairweather Farm in Loudon, Tenn. I work full-time in the healthcare industry and also give lessons and judge horse shows on the side to support my barrel racing habit.
Fireman is signed up to run at the BFA race in Oklahoma City in December. We’re planning on taking the lessons we’ve learned so far and having an even more enjoyable trip to OKC. Making the decision to get into futurity barrel racing requires not only a lot of forethought, but a lot of research as well. Navigating and understanding the unlimited choices of futurity races and the incentive fund programs that go along with that can be confusing, especially if your barrel racing experience is somewhat limited to open races.
Starting out with the fundamentals, a futurity is a race that is open to horses that are ages 3 to 4, that have never entered a barrel race prior to their third or fourth year. Some futurities will have a special Juvenile division for 3-year-olds in addition to the main futurity event, which is open to 4- and 5-year-olds. Derby or maturity races are usually for horses that are 5 and older. In most cases, in order for a horse to be eligible for the derby or maturity, they must have run in the futurity the prior year.
The gamble with futurities is that most events and associations require you to nominate your horse and pay up a year in advance. For instance, if you have a colt that you want to run in a juvenile race his third year you would have to nominate him and pay the fees the fall of his second year.
A risk factor with futurities is the fact that most entry fees are non-transferrable and non-refundable. A lot can happen in a year’s time and even though a horse or rider may be injured and not able to compete, the entry fees paid may end up being forfeited due to unforeseen circumstances.
Just like open barrel races, nomination or entry fees can vary from one race to another. Entry fees can range anywhere from $150 to over $800, depending upon the producer. Along with the entry fees, the total late fees can be as high as $500.
Some producers do offer a payment schedule broken out for six months in order to accommodate the higher entry fees. Any fees not paid on time are usually subject to a substantial late fee or may even be forfeited.
Some futurity races will only offer one event, much like a typical open race event. Other futurity races or associations will offer a series of events and opportunities to qualify for year end awards. In either case, the draw of a futurity is equal competition with a substantially big payout for contestants.
Race rules and formats can vary greatly from one event to another. Most futurities will have a finals race that riders must qualify for. Some events may offer a payout for the time trials, however it is not uncommon that some races do not. Some shows will offer a consolation race with payout for those that did not qualify for the finals.
In addition to the payout differences, the speed division format may also differ between events and producers. The initial time trials may be a 2D format with a straight time format for the finals and a 4D for the consolation round. Some Futurities will use a straight 2D, 3D, or 4D format throughout the whole event.
An incentive fund program is basically a side pot bonus payout system for horses that are enrolled in the program when they win at approved futurity events. How the incentive fund works is that stallion owners enroll or nominate their stallions with the program for each breeding year. The foals that are a result of the stallion’s breedings for those years are eligible to join or enroll in the incentive fund. Once those foals are in the incentive fund, any time they win at an approved event, not only do they win the purse from the race but they also earn an extra bonus payout from the incentive program as well. Associations may initiate the incentive program for breeders in their region. Larger breeders such as JB Quarter Horses have started offering incentive programs on their own for foals out of their stallions.
Some futurity sales have also started their own incentives. Any horse purchased through the sale at the futurity event is eligible to earn an incentive bonus upon competing at the same event the following year.
The AQHA also offers an incentive fund through their registry for foals of eligible enrolled stallions. Horses enrolled in the AQHA Incentive Fund earn cash for points earned at AQHA shows.
Below is a small sampling of events that I have learned are available:
BFA – Barrel Futurities of America
Requires an $85 membership fee and family members can join for $15 per person. Offers a year end point system. Offers several approved Futurities through different producers. Year-end Championship is in December in Oklahoma City. Nomination deadlines for most BFA events start in December the prior year with monthly payments. They offer a Sale Incentive Fund program. Future Fortunes Incentive program approved. Contact the secretary at (918)773-5246. Their website is http://www.barrelfuturitiesofamerica.com/
Future Fortunes Incentive Fund
Requires initial nomination fee with annual fees to sustain eligibility. May nominate foals as early as their weanling year. Offers multiple Futurities and Open events by multiple producers. Future Fortunes, Inc can be contacted at (405) 366-2133. Their website is http://www.futurefortunesinc.com/index.php
BRN4D – Barrel Racers National 4D
Requires a $50 membership fee and $35 per horse. Offers year end point system for additional fee. Finals are held in May in Washington. Two month payment plan starting in April. Offers several approved futurities. Offers a Sale Incentive Fund, and their own BRN4D Breeders Incentive Fund. The phone number to reach BRN4D is (503) 656-8181. Their website is http://www.brn4d.com/incentive-graduates.htm
IBRA – International Barrel Racing Association
Requires $50 membership fee or $105 family membership. Offers series of approved futurity and open events through different producers. Some events may be co-sanctioned with other associations like BFA. Payment plans offered on most. Incentive Funds offered based on producer. Finals are held in October in Kentucky. You can contact the IBRA at (502) 239-4000. Their website is http://www.ibra.us/futurities/
Requires nomination in January. WPRA permit or card is required. Offers approved events by multiple producers. Added money and entry fees determined by producer. Offers their own PESI Incentive Fund program. The WPRA can be contacted at (719) 447-4627. Their website is http://www.wpra.com/schedule_futurity.asp
MBRA – Minnesota Barrel Racing Association
Offers a futurity even in July as well as other open events. One time entry fee. Offers their own Breeders Incentive Fund for the futurity. Contact Erin Bayer (763) 772.2683 or Sue Craig (763) 234.5168 for futurity questions. Their website is http://www.mbra.us/futurity.html
VGBRA – Valley Girls Barrel Racing Association
Barrel Daze Futurity in April in Washington. Payment plan for entry fees starting in February. Also offers multiple co-sanctioned events and their own VBRA Incentive Fund. Secretary Patti Becker can be contacted at (509) 301-9680. Their website is http://www.vgbra.org/
5-State Breeders Futurity
Offers one event in September with payment plan starting in May. Future Fortunes Incentive Fund approved. Contact Lana Ireland at (509) 301-9680. Their website is http://www.5statebreedersfuturity.com/index.html
Held in August in Nebraska. Open and Breeder’s Futurity with added money. Offers a payment plan starting in June. Contact Marlene McGaughey at (308) 872-6998. Their website is http://www.cornhuskerfuturity.com/index.htm
Once you understand how the futurity and incentive fund programs work you can begin to make an informed decision on how you want to get involved in the futurity industry. This will not only help you come up with a strategy for your new futurity career but may also be critical information in choosing your prospect.
If your new prospect is already nominated and paid up for a futurity or enrolled in an incentive fund, this is one piece of the financial picture you won’t have to deal with. In addition, these two factors can determine your show schedule for the year or at least for that event. This is also a selling point if you’ve purchased a prospect to sell later on.
Another thing to consider in your research is a true assessment of your finances to determine what you can afford and what you can’t. As mentioned earlier, it is expensive and a somewhat of a gamble to attend a futurity. First, you need to ask the difficult question of whether or not you truly have the financial ability to pay entry fees, gas, hotel, etc. Other expenses to consider are supplements and healthcare regimens such as chiropractor or injections. Training expenses and lessons also need to be factored in when considering whether or not this is truly an endeavor you want to pursue.
If your budget is tight, you may still be able to run at a few futurities but just scale back. Review the races in advance that are available and save your money for the ones that appeal to you the most. Time is another factor to carefully consider in the futurity game.
Probably the most important step in getting involved with the futurity industry is getting some inside help from a trainer or knowledgeable competitor that’s very familiar with the futurity scene. Not only can they offer advice or help solve problems but they can help you through the decision making process in determining what’s right for you.
If you already have a potential futurity prospect, a knowledgeable trainer or horseman can help you determine your horse’s true potential and whether or not the Futurity route is right for your horse. They can also help you find the right prospect if you’re looking for a horse to run.
A knowledgeable trainer can give you an idea of the training program and time commitments that it will take to get your horse ready for Futurities based on the horse’s level of training. They can also help assess your horse’s progress which will help you to map out your horse’s potential futurity calendar.
Training and seasoning a young horse for an event is one thing but training a futurity prospect for barrels is a totally different scenario. Futurity horses have to start running quicker in the training and seasoning process than is traditionally done for barrels. Some horses can handle the speed earlier on, others cannot. An experienced horseman can help you work through the issues that crop up in asking a young horse for more speed, as well as any other training problems. They can also help you determine how well you and your horse may handle that type of stress which is an important thing to know when starting out on the futurity trail.
Another area that professional insight is critical is in evaluating your horse’s physical condition. Unlike smaller events, futurity horses may run hard three days in a row. In order to hold up under that type of schedule, a horse has to be extremely fit and sound. A good trainer can evaluate a horse’s weak points and determine if the horse will physically hold up over time.
You’ll also want to get your vet involved in the decision making process. Your vet can evaluate any potential problems that your horse may have and determine if they will become an issue under a tougher training routine.
An outside eye is helpful in truly assessing your skills as a rider. A good horseman can help in the decision of whether or not to compete yourself, or have someone work with and ride your horse for you. It’s not uncommon for even very experienced riders to hand off their horses to an experienced futurity rider to run their horses for them. Doing so not only ensures that the horse has the best chance of running well, but a well known rider can also enhance a horse’s sale potential. This may be something to seriously consider if your long term goal is to sell and make a profit.
Futurities are a huge investment of not only money, but also of time and emotion. The lure of big payouts brings a little excitement to the table as well as some tough competition. Take the time to do the research and plan and you’ll get the most out of the futurity experience.