The time of year is fast approaching when horse people begin to look for a trainer to start their young ones that will be turning two this coming year. So, I figured that it would be a good time to write one on how to get a little bit ahead of the game in finding that right trainer for your prospect.
First thing that I would do is find out what discipline it was that I wanted to try my horse out in. For the most part the first 90 days or so is going to be the same training whether it is towards western pleasure or working cowhorse. But, there is a bonus to having your horse started by someone who is showing in the event that you are wanting to do. That trainer will be able to tell you faster as to whether or not your horse has the potential to compete in your chosen discipline.
OK, so now we know what event, how do we find reputable trainers? First place to look is the local horse publications to get contact information Another place is your breed affiliate websites like AQHA or the Paint Horse Association. These associations have a list of professionals and some event associations have the same. Another place to find a trainer is at the horse shows. Attend some shows and watch some of the trainers in action. How do they handle the horses that they are riding?
Now you have a couple of names and numbers, what is next? Call and talk to the trainers you have in mind, and find out if their program fits you and your ideas. Next, plan a time to go to their place and visit to make sure that the place and the care of the horses meets your expectations. You can also ask for references, but I can not imagine someone giving you a reference of someone who had a bad experience. However, it would give you some perspective from some one else.
Here is where the advice gets pretty frank. If you have read any of my articles in the past you know that I really like to keep things real and tell it like it is, or at least the way I see it. So here it goes. The best advice that I can give you when looking for a trainer is to go with your gut feeling about the person. You know, your instinct will tell you a great deal about someone. If you feel uneasy, there is a reason, that is your gut telling you something. If you want a gut check then ask around some and see what you get in response. Keep in mind though that there is always a couple of people that are dissatisfied. I was even fired once from training because I would not yell at their daughter.
Here are a couple of questions that prospective clients have asked me and some of my responses:
How often do you work your horses and for how long?
Horses can handle 45 minutes of training a day at the most, 15 minutes of warm up 30 minutes of learning, then some cool down. 4 to 5 days a week. Some horses can handle more and some less it really depends on the horse.
How much experience do you have?
A lot of time that depends on the age of the trainer. If he/she is 25 years old, 5 years is a lot. But 5 years is not much when you are 45. Here is a good gauge, if it takes around 3 to 4 years to make a really good seasoned horse for the show pen then how could a person learn any faster.
How much do you charge and what does that include?
Training charges usually include training and board. Board being stall, shavings, the cleaning of, feed, hay, water, lights, blanketing your horse, basic care. This does not include supplements, attending to additional medical needs, hauling, showing, selling.
What is your fee for selling my horse for me?
Yes people believe it or not trainers actually like to make a living the same as you. It is acceptable for a trainer to get ten percent of the sale price of the horse which is paid by the seller. Think of it like a Realtor. You are paying for the trainers contacts and ability to show your horse to best of the horses ability. If you decide that you want X amount for your horse and what ever he makes on top of that is his then do not be surprised if your trainer sells the horse and makes more money than you did because you undervalued your horse. The 10 percent works best, it keeps you both honest and motivates your trainer to sell him with your best interests at heart.
How much does showing cost?
This is something that you need to establish from the beginning with your trainer. Expenses you should expect to pay when going to a show are stall fee, shavings, entry fees, hotel expense for trainer, tack stall fee, hauling expense and trainers day fee. This is a basic list, some trainers charge for things like stall decorations, clipping or even saddling your horse. For the most part it seems like a lot of money, but keep in mind the trainer is only making the day fee (unless you charge for clipping and saddling). If you are competing in an event with winnings, you should definitely discuss that before hand. Some trainers take 50% of winnings, this is something you need to negotiate in the beginning and not after a class has been won.
You need to look at things from both sides when dealing with your trainer. If you expect your trainer to work your horse 7 days a week and all day long, then you should expect to pay him like a full time worker. Trainers also like to have days off, you work 5 days a week and get days off. We normally work 5 days a week plus show or give lessons on the weekends. Also your expenses for a weekend show may be $400, more or less depending on the show. Your trainer usually makes somewhere around $80 dollars for that whole weekend. Believe me he is not getting rich off of you. It should not cost your trainer to show your horse, remember this is his job and your hobby not the other way around.
