Black Hills Stock Show® Horse Sale brings in quality horses and quality prices for nearly 50 years
Overnight successes do not happen overnight. In fact, they tend to take years of preparation, planning and very hard work. Take, for instance, the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo’s Truck Defender Two-Day Horse Sale. The sale began 45 years ago. In the later 2000s, the sale was averaging a total of $300,000 for about 200 head of horses. Last year, the sale surpassed $1 million on 177 consigned horses and drew in 570 registered buyers.
“It’s sure come a long way from the first horse sale we ever held,” Lyndell Peterson says. “It was just a ragtag, very random bunch of horses, really.”
In 1973, the Rapid City Chamber of Commerce’s Black Hills Stock Show committee was looking to expand the stock show and asked the public for input on how they could get more people to attend. Peterson was among the group of young men who, knowing that horse sales always had full seats, went to the committee meetings “every chance we got.” Finally, the committee gave the go-ahead.
“We had everything from saddle horses to broodmares and ponies. We had people crawling all over their horses, underneath them, standing on their backs, all sorts of things trying to show how gentle their horses were,” Peterson says. “The first sale, well the first and second sales really, were probably more like a circus than anything.”
One horse from those early sales, Peterson recalls well, though. A Leo-bred gelding who had won first place in his class at the Youth Day judging competition, he sold for around $800 to a man from Quinn, South Dakota and became a family horse, teaching many generations to ride.
“He was probably the best horse to come through the sale in those days,” Peterson says.
The sales have been running since long before the James Kjerstad Event Center was built, first being held in what Dick Bray called the “orange building.”
“I can only describe it as the orange building, because that’s what it’s been known as for as long as I can remember,” he says.
Bray served on the Central States Fair board of directors and worked closely with the horse sale for many years. It wasn’t always the greatest idea, holding a stock show in South Dakota in January and Bray recalls using the big propane heaters that builders use to heat the building, but to no avail.
“They took some of the discomfort off, but was still extremely cold,” he says. “Thankfully, we moved into the Soule Building in later years and held the sale in there.”
Those first sales averaged around 50 to 60 head of horses with every horse submitted being allowed in the sale. Today, the committee accepts between 160 and 170 head of horses, turning away nearly 125. That switch, according to Peterson, is in large part due to the reputation of integrity that the sale has developed.
“It didn’t used to be there,” he says. “The way horses are represented now and what they turn out to be when you get home is more consistent today than it has ever been, in huge part, thanks to our horse sale committee.”
Six years ago, the committee decided it was time to take the sale to the next level. A typical measure of success of a horse sale is often the final dollar amount, and the committee knew the dollars wouldn’t be available unless quality horses were. Thus, the selection process was refined and videos became a requirement for horses to be considered. As the sale slowly became more successful on the dollar side, they began getting more, and higher-quality horses.
“I can’t tell you enough the value that our horse sale committee has added to this sale,” says Ron Jeffries, Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo’s general manager. “Year after year they have worked to grow the sale and develop the reputation that makes this sale a fantastic one.”
But that doesn’t mean the selection process is an easy one, especially when the selection committee is looking at the big picture, not necessarily singling out individual horses as “not good enough.”
“They’re all good horses, but what we are selecting for is horses that complement each other. Then we can put together a group of horses that we know can get buyers in the stands and that we can get sold for a good dollar amount,” Dean Johnson, long-time horse sale committee member, says. “The sale has gotten so popular because of the quality of horses that are there and the value that we are getting out of those horses.”
Value that indeed speaks for itself. Six years ago, before the push for a higher quality sale, geldings were averaging $4,500 and mares were averaging $2,500. In 2017, geldings averaged $9,700 and mares averaged $8,500.
Just like the committee has changed its approach to putting on a horse sale, the industry has also changed its ideas on what makes a good and desirable horse since the sale began in 1973.
Bray sees a difference in the size of horses, saying that today’s horses are smaller and more fine-boned that the horses of his era, due to breeding for more performance and arena work and less ranch work.
In the last fifteen years as the average age of ranchers has declined, Johnson has seen good solid ranch horse with no quirks being valued higher than well-bred, young prospect at most sales.
“We do our best to make sure we have a little bit of something for everybody though,” Johnson says. “And we do the best we can to present those horses as accurately as possible and ultimately to give a venue for quality horses and quality buyers and consignors that you can come and buy and sell with integrity and that return on investment for consignors and how well our average is doing as time goes on, is kind of a testimonial to how far this sale has come.”