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In the Market? Quick Tips to Think About! - With Shane Plummer as seen on QHN

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“Opinions are like armpits, everyone has one and most of them stink!”

Sale season is upon us! There is so much to choose from and there are so many decisions to make, it can seem a little overwhelming. So I thought I’d share some thoughts on this topic, as we will be in the thick of it soon!

Like the quote mentioned above, weeding through conjecture is tough. There are so many factors that affect value, and just about everyone has an opinion on something – conformation, pedigree, production, performance, market sizzle, where the horse came from, soundness, and the list goes on and on. The reality is a horse is worth whatever someone is willing to pay. Some horses are priceless, and others you can’t give away. That is just the way it is.

Here are some tips for buying a horse at public auction:

  • Study the catalog and select the horses in which you have an interest. Age, sex, show record, breeding status and nomination eligibility will all be factors.
  • Meet with your consultants (folks whose opinions you value) prior to the sale to go over your selections. Your advisors can be owners who have been in this for a long time, your trainer, a bloodstock agent, etc.
  • The day of the sale, spend as much time examining the horses as you can prior to them going through the sale ring. Evaluate their conformation (form to function is vital) and soundness. Are there x-rays on file? Enlist a veterinarian to go over the horse for you. You will make judgements on their temperaments, and be sure check the repository for their genetic disease panel results, which should be on file.
  • Through this process, you will have narrowed down the real potential buys on your list. Have a general idea of the horses’ values prior to their entering the sale ring. Value for horses is very simple. Remember, they are worth what someone is willing to pay! Don’t be surprised in a public auction if a horse you were interested in goes for a lot more or a lot less then you had originally planned. It’s the art of auctions and it takes experience to navigate. It is a thrill for sure!

Those are sound tips whenever you are in the market for a horse. Auctions are a great time to buy, as you get to have your finger on the “pulse” of the market. I’ll be honest here, though, a lot of it just doesn’t make any flippin’ sense at all sometimes. You can have two comparable yearlings in all aspects – one goes for $25,000 and the other goes for $10,000. Why that is, I couldn’t tell you, and I’m a certified equine appraiser! I can’t tell you how many times I have seen Thoroughbred yearlings sell for over $1 million at auction and then never race. The Green Monkey has the highest price of all-time at public auction for a yearling – he sold for $16 million! His race record? A paltry $10,440. I’ve seen plenty of cutters sell for $100,000-plus…coulda, shoulda, woulda. One Time Pepto was purchased by Jeffery Mathews for $380,000 at the NCHA Futurity Sale as a yearling. ABSOULTE BARGAIN!

Remember, opinions are a dime a dozen. Like in conformation – some just get lost as to what that even means. Quality conformation is simple. The horse’s structure is anatomically correct and there is enough bone/muscle to support the job you want. Form to function is thrown around a lot. Racehorse conformation is different than cutting horses. Cutting horses are different than reining horses. Arabians are akin to giraffes – oops! Make sure you are getting a horse that fits the job you want for it. They need good form to function – the right structure to do the job you want.

Pretty is always nