Know Your Horsefax!
Before you buy a horse at a sale, do your homework. We'll show you how.
By Abigail Boatwright
Buying a horse is exciting, and it’s even more thrilling with the frenetic energy of a horse sale. But buying a horse without taking the time to thoroughly research whether or not it’s a good fit for you is a risky decision at best—and an expensive or even dangerous mistake at worst. Fortunately, horse buyers today have a myriad of resources available to help them make informed decisions. Much like you would research a car purchase using Kelley Blue Book values, past owner history and CarFax accident reports, with a little work, you can find out a lot about the horse you’re considering.
1. Why Preparation is Important
The adage “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” is advice better not taken. The more you know about a horse prior to its sale, the better chances you will have of coming home with the right horse for you. Bill Myers, owner of Myers Ranch in St. Onge, South Dakota, says researching horses prior to bidding allows you to gauge a fair asking price.
“If you’ve done your homework, you will have a better idea of what the cost of the individual should be,” Myers said. “You can compare that horse to similar individuals and what they’ve brought at sales in the past. So you’ll have an educated number in your head when you go to bid on the horse.”
Donna Hanover, producer of the Texas Best Barrel Futurity Sale, says determining the gender, lineage and price range of the horse you want will help guide your research; and that research will help you know what information you need to gather at a sale.
“Know your price range,” Hanover said. “The gender you’re looking for will help determine what’s important. For example, if you’re looking for a stallion prospect, you want to look at conformation, temperament, what the dam has produced and how much his siblings have won and where they competed. Know how and who you will want to campaign the horse, et cetera. If you’re looking for a broodmare, you’ll want to look at the mare’s produce records and whether or not the mare is pregnant. Has the mare carried all of her foals, is she embryo transfer only, does she require Regumate? If you are interested in yearlings or started under saddle barrel horse prospects, are they paid up in any barrel racing incentives or futurities?”
While pedigree certainly isn’t everything, taking a close look at the heritage of your potential purchase can gather useful information. Myers recommends looking at both the sire’s side and the dam’s side for successful horses.
“You want to look for bloodlines of horses that have excelled in barrel racing, and naturally, the more performers present in the pedigree, the higher percentage chance you have of getting a good prospect,” Myers said. “If you buy a lesser quality pedigree, that lowers your odds of getting a good prospect.”
Hanover says some barrel horse prospect pedigrees will have some barrel horse lineages sprinkled throughout and others will have nothing but well-known barrel horses. Some could have a mix of running bloodlines and cow bloodlines, and others could be all racing.
If you’re looking at a horse with racing bloodlines that has been raced, Hanover recommends researching the distance of races where the horse excelled.
“You’ll want to check how far the horse ran,” Hanover said. “I personally would stay away from the horses that just ran 440 to 870 yards and tend to look more at horses that ran 250 to 300 yards. I think horses that have run 250 to 300 are better sprinters, so in my opinion, they are better suited for the barrel pen. However, there are exceptions to every rule.”
Myers also pays attention to the accomplishments of the offspring, brothers and sisters of a broodmare to get an idea for what price the horse could bring at the sale. Hanover looks at the performance record of the horse and its relatives for winners that might have been overlooked.
“Stallion performance records are typically well known,” Hanover said. “Dams may have hidden winners that might not be readily known. If you have a pedigree specifically researched for barrel racing, it’s surprising what might come up.”
Hanover also believes that pedigree isn’t everything.
“Don’t let the price of a horse fool you,” Hanover said. “That horse may be your next big winner, even if the horse isn’t of the most popular lineages. If the horse has the tools, he or she may be your dream horse.”
Evaluating the conformation of a horse is an important facet of pre-buying research. Much space could be devoted to unpacking the ideal barrel horse’s conformation and potential faults. Our experts each have specific things they look for in prospect conformation. For Myers, he looks for correctness and overall balance.
“We look for good bone structure, straight legs, a short back, long underline, low hocks, low joints,” Myers said. “I think our industry needs to be a little more conscious of looking for more bone and substance in our horses."
Myers also has a list of faults he feels lower the value of a horse when it’s up for sale.
“If you are finding crooked legs, light bone, a foot that is too small for the individual—these are all things you should use to discount what you’re willing to pay for the horse,” Myers said. “A big, kind eye; a smart horse that looks like he’s trainable—those are positives. Look at the individual and look at the positives and negatives and then make up your mind how many of each you have. That will help you decide whether you’re going to buy him and how much you will pay.”
Hanover’s list includes similar attributes.
“We look for a low hock set, strong stifles and good feet,” Hanover said. “A horse must be able to turn, so I don’t want a horse as thick as a roping horse.”
4. Pre-Purchase Exam
Our experts recommend looking into a soundness exam conducted by a veterinarian prior to the sale. Hanover says a thorough inspection and flexion test will give good information, but radiographs can provide even more insight into the horse’s possible future soundness.
Cameron Stoudt, DVM, of Texas Equine Hospital says a pre-purchase exam with your veterinarian will help you see if there are any lameness issues, especially when paired with current radiographs of the stifle and hocks at the sale.
“The pre-purchase exam educates the owner as to what you could be getting into or what you’ll need to be prepared for, lameness-wise,” Stoudt said. “Sometimes for a yearling or a two-year-old, a sale isn’t a normal environment, so conducting a pre-purchase exam can be difficult. But at the very least, baseline radiographs can get you a lot of knowledge without having to watch the horse go. Once the sale is final, there is no room for return. It’s very good to do the legwork prior to the sale. Get your hands on the horse, look at the horse and check for any superficial defects on the horse. Then have the veterinarian do a lameness pre-purchase exam with baseline X-rays as needed.”
Myers looks at the info on radiographs for younger horses to see if there are potential soundness issues such as OCD lesions or deformities in the joints that might not be visible just by looking at the horse’s conformation.
“More than anything, I look for structure that is not super correct, which could lead me to believe the horse could suffer from navicular [disease] earlier in life; or unsoundness problems,” Myers said. “Looking at the radiographs can help you feel more confident in moving forward with a horse or give you the info to feel you should pass up that particular horse.”
Hanover recommends getting information from the radiographs presented at the sale through the veterinarian on site.
“Lots of different abnormalities can be seen on radiographs, such as OCD lesions, bone spavins, changes in the navicular bone or coffin bone, a possible bone sequestrum from an old injury. It’s also possible to see a few soft tissue injuries in the stifle,” Hanover said.
6. Owner Insight
In addition to the above research, Myers is a fan of contacting the horse’s owner to gather additional information.
“I like to ask the owner specific questions about the horse, because I might not be able to get those answers from anyone else,” Myers said.