Going Gone: Regional horse sales bringing high prices, Broke ranch and performance horses are the name of the game
The combination of lower supply, higher demand and improvement in quality of Quarter Horses in the region has proved to be an explosive recipe for success for some breeders hosting production and consignment sales this season.
“Demand is improving greatly,” said Reva, S.D. rancher and auctioneer Lynn Weishaar. “A good, gentle ranch horse is in demand.” Weishaar added that he believes there are untapped opportunities for horse trainers to buy young horses, dedicate time to teaching and riding, and then turn around and sell solid, well-broke horses.
Not just anyone could do it, he said. Today’s customer is discerning, but is willing to pay for a quality horse with a really good handle. “The average customer looking for a ranch horse wants an 8- or 9-year-old broke, gentle ranch horse. Ranchers are getting older, plus this kind of horse is easy to sell to the trail rider, easy to sell to the doctor, easy to sell to anyone.” Weishaar said customers are often willing to pay $8,000 to $10,000 for this kind of horse. “Many ranchers don’t want to or can’t take the time to ‘make’ the horse themselves, they’d rather buy a finished horse. I guess it can cost you that much for a four-wheeler, and if you can trust your horse and get your work done, it is worth a lot.”
Weishaar added that the performance horse market has gained momentum in recent years too, noting exceptional sales over the past weekend at Fulton Performance Horses (Valentine, Neb., averaged over $11,000) and Myers Training Stable (Spearfish, S.D., averaged over $15,000).
“They specialize in barrel futurity and rodeo horses. There are people all over the country – all over the world – that want them,” Weishaar said, adding that buyers from California to North Carolina were present at the two high profile sales.
“There is demand out there,” Weishaar stressed, saying that he is aware of at least 1,000 horses that were sent to Russia by brokers this past year, adding yet another element to the market. He explained that local horse sales are far fewer in recent years too, due in part to a decline in registration numbers of at least 50 percent from the peak. “We used to start in July, with sales every Friday, Saturday and Sunday until November, but a lot of our customers are gone now.” Add to that an improved product, “the quality of the horse is improving: mind, structure, bone, the horses are just getting better,” and you have sky-high horse sales that are fun for spectators who never even intend to raise a hand.
Announcer and pedigree expert Johnny Johnson echoes Weishaars thoughts, adding that a better attitude toward the economy has also helped the market for good broke horses. “High quality performance horses are in the same category as jewelry or sports cars. They are not a necessity but a luxury item.”
Johnson commented that the Fulton and Myers sales, last year, were among the top five horse sales in the nation. And he expects no less this year. He believes their catering to the performance buyer has been the key to their individual successes. “They are very sought-after horses, they aren’t average Quarter Horse sales, they are specific in what they sell. In the last few years the 4D option in barrel racing plus all the money for futurities all over the country, really increases demand for these horses.” Johnson said that demand for barrel racing horses has increased substantially worldwide, specifically in China and Brazil.
Focusing on a different crowd, Johnson said the Ranchers Quarter Horse Breeders Association, (RQHBA) who also hosted a sale over the weekend, near Belle Fourche, S.D., enjoyed improved prices and stronger demand as well. “This is a group of ranchers that run a smaller number of mares and one or two stallions,” he explained, saying that this year’s sale enjoyed a “great crowd, good demand” and probably the best sale they’ve had in five or 10 years. “The quality was outstanding … at a different level than the other two sales, because they have a different clientele, but it was extremely successful,” he said, adding that in just the past few years, the price for a good, broke ranch horse increased from “about $3,000 to $5,000 up to $10,000 or $15,000. That’s a huge jump in just a few years.” Johnson added that buyers often seek particular bloodlines known to be gentle and dependable for the entire family.
Debbie Mailloux and her husband Gary sold horses in the RQHBA sale and also helped organize the Aug. 25, event. The consignments were “outstanding,” according to Debbie Mailloux, who added that Snippy Cowboy offspring seemed particularly popular.
The preview was appreciated and well attended, she said. Mailloux explained that the ranch horse futurity competition, where the trainers ride their horses through a pre-established pattern, proved to be a useful way to show the broke horses’ abilities. Buyers of colts can participate in yearling futurities, showing at the Central States Fair, she said, where this year’s stud, filly and gelding winners ended up with over $800 each.
Robert Sperry, a western North Dakota horse breeder said his sales have consistently improved in the 10 years that he has held them. The top 10 sellers this year averaged around $12,500.
“We had about 70 broke performance horses and about 30 colts this year,” he said, which included a limited number of consignments.
Sperry, whose production sale was Aug. 11, said that his older horses are generally both ranch-broke and arena-broke. “My dad used to say, to make a good one you have to use them, and we’ve stuck with the using kind,” he said. Sperry said he rides the stallions on a regular basis for branding, shipping and roping, which is the same routine the sale horses go through. “I usually have nine or 10 horses in the trailer every time I head out to help a neighbor. If it weren’t for all of that work, my horses wouldn’t be nearly as useful.”
His mother, 7-year-old son, father-in-law, niece and two neighbor girls help him keep the horses ridden, Sperry explains, which means they get a variety of experiences. “I had a young man tell me that he’d have given me $15,000 or more for a horse he bought just because he knows my horses won’t send him to the doctor. He did his homework, he rode the horse ahead of time, and he was willing to give a lot for him for the peace of mind of knowing he could trust him.”
Sperry said he has found success in giving the horses “a career” or a background before selling them. “Some people think a 5-year-old horse is too young but I tell them that my 10-year-old niece can run the flag race on him and he’s drug calves to the branding fire and done other jobs. Plus he’s got the genetics and the conformation. That is what I mean by a career. We try to diversify them and then tailor them toward their talents and assets to make them the best they can be.”
Selling colts continues to be a bit of a challenge, Sperry admitted, because trainers are few and far between and most buyers aren’t prepared to put in the time to train the horse themselves.
Finishing a horse is “where the money’s at” Sperry said. “There aren’t enough young people riding them. We make them, we don’t buy them made.”
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the Oct. 23, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News