Each year, a fleet of slick, well-bred yearlings are offered at public auctions in the Western performance horse world.
These untrained young horses offer potential opportunity as well as a gamble. They don’t have the track record of a horse in training or one that has already started competing. There are unknowns.
Buying yearlings requires finding the youngsters with the most potential.
Quarter Horse News (QHN) talked with SDP Buffalo Ranch owner Shane Plummer about what he looks for when buying yearling or weanling Western performance horse prospects.
This is the third in a series of Industry Insider With SDP blogs about buying Western performance horses at auction. Previously, Plummer shared his thoughts on buying 2-year-olds and also on buying broodmares.
QHN: In general, what are your must-haves when evaluating young sale horses (yearling or weanling) for purchase?
Plummer: All of the same principles apply here [as they did with broodmares, the subject of an earlier blog] as far as belief in the family of the prospect: do I believe enough in the potential to put my wallet behind this one?
Pedigree is and always will be the best predictor of performance. There is a very large reason why black type exists on a catalog page. The more bold ink you see, the better your odds. A quality individual, good conformation and a pleasing disposition will be the next factors for my evaluation on a prospect. I will also want to get the input of my trainer on a prospect. If the trainer isn’t excited, you shouldn’t be either.
QHN: What are the biggest red flags in a young horse that might cause you to pass on him or her?
Plummer: A bad mind would be my number one and then a close second would be failure to pass a pre-purchase exam. A horse that doesn’t want to be trained, well you are going to have a hard time training it.
And a horse that is too weak or had a potential for lameness can’t perform. If I see vices – weakness anywhere, small feet, bad angles, swelling, scars, ill eyes, teeth or gums, floppy ears – all would be worrisome signs to me on a prospect.
If I can’t look them in the eye and see them say, “You can count on me,” I’m not interested.
QHN: How important is it for young prospects to have clean X-rays, and what imperfections do you accept for well-bred, well-built horses? Why?
Plummer: Not as important as you might think. I’ve had just as many good-performing horses with bad x-rayed as I’ve had poor-performing horses with good x-rays. This country is way too litigious and that’s to the detriment of our valued veterinarians. That is all I am going to say about that.
I will absolutely do my due diligence, and do as much analysis as I can, but I will never take anything I am told as gospel. I have to come to my own conclusion as it is my signature on the check.
QHN: What advice would you give someone who is looking to buy their first quality Western performance horse performance prospect at auction? Any tips?
Plummer: Buy the very best you can afford. If that is $5,000, then you should buy the best $5,000 horse you can. If it is $100,00, do it. Don’t go buy two $50,000 horses or three $33,333 horses. Go buy the best you can afford. Don’t overpay, though. You pay $50,000 for a $20,000 horse, and then you are going to be really disappointed.
Gather as much information from people you trust as you can: trainer, vet, professional horseman. Knowledge is not power. Applied knowledge is power. It is what you do with it that matters.
QHN: Can you think of any horses you’ve purchased that for some reason – on paper, in the flesh or on X-rays – you normally would’ve passed on buying, but for some reason you took a chance on the horse and it turned out to be a really good one? What was it about that horse that made you throw away the rule book, and did that horse change the way you evaluate prospects from then on out?
Plummer: Absolutely. SDP Nobama, is hands down my go-to story on this subject. I got a call from my friend and trainer Michael Cooper, who said he had a lead on a quality TR Dual Rey 3-year-old gelding which I could purchase and show at the NCHA Futurity. This was approximately September of his 3-year-old year. I gave the green light for Michael to try him and get back to me what he thought. It went well enough to agree on price and a pre-purchase exam was performed.
The veterinarian did not pass him because of both stifles had major issues in the x-ray. I inquired as to if it was his flex tests or was there visual signs of soreness in work, trot or walk? No, there isn’t.
I then sent the x-rays to another trusted vet, the answer was the same: “Do not buy this horse, pass on him.” I then sent the x-rays to another vet, and got the same answer. “Ticking time bomb,” I was told.
I bought him anyway. My first and only NCHA Championship buckle I won in an NCHA Triple Crown event was the one I won on him in his 4-year-old year, 2016 (His name was because of the presidential election that year and if you can’t take a joke, go pet a puppy or something. It is meant to be funny), where he helped me win the Summer Spectacular Derby Non-Pro Gelding event. It is one of my cherished memories which will always be special.
I later sold him as we did really well. I am happy that last year I bought my old friend back and he is ridden every day on here in our training program as a turn back horse. Three failed x-ray exams and the ticking time bomb still hasn’t gone off.
Don’t ignore your professional horseman: trainer, vet or other. But it worked out for me and he is not the only one. I have also had more than I can count, pass all exams and I took all the advice, didn’t have the outcome I wanted.
This is a game and games are supposed to be fun. If you want guaranteed outcomes, get into math. That’s where 1 + 1 will always = 2.