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13 Rules for Ranch Horse Buyers
Written by Ross Hecox
An auction buyer has plenty to contend with, including rival bidders with deep pockets; a heavy load of boasting by the auctioneer; loud, in-your-face bid spotters; a fast-paced and adrenaline-charged sale ring; a steady stream of well-groomed horses that look so much better under the bright lights; and, yes, even shady sales practices at some auctions.
Savvy buyers understand the risks, yet many continue making bids at their favorite sales year after year. Obviously, their experience and knowledge of the market gives them an advantage in the sale ring gauntlet.
Lately, horse sale prices in general have declined due to a receding U.S. economy and an oversupply of horses. And as prospective buyers prepare for this fall’s ranch production sales, many anticipate finding plenty of quality horses at cheap prices.
However, bargains won’t be quite so easy to find. First of all, ranch horses have remained in high demand. Secondly, most horse people agree that the top-end horses, particularly seasoned, dependable ranch geldings, still draw big-money bids.
“The buzz everywhere has been on the good geldings, and that’s the way it should be,” says Bill Smith, who operates WYO Quarter Horse Sales in Thermopolis, Wyoming. “I still think there’s a lot of money out there. It’s just that now buyers are getting more discriminating with their money.”
At a horse sale, discrimination is a good thing. The buyers who get the right horse at a good price are those who know how to objectively evaluate stock, and the ability to do so comes from thorough preparation.
“Do your homework,” says Jann Parker, who, with her husband, Bill, manages Billings Livestock Sales in Montana. “Know what you want. Make phone calls. You need to take the time to do it right. You cannot expect somebody else to do it for you.”
Parker and Smith have both been directly involved in horse sales for more than 20 years. Craig Haythorn, who has organized his Nebraska ranch’s popular production sales, and Bob Moorhouse, the former manager of the Pitchfork Ranch who has been instrumental in numerous ranch horse sales in Texas, agree that the most prepared buyers typically find the best deals. These four industry professionals listed the following 13 principles buyers should consider before nodding to the auctioneer at this fall’s ranch production sales.
Faith, Family and Horses
In his 2004 sale catalog, Jim and his wife, Joni, wrote, "To become a good horseman, you have to be dependent upon a good horse. You take care of him, and he'll take care of you - our family's way of life for [more than] five generations."
The Hunt-Lopez Legacy
The Hunts have a truly historical horse operation that traces to more than 100 years ago, when horsepower was the only mode of transportation, and a good mount was just as important on the ranch as a tractor and four-wheel-drive pickup are today.
Geno's maternal grandfather, Ford Annis, was a wagon-boss on a Texas outfit, and his father, Jack Hunt, was a top hand on the Laurel Leaf outfit in Devils Tower, Wyoming. Jack eventually settled in Dupree Creek, South Dakota, to raise his family.
Geno, who grew up in agriculture during the Great Depression, says horses played a critical role in everyday life. "We did everything with horses," he recalls. "We rode 4 1/2 miles each way to school."As is common in closely knit, country families, Geno learned to love what he lived.
At the time, draft-horse crosses, called chunks, ruled the horse market for utilitarian reasons. South Dakota also was home to numerous breeders of Remount horses for the military, many of which worked their way into ranch-horse breeding programs. "A lot of the horses were Morgans," Geno reflects. "They were tough and liked to buck."
Effie also came from a rich ranching background that originated in the mid-1800s in southern Colorado. There Effie's grandfather, Elfido Lopez, a pioneer of Spanish descent, grew up and worked for such outfits as the Prairie Land and Cattle Company and the Bar 4 Ranch. In 1911, Lopez and his wife, Rebecca, homesteaded 160 acres near what's now Las Animas, Colorado, and raised eight children.
The couple's fifth son, Albert, was a savvy horseman and went to work for Warren Shoemaker, the New Mexico breeder of Quarter Horse foundation sire Nick Shoemaker, the sire of Skipper W. Then Albert served as wagon-boss for Diamond A Cattle Company, a nationally known outfit with holdings in Colorado, New Mexico and South Dakota, operating between 1885 and 1939.
In 1923, Albert headed north to South Dakota with the Diamond-A herd, where "he was intrigued by the belly-deep, hardy grass and American Indians," Geno says. He met and married South Dakota horsewoman Luvisa Pelter of Hermosa. For many years, he continued to work for the Diamond A, which controlled substantial lan...
While growing up, Teal was surrounded by western art and the creators of that genre. His father's artist friends, Cary Carter, William Mathews, Vel Miller and Dave Powell, were frequent visitors to the Blake home and studio. Young Teal listened in on their conversations, which were usually about western art.
Viewing Carlie Russell paintings at the Russell Museum in Great Falls, Montana, helped the young artists see that cowboys were seldom clean-shaved, their shirts weren't always creased and clean, and horses manes weren't long.
"An artist sees the big picture, rather than the imperfections,"Teal says. "Overall, art is not copying the image in detail, but telling the story with feeling. That's one of the main attributes of western art - it's honest."
Teal's heritage is more than having an artist for a father. His mother is a photographer and journalist, and his great-grandfather, Samuel Coke Blake, was on of the American Quarter Horse's founding breeders. The Blake family continues to raise Quarter Horses for cutting and roping, and Teal competes in both events.
Bucking horses have always been a favorite for Teal. They represent the timeless battle between man and animal, he says. "There's a feeling when you watch a young horse blow up, you tend to remember something about him. It might be his color or a marking, and when you see that horse later working cattle, being used or standing hobbled at a branding, it's not a conquering feeling but a handshake, ...