stallion-owner-event-sannman
Events like an open house hosted by SDP Buffalo Ranch during the 2018 NCHA Futurity – which showcased its roster of stallions, including the young sire Sannman – are a way a stallion owner or manager can boost a horse's chances of success through promotion, advertising and industry outreach. • Photo courtesy of SDP Buffalo Ranch.

Finding the Right Stallion Owner

Mare owners in today’s Western performance horse industry are blessed with plenty of quality horseflesh to choose from thanks to the sheer number of high-quality, well-bred cutting, reining and reined cow horse stallions on the market.

When it comes to picking out a suitable mating for their broodmare, mare owners pore over the characteristics of the stallion — his pedigree, show record, conformation, etc. However, some do not take into account what the stallion’s owner brings to the table. 

That’s an important part of the equation, because the stallion owner, or the farm managing the stallion, is an important factor in a sire’s success. 

For this edition of Industry Insider with SDPQuarter Horse News (QHN) sat down with SDP Buffalo Ranch owner Shane Plummer to ask what qualities mare owners should look for in the owners or managers of the stallions they are considering.

QHN: What qualities are important for a mare owner to look for in a stallion owner?

Plummer: It’s important to make sure that the stallion owner’s going to financially support the stallion through advertising, through buying foals and through promotion. That stuff really matters.  

If you don’t promote that stallion, his value goes down. And if you have a foal by that stallion, guess what happens to your foal’s value? It goes down. That’s just the way it is.

QHN: How does a stallion’s success at stud, or his lack thereof, impact the value of his foals?

Plummer: It is generally accepted in the industry to classify stallions in two categories: junior stallions and sires.  A junior stallion is a sire that has foals, but those foals are not of performance age yet.  So, still to that point in his career, the foals will solely be judged off of the merits of what that junior stallion did in the show pen.  A sire, on the other hand, what he did as an individual is wholly subverted once he has enough get of performance age.  After three to four crops, a sire’s reputation will pretty much be solidified in the industry and market.

If a junior stallion had a successful show career, has an attractive pedigree and is a quality individual (beauty and conformation), his first foal crops will be sought after.  The market loves “blue sky.” All of this stuff is a gamble anyway, and the next new thing is fun for speculation.  Of course, the dam of the foals and her bottom side will be the primary factors in valuation.  It is normal for a stallion to have huge fluctuations in prices of get.  It is rarer to have a disparity of pricing in foals out of a mare.  The caveat to all of that is the foal must be pretty, conformationally sound and pass vet exams.  Without that, horses do not bring a premium.

A proven sire, well, they generally get the best mares and owners in the industry.  That, in turn, produces the highest prices within the market.  So, as a sire – or a dam, for that matter – are proven, that is like finding a small gold mine or a producing oil well.  The strike can be long and lucrative; it can also dry up quickly, depending on lots of factors.

QHN: In addition to advertising, what are other ways a stallion owner can support a stud and enhance the value of his foals?

Plummer: My father taught me an interesting principle when it comes to stallion promotion and equine marketing.  He’d say, “One does like looking at one’s self, doesn’t one?”  Having a strong presence in print, digital and in person — that goes a long way for any marketing venture.  I think that is doubly true when it comes to stallion promotion and foal value. 

What is a horse worth?  Why pay X breed fee over Y?  Those questions can receive a long and well-thought-out answer for talking heads like myself, but bottom line: that is what someone felt good about paying.  That is it.  Lots of emotion goes into this, less stone-cold data.  So, a good promoter will help with that.  

I have been to horse races, shows, special events that were so extravagant that there is ZERO chance of getting a quick return on the extravagant expenses incurred.  But, what I have seen over time and through experience is those types of efforts build relationships, and those relationships over time end up being the financial win for the host.  That isn’t always the case, because sometimes it doesn’t pan out.

Basically, the more active a stallion owner is within the industry, the more chances for exposure the stallion and the stallion’s foals will have to be noticed.  The amount of people that can afford to do it all, well, they are very rare.  Most stallion owners pick a lane, and do their best to maximize all dollars and efforts within that lane.  I have seen $100,000-a-year marketing efforts go bust and $10,000 annual budgets go gold due to the success or lack of success of sires. 

If I have learned anything, it is this:  A sire is a sire is a sire.  High Brow Cat is low-hanging fruit to show that.  Believed in by none but one; Mr. Waggoner went the long, hard road, alone.  That sire rose to the top because he is the greatest.  What would have been if he started out with 100-plus foals from his first crop rather than not until his eighth?

We’ve entered a phase in the industry where there are stallions breeding 200, 300 and sometimes even 400 mares a year. That is like drinking small amounts of poison to the industry at large, and I think it is very negative for many reasons.  The game is to beat the competition by volume.  It is a winning strategy and a proven model, for the one.  But as a “let the market decide” capitalist, I’m not for regulation.  

This is a long answer, but there are many layers to this question.  A stallion owner should do all that they can to help the foals be successful, and that means the foal owners also will be through successful advertising, networking, offering advice and a whole lot more.  The more foals that win sired by a particular sire, all foals by that sire will increase in value.  A high tide, right?

QHN: The greater Fort Worth and Weatherford areas have some of the best cutting horse bloodstock in the world and, thanks to shipped semen, people in most parts of the country can access those genetics. But, sometimes it seems people might be intimidated to contact a large-scale breeding operation in Texas to inquire about breeding their mare. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant to reach out?

Plummer: Nine times out of 10 when somebody calls me and I finish the call, they always thank me for being so available to answer their questions. And I’m like, “No, thank you for calling me and giving me the opportunity to serve you.” Because $1 from this guy and $1 from that guy is still $1.

I get the whole politics of the horse business and all that stuff, but at the end of the day, none of us know where the great horses are going to come from. I can tell you a long laundry list of horses that nobody had any idea that they were going to be “it.” But again, I just follow the Golden Rule. It’s how I was brought up, how I am, and I’m going to continue to be that way.

QHN: What’s an example of a way SDP Buffalo Ranch supports its mare owners?

Plummer: I’ve heard that we are a “one-stop shop” when it comes to marketing and promotion.  That is true, as we are a vertically integrated company, so I think that translates to a lot of savings for our services.  But having said that, we have plenty of third-party relationships and work very well with others, especially when a stallion owner wants to use others.  That is no problem for us at all.

Building relationships with customers is key to a stallion’s success • Photo courtesy of SDP Buffalo Ranch.

My pride in what we do stems from a culture that the people are our focus.  I am without question a professional horseman in this business.  I know a lot about the horse industry and I know a fair bit about horses, too.  Having said that, I also know that horses don’t carry checkbooks, and they don’t pay any bills!  

All joking aside, we are in the people business and horses are the product.  Our culture is to take care of the customer.  If the phone rings, answer it.  What needs be done? Do it.  Help them win, and we then win, too.  I have not gotten to this day in my horse business alone. It has taken a great team and customers we genuinely love.  

My brother taught me the principle of great customer relations.  First customer, then friend and, eventually, family.  I’ve built relationships that span 20 years now.  I know these people better than some kin.  I have a love for them and their success.  Sure, I would love to win the NCHA Futurity, reach the Hall of Fame, be fat and happy.  I sure want the same for them, too.  I’ll do all in my power to that end.