I know that there are horror stories out there about trainers, some may be true and some not. There are just as many horror stories out there about owners too. I have heard horrible stories about possible clients and once in the barn turned out to be just fine. Then I have had others that acted so sincere and sweet and ended up being the horror story. It really comes down to an open line of communication, and getting to know the person that you are about to do business with before jumping in head first. A wise man once said believe nothing of what you hear and half of what you see.
Recently I have been building some broodmare bands for a couple of clients. I thought since it was fresh on my mind, I would share a couple of the finer points to picking a good broodmare. One is have a lot of money and patience. Second is give it to me and trust me. Just kidding.
Seriously, first you need to see what event you are wanting to breed for and stick to it. Now days the show pen has become very competitive in specific disciplines. Certain breeds definitely perform better on average in certain disciplines than others. That being said there are also some that cross over well into several events.
For the sake of argument the event we will use is reining since it is the discipline I train for. When looking for a broodmare for reining, I ideally want a mare that has bloodlines that will also cross well for cutting and working cowhorse. This is where we have gotten most of our reiners. It also diversifies my selling ability. For example; I would like to find a mare that is an own daughter of Smart Chic Olena. Why you ask? Because he is a producer of world champions in all three events (reining, working cowhorse and cutting). If my first foal out of her works more like a cutter or cowhorse, then I know where I need to promote and breed her from that point on. Now you take an own daughter of Hollywood Dun It and her foal turns out more like a cutter. Good luck on selling it to a cutter. The reason for this is the numbers just do not work in favor of the cutter to purchase this horse. He is going to have a hard time getting a perspective buyer to even come out and look at a cutting horse out of Hollywood Dun It, unless the price is right, and by that I mean low.
Now we have established the type of breeding and the event, next is how much is this going to cost me. There are smart ways to do this and sadly they all cost money. But, the first and, I feel the most important, is how much bang for your buck are you going to get. I work on quality not quantity. Lets say that you want to spend, oh lets get crazy and say you have an extra $40,000 laying around that is burning a whole in your pocket. Just joking again, sort of. Lets just start out with $10,000. I just made a whole bunch of husbands with horse crazy wives out there shake a little. Now, most with $10,000 are thinking that I will go out and by three, maybe four mares with decent bloodlines at a decent price and get started. Bad move. Four mares equals four breeding fees, four vet bills, four vaccinations, and four mediocre babies to raise each year. Guess what, you eventually have four to get started under saddle while you continue with paying for the four breedings on the mares. This spreads your money way to thin and gets nothing accomplished. Not to mention this gets you no where because your money is spread so thin that you have no money left to promote your babies. You do not have enough money left over to put any of the offspring in the hands of a good trainer that can explore their potential. This is where the phrase horse poor comes from.
Instead take that $10,000 and purchase a mare that has good bloodlines and is proven in the show pen. Now instead of spending $2,000 on four $500 breeding fees, you can spend $2,000 on breeding to a stallion of good quality. This stallion has proven offspring on the ground and has a performance record that gives you something to brag about. Also take into consideration that you have just saved money on not having an additional three more vet bills. Now you have a baby that is from a proven mare and out of a proven father, and the chances of selling that baby and it actually getting to the show pen is much greater. Plus you have increased your profit margin. You will make more money with quality. Let me give you and idea of how I price a long yearling; I double the breeding fee and go up or down from there depending on the quality of the mare that she is out of. If the mare has good bloodlines, the price goes up. If she is a performer in the show pen and successful in the show pen, the price goes up. If she has other babies on the ground that are performers, the price again goes up. Why? Because I am not going to gamble my money on your mares offspring just because it is a pretty buckskin and goes back to War Leo some five generations back.
Think of it like a business. If I purchase this mare for $10,000 and put $4,000 into the baby between breeding and a little training, then I can sell it as a honest to goodness prospect at $7,000. It will take me a little over six years to pay her off and have the next two that are on the ground making a better profit.
Another plus to purchasing a mare that has value to her, is there are a lot of stallion owners out there that want to get some babies on the ground that will have a chance at hitting the show pen. You have what the stallion owners want, a proven mare and you can use that to get a break on the breeding fee. Which also improves your profit margin.
