The Right Fit: Getting a horse ready for sale
It’s January in South Dakota. Odds are, the mercury has dropped below zero more than once in the last few months, and the horses have adapted appropriately, growing their own blanket to ward off the cold and snow.
But if you’re planning to put that horse in front of an auctioneer, that fuzzy blanket may be standing between you and top dollar.
Roger Daly, owner of Roger Daly Horses in Aubrey, Texas, has been fitting horses for sales for decades, and has developed a routine that shows its value in the sale ring.
Daly works out of a 107-stall barn, where he fits primarily yearling and weanling Quarter Horse race prospects. The cold weather isn’t much of a concern, but day length is a factor in hair growth, so he has to compensate for that to keep his horses slick-haired for sale day.
A good outside starts with a healthy inside, he says, so one of the basics is a good feed program.
Daly feeds his young horses straight alfalfa hay. Jeremy Barwick, who works in the same business, near Stephenville, Texas, usually feeds alfalfa mixed with some coastal grass hay. “We try not to feed feeds that are real high in starch,” Barwick says. “You want a balanced diet.”
Daly uses a high-fat supplement as a top-dressing, which helps put a good hair coat on them.
Keeping up with a deworming and vaccination schedule is also important to making sure the horses stay healthy and look their best.
One of the biggest mistakes Daly sees sellers make is not feeding their horses enough, especially young horses. “Feed that mare good, and do the same for the babies when you wean them. Have them up-to-date on vaccinations and worming. A little extra weight comes off when you ship them and they’re under stress.” He compares them to cattle that are being shipped. “You want them a little fat when you leave home, because they’ll shrink when you ship them.”
Daly and Barwick both emphasize the importance of making sure the horse is fit and in shape before you head to the sale.
They work yearlings in a round pen for five or six days a week. “They need exercise, to sweat a little every day and build up some muscle tone,” Daly said. “They need to lead good and walk good.”
They figure it takes about 90 days to get a young horse to peak condition.
Practically speaking, a well-insulated, thick-haired horse is a good thing in northern climates in January. But when that horse is in the sale ring, people still want—and will pay more for—one that’s slick-haired and shiny, said Johann Thomasson, who trained and sold three horses, one for himself and two for a client, at the Black Hills Stock Show last year.
“In the winter time, there’s a lot of people who will complain about a horse being tight-haired up north, but everybody wants one that’s slick and shiny and tight-haired,” he said. A horse that has his winter coat on “just isn’t going to look as attractive as a horse that’s slick-haired.”
If Daly is planning for a December sale, he likes to get the horses in starting in September, when days get short, and get them under lights for 16 hours a day. He uses sheets and blankets, as necessary, to keep their winter hair from growing in.
For those sellers who aren’t equipped to provide the light and heat necessary to keep winter hair from growing, Daly says it’s important to groom them daily to keep their hair shiny and lying flat.
Thomasson adds that a blanket and daily brushing can help keep winter hair in good condition and can make horse look more sleek and shiny.
Daly says one of the most important things in fitting a horse for a sale is making sure their feet are in good condition. That doesn’t mean to call the farrier the day before you take them to the sale. It should be an ongoing process, keeping hooves trimmed and feet healthy, and it’s best not to trim them right before the sale, just in case they are a little sensitive.
Whether a horse has a winter coat or summer hair, it’s vital to have it clean and well-groomed for sale day. Daly uses a rubber curry, brush and vacuum. He doesn’t use any products to add shine to the horses, as a good feed program is a lot more effective at producing that healthy look.
For Daly, who sells mostly young horses, the extent of training is to make sure they’re halter-broke and desensitized to the chaos of a sale atmosphere. He makes sure they have plenty of practice loading and unloading, and are comfortable being led in and out of stalls and the sale ring. “I’ve shown some babies 80 times a day for two days in a row. They have to be physically fit to show well in those circumstances,” Dalys aid.
For more advanced performance horses that will go through a preview before the sale, making sure they know their job is the most important part of sale preparation. Whether the trainer or the owner is showing in the preview, they should have practiced extensively and be flawless in their execution of the job they’re doing. “You don’t want to show everyone the bad things about your horse. Preview your horse in a manner that shows off the good things, in a smooth and correct way,” Barwick says.
Barwick said he makes sure all the tack is good-quality, clean and in good working condition before preview day.
“Be professional. Dress professionally,” Barwick says. “Have a nice blanket and a decent saddle. You’re trying to sell your product.”
“The guys who are successful are perfectionists,” Daly said. He’s been friends with Thoroughbred trainer Wayne Lucas for a number of years, and has learned a lot from him, attributing much of Lucas’s success to his drive for perfection.
“You want to use quality feed, quality hay, the best vet and the best horse shoer you can afford. In the long run, they’ll make you money,” Daly said. “Find the best people you can to work on your horse, with the most knowledge.”
And always keep learning. At age 72, Daly still reads a lot and talks to other trainers and owners, hoping to continue to improve his skills. “I nose around and see what people are doing or using.”
It’s not an exclusive industry. Most people are in it because they enjoy it, and want others to enjoy it as well, Daly said. “Everybody’s helpful to newcomers, and explains things. We try to help them the best we can.”
He offers this advice to newcomers, “See what the guys at the top are doing, not the ones who are complaining or making excuses.”
Daly has several employees, but he’s still at the barn seven day a week, usually by 6:30 a.m. He tries to finish his day by 6 p.m. “We’re very organized; everybody has a job.”
Daly started driving a team of horses when he was 7 years old on a dairy farm, and has worked with horses all his life. “It really beats being on a dairy farm. It’s similar, but a whole lot better.”