Talk Dreamy To Me and Ruben Vandorp competing in the 2019 NRHA Futurity Open Finals.

Insights & Opinions: Catalyst for Growth

Where do good horses come from? What about great ones? I think most of us can agree it’s a careful balance of genetics, athleticism, conformation and trainability … all with at least a pinch of God-given talent.

But what it takes to develop great horses into performers in our industry is a different matter. Along with the expense of breeding or buying a prospect come bills for the trainer, vet and farrier.

Depending on what direction you take them, the costs only continue to mount as they get closer to standing in front of the judges.

A friend who owns some of the best reiners in the business told me he estimates it takes around $55,000 in training, hauling, entries and vet/farrier care from the beginning of a horse’s 2-year-old year to get to the highest level of the National Reining Horse Association (NRHA) Futurity Open finals.

It’s the reason he invests in top-quality yearling prospects; he realizes he’s in for $55,000 — barring any injuries — without the cost of the horse, so he might as well invest that in a great one.

If you’re looking for a little more perspective, last year’s NRHA Futurity Level 4 Open winner didn’t sell at public auction, but Co-Reserve Champion Shine Colt Shine was a 2-year-old consignment at the Futurity in 2018. Gus and Gaynia Revenberg paid $220,000 for the colt, with a full year left of expenses to get him back to Oklahoma City.

The harsh reality is most of us can’t afford to play the game at that level. But, that’s OK! Whether those who invest that kind of money in Western performance horses were born into it or earned their way to the top through tenacity, hard work and luck doesn’t matter to me. I’m just glad they spend their disposable income in our industry … and you should be, too.

I understand it takes a while to come around to this concept. The truth of the matter is industry members with deep pockets aren’t going to invest that much money into developing a horse for the weekend, ancillary or horse show events. Instead, they buy into the dream of owning a Futurity winner, and we all reap the benefits in the end.

I think of it as a trickle-down effect, where hundreds of prospects are started with one main goal in mind — the Futurity. As those prospects are put through the paces, shrewd owners evaluate the best path to success and adjust as necessary.

Then, the Futurity happens. Some are rewarded and others disappointed. While a few become superstars, some fizzle out and others become underdog exceptions to the rules, the overall end result is a solid group of well-trained performance horses expanding the elite pool in our sports.

Now, or in just a few years’ time, these athletes become the “unicorns” for which every grassroots member is searching. They get newbies hooked on their way to Rookie titles. They pack around kids who are the future of our industry. They win World/ National titles for those who many agree are the lifeblood of the associations. Indeed, the 3-year-olds of today give us a peek at what to expect in the any-age shows of tomorrow.

As you’ll learn in my NRHA Winter Meeting article in the March 15 magazine on page 58, the organization vowed to add more money to the Futurity and North American Affiliate Championships this year.

It is not a rash decision, but rather the product of calculated brainstorming. Improving this one event, officials expect, will cause a ripple of prosperity that will be felt throughout the industry, hopefully harnessing the excitement initiated by The Run For A Million.

Contrary to what some have questioned, this is not about adding more money to the pockets of those already winning. I can attest from the conversations I heard at the Winter Meeting, it’s about incentivizing the dream for more of the people who can afford to invest large sums in our sport. If winning the Futurity is the carrot we choose to dangle, we have to ensure it’s big enough to catch someone’s eye.

Efforts such as this, combined with initiatives to bring more prestige to any-age competition and reward older horses with bigger paychecks, are a catalyst for growth. We have long celebrated tradition in our industry, but perhaps it’s high time for a renaissance.

This Insights & Opinions column was published in the March 15 issue of Quarter Horse News. To purchase this issue, click here.