Truthfully, I could go on and on about the importance of a broodmare to a successful breeding program. The broodmare in my opinion is the most important element to building a strong business. I have given you a few key points to consider when starting. However, really do your homework. If you have any questions feel free to contact me.
You have purchased a breeding stallion and now the fun begins! First and foremost you have to define what kind of client base you are trying to market. In doing this you need to research and find out which direction is going to me more profitable for the stallion that you have chosen. In the example that I will work with we will talk about a performance stallion. Working towards the ideal way to promote your stallion but keep in mind that it can be done towards any event or breed.
I think that the single most important ingredient to any breeding operation is the quality of mares that you have to breed. Do not confuse this with the importance of the breeding stallion, you have to have both, but it is more difficult to find a top quality mare than it is to find a top quality stallion. Your job as a stallion owner is to entice the quality mare owner to breed to your stallion. Thus producing quality offspring that will be put in the hands of a talented trainer. Sometimes as a stallion owner you have to take an active roll in making sure that these good offspring get the chance at becoming something. Even so much as purchasing your stallion’s best offspring and promoting them yourself.
From a business stand point, this is a sound investment in the future of your program. All moneys spent on the training and showing of the offspring are a tax write off, even for a gelding since it is still promoting your stallion/business. Even if you are promoting a stallion that is for pleasure riding, it is important to show not only that he is good minded, quite and easy to handle but that he can put that good mind on his offspring. I would recommend that some of his best offspring be started under saddle with a good trainer and taken and promoted on trail rides by the trainer. Leave nothing to chance, employ the professional of your choice to promote the offspring in the best light to the public. This is not a place to cut corners and save money. You have invested your money to make sure that the offspring of your choice get seen by the public, spend the little extra to make sure that when in public the offspring is ridden and shown well.
Advertisement; Marilyn is going to love me for this but it is very true. This is something that cannot be over looked. The key to advertisement is frequency. I cannot tell you how many times that I have seen an ad somewhere for 6 months before I make a call to it. If I see the ad once or twice and never again it is hard to remember where I had seen it. But if I see it every month in a publication that I read every month then I know that I can run down to the store and pick that publication up and get the contact information that I need. I can be low on horses in training because of the time of year and things be lean, but I can guarantee you that I will not cut advertising out of my budget.
The other important part to advertising besides frequency is to appeal to your target audience. Lastly, make sure that your ad makes your stud look his best. The ad is at times the first time that a possible buyer has a chance to see your horse. If the picture in your ad is not the best or makes him look different than he does in person, chances are you will loose the client before you ever get a call. I can not tell you how many times I see a stallion photographed in an unflattering way. Hire a photographer, and rely on their expertise and your knowledge of the industry.
There are other ways to advertise your stallion. Take marketing ideas that you have seen in normal business and apply it to your horse business. You can sponsor classes at local horse shows for a reasonable fee in your stallions name. This does two things; it shows your commitment to the horse industry and gets your business out there. You can even donate prizes in your stallions name, or go so far as to create a futurity in your stallions name.
If you are going to try to hit the big time in the performance horse industry there is one piece of advise that is very important. You win or lose when you purchase the stallion. The cheapest part is purchasing the stallion. The price of marketing, your time, training, showing, saddles, facility, entry fees, all of these things cost the same whether it is a good horse or a bad one. Promoting your stallion is the most important part and it is not the place to cut corners. Think about all of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been spent on promoting Smart Chic Olena. If he had not produced horses that could win it would have been a huge loss. The promoting helped enhance what the horse already had, and brought it to the attention of everyone.
Lastly choose people to work with that have the same desires to excel as you do. I have surrounded myself with people that compliment me in areas that I lack. I strive to learn more and have the desire to reach higher goals, and I want the people around me to have the same desires.
When it comes to showing horses and competing in any event, there comes a time when you have to make a decision as to whether you want to show up and just compete, or do you want to do what it takes to win. In the rodeo world it is called donating. I kind of like that term. What it indicates to me is that you are there to show up and donate the money to be in the pen with the competitors, or the people who are doing what it takes to win. When you are getting started this is something that you have to do, but at some point in your show career you have to make a decision to dedicate yourself enough to become a competitor.
Doing what it takes to win can mean many different things. Sometimes this means that you need to make the next move in purchasing more horse power. Sometimes it means that you need to step up your practice. More often than not the first step is for you to step up your practice and get good coaching. Once you have put in your time, and exceeded the level of your horse, then that is the time to step up the horse power.
I see a lot of people try to step up the horse power and expect a better result in the show pen right away. Well, you have stepped up in horse, now it is time to step up your riding level. That is where a good coach comes in. A good example is if you have a fear of the lead change coupled with a foggy understanding of how to obtain a correct lead change. The fix is not purchasing a horse with a better lead change, rather it is to learn how to ride better first. Dedicate yourself to taking lessons and get a firm understanding of the lead change. You may actually fix the horse that you have, and in the process become a better rider.
I have people come out to our facility and say that they have a strong desire to become a great rider. They want it like nothing before, and would like for me to teach them to become the best that they can be. The first thing that I tell them is that I will put as much time into them as they put into themselves. Dedication is the key to success in anything. That is what horses can teach you, and that is a lesson worth learning because it will follow you into the rest of your life.
I will give you some great example of winners: The San Antonio Spurs are a great team, a team comprised of great athletes with skill and knowledge to compete and win at the top level. Why do they have a coach? Can’t they stay in shape and practice on their own. If that was the case there would be no coaches in any of the NBA teams. They need to have someone there to give insight into their game, detect glitches in their execution, to give motivation, and to keep them focused on the task at hand.
I just watched a US Open singles tennis match who like wise are great athletes with tons of talent. Each one of the competitors has a coach, not because they do not know the game but for the same reason that professional sports teams have them too.
You see a lot of people join a gym to get in better shape each year. They start out dedicating themselves to getting in good physical condition yet, 99 percent of them do not finish the year. Why do you think that most have you sign a contract for a year? Because odds are you wont use all of it and they will still get paid. Why do you think that most sign the contract? Because they really want to stick with it and reach their goal. The ones that succeed at a higher percentage are the ones that have a personal trainer; someone that holds you accountable for showing up, and can coach you to your goals.
It takes more than just good intentions. Success takes dedication, hard work, and inspiration from a knowledgeable coach/trainer. Winning or becoming a winner is measured by personal goals. Just because you are not a world champion does not mean that you are not a winner. A winner is one who reaches his or her goals and passes their personal best. I will consider myself a great teacher when my assistant Jeni Phipps beats me in the show pen.
The article on how to pick a broodmare was well received, so it seemed only fitting that I follow it with how to pick a stallion to breed her to. So here we go.
I am a bit biased on the stallions that I choose, because they have to be something that will fit in the reining market today. But, remember I am also looking for the same things that you should be looking for in your discipline. No, not just a reiner, but a stallion that is going to compliment the mare that I have. It has to be something that will be marketable.
How do I know the stallion that I pick is going to compliment my mare? Well, my first stop in finding this out is to do some quick research. The best place for me to do this is the Quarter Horse News annual Stallion Registry, Equistat or the American Quarter Horse Association website. In the Stallion Registry they do most of the dirty work for you by not only giving you statistics on the different stallions, but also give you magic crosses. Magic crosses? Yes, magic crosses! They have compiled data and will give you what kind of mares out of a certain stallion cross best with a certain stud to produce the most money in the show pen. There is a load of information in these publications that can assist you in how to cross your mare with the perfect stud. At worst it will provide you with an educated guess.
Let’s play a little for instance. OK, lets say that I want to breed to Smart Chic Olena, but do not have the $25,000 to breed to him. Yes, that is right, he is now $25,000 to breed your mare. But, I want to breed to a son of him, and I am not sure if my mare is one that is going to cross well with this horse. In the stallion registry you will find that own daughters of Doc’s Oak have crossed the best with him when considering the amount of money earned in the show ring. Here are the statistics: average earnings on daughters of Doc’s Oak is $46,503; number on money earners is 14; gross earnings are $651,045. This is according to the statistics in the 2004 Stallion Registry. So it seems to reason that if you have an own daughter of Doc’s Oak, you should be breeding to this stallion. But wait, I forgot that we do not have $25,000 to blow! Not to mention, I have a mare that is Peppy San Badger bred and another that is Colonel Freckles bred. Well the statistics also tell us that these mares will cross well with Smart Chic Olena. The gross earnings on Little Peppy bred mares is $240,410, and the Colonel Freckles bred is $189,784.
Now that we have found that my mares will cross well with Smart Chic Olena, how do we pick which son of him to breed? Well, for me there are two things that I take into consideration; first, the stallion of my choice has got to be proven to perform in the arena. To be more specific he has to have been proven in an association that reports his statistics. What I mean is that he has to have a proven record in the show pen. The bigger the show pen the better. I do not want to just see that he has an ROM ( record of merit), but that he has qualified for a world class event, or that he has won a substantial amount of money. That proves to me that he was not just a one hit wonder, but that he is a horse with outstanding ability and has some staying power. Staying power in the pen means longevity to me, and also converts to solid minded and built to last. For example, I have a stallion in training that I have shown for sometime and will be qualifying for the USET ( United States Equestrian Team) events this next year. He is a son of Smart Chic Olena and is 11 years old, but he still shows like a five year old. He has a record of winning over $16,000 in reining and has qualified for the AQHA World four times. I want to breed a mare to him, because he shows me that he can do things very well and can last in the pen. Plus, people that have seen him in the pen, remember him. This in turn helps me when I want to sell his offspring. Not to mention, that his fee does not break my pocket book. Which brings me to my next point of consideration.
The price of the breeding fee is very important. If the price of the breeding fee is way out of the league of the mare that I am breeding, then I am going to loose money at the time I want to sell her offspring. You still want to breed up with your mare, but not so far up that the quality of your mare narrows your profit or makes it non-existent. Instead look for a stallion that has a proven show record, but possibly does not have a lot of offspring on the ground. This way you get in on the ground floor, so to speak. For example, Smart Chic Olena’s breeding fee was once $750. If you had breed to him back then his offspring would be worth a considerable amount more now.
There is a lot more to this breeding thing than point and pick. There is a difference between a guess and an educated guess. It is worth your while to do the research, and get the best bang for your buck. You are going to be spending the money on the breeding, why not make it the best breeding available to you?
When I take a horse into training I am not only being paid to ride and train the horse, I feel that it is my job to also evaluate the horse to see if it is going to meet the needs and wants of the owner. For many I am training the horse for them to take to the show pen themselves. For some it is a business and for others it is for the competition and the want to win and excel in a sport.
Taking into consideration the wants and desires of the owners, it is my job to see if the horse that they have chosen has what it takes to meet the goals of the owner. Whether it is the competitor or the one who wants to show and have fun, many of the criteria are the same. The one deciding factor is the horses ability to do it well or excel in his sport. The one thing that does not work for either is a horse that has the ability but lacks the desire to please or the want to do the event that we have chosen for it. If I reach this point in the horses training that I have decided that the horse lacks the want, desire, or ability it is my job to inform the owner that they have a decision to make. Either you change your discipline or you change horses.
This can be a difficult and hard decision for an owner to make. Compounded by the fact that I usually recommend that at this time you cut your losses. Which means make the horse a quick sell which usually means sell it for a loss. It is in your best interest to cut down the price now and take a loss and move on rather than stretch it out and cause a greater loss in the future. Believe me, I don’t like to be the one that tells you that you are going to take a loss on your investment or that you are not going to make as much money on this horse as you thought, but someone has to stop the bleeding.
Let me take a minute and make an example. If you have a horse that you have put 6 months into training and the horse is not going to work out. You have decided that I am right and we need to sell but you have invested 6 months at $800 which comes out to $4,800 and you purchased the horse for $3,000, so you want to sell the horse for $7,000, even though the horse is not working out. You are wanting someone else to purchase a horse at 7K that has some obvious issues to work out and still needs quite a bit more training even if their weren’t issues.
It is at this time that I recommend that you fold’em and not invest more into a loosing proposition. It is not what many want to hear but it is the best thing for most. Lets say that you are stuck on selling for 7K when I recommend that you sell for 5K now and move on. You are going to have to continue to train this horse in order for it to hold its value and if it has some undesirables they are not going to sell fast. Lets say that it takes only two months and it sells for 7K. You have spend another $1,300 in training and another $75 in shoeing along with a commission to the trainer of 700 dollars. You have come out even and have lost two months worth of time that you could have spent looking for another prospect and getting back on track with your goals.
Let me take a minute and address the issue of commissions on horses, cause it is a bone of contention with some. It is common practice in the horse industry that there is a 10% commission on horses that are bought and sold through trainers. I get asked at times why is it that I have to pay you a commission to sell my horse when I pay you each month to train my horse. That is because you pay me each month to train your horse. When it comes to purchasing a horse for one of my clients or sell a horse for one of my clients the commission covers my expenses along with the use of my good name and my good judgment along with the use of my contacts. Not to mention my ability to make the horse look his best when being shown to a possible buyer. You would not ask for your Realtor to forgo a commission on the sale of your house nor would you expect for the car salesman to not get paid for the work he does for the dealership. Sorry I will get off my soap box.
There are two things that go through my mind when choosing a horse for someone. If it were my horse would I mind owning him or her for a long time. And the other is does this horse make me excited to ride. If I have a horse in training that makes me want to ride and that likes what I am doing as much as I do, then I know that I want to hold. It is the same thing that we all want and that is a horse that is a willing partner in the games that we play.
It is also important to not rush to a judgment on young horses and give them a chance to prove themselves. Not all horses show you their talent in just 6 months. Some take some time to develop. It is my job to bring it out and see that talent sometimes before it surfaces. There is also a benefit to having ridden a lot of horses cause some of the bad ones teach you just as much as the good ones. The good ones are easy it is having ridden some of the tricky ones that make you think that you can get that something extra out of them that just never surfaces. Those are the ones that teach you what you don’t want. Sometimes that is more important to know than the other. Mostly cause you don’t want to go down that road again.
I had a good friend in the horse business tell me once a saying that has stuck with me and at times I repeat it to myself when looking at horses. I would rather want something I don’t have than to have something I don’t want. And that about sums it up.
I have a new widget that is going to turn the horse world on it’s ear. This is a tool you can use to train your horse to do anything in any event. This new tool has to be used in conjunction with a part of you anatomy that some people let lie dormant and is not exercised enough. Want to know what it is and how much it costs? The tool is knowledge and education and the part of the anatomy is your brain. What does it cost? Time and consistency.
One very useful place to get education and knowledge is clinics, demonstrations, and private lessons from accomplished trainers. Don’t shy away from going to a clinic or lesson from someone if you think that your horse is not ready, or is not at that level yet. How else are you going to get to the level of riding that you want to achieve if you do not know where it is that you are going. Sometimes clinics may not be as educational as you would like, or has a method that you do not agree with. But, you are still being educated as to what not to do. This is the same way that good trainers become great trainers. I feel that I am a fairly knowledgeable trainer. But, I did not get here by sticking to myself. I continue to learn from other trainers and work hard to increase my knowledge and skills. The only kind of trainer that I will not go to for knowledge, or attend one of their clinics, is the one that says his way is the only way. Why? Because it means that he has stopped learning himself.
Another great place to expand your knowledge base is a competition of the event that you are wanting to compete in. This is a good place for you to again, see where it is that you are going. This does not mean that you should limit it to a local event but, take a vacation and go to a national level or world competition. Where else are you going to get to see the level of competition at its best, than a high level competition. It is a place where the arena is exactly right, and the horses and riders are prepared to their best. This is a great way to see where it is that you are going.
It is extremely important that your quest for knowledge include education about the tack and tools that you use. Let’s take a look at a couple of the tools that we as horseman use. Some in our everyday work and some that we use on occasion to help us get through a sticky spot. It is important that you not only learn how they work, but how to use them in a way that does not cause you to rely on them as a crutch. The first tool that I will talk about is the martingale.
The most important part of a martingale is that it is adjusted correctly. Make sure the rings that the reins run through are long enough. When the horse’s head is relaxed and the neck level, the rings should be adjusted long enough to reach the throat latch. If they are shorter, then you are limiting the amount of lateral or side to side work on your horse. Having it shorter helps you to keep your horses head down, but it is being used as a crutch. A good way to see if it is being used as a crutch is to take it off. If your horses head goes up when you pull, then you have over used or improperly used your martingale. The thing to remember is that the horse learns from the relief of pressure. Make sure that when your horse gives to the pressure of your reins, and the downward pressure of the rings on the martingale, you give relief by giving more reins.
If you have any questions or would like for me to address a particular piece of tack in the next article feel free to email with your suggestion or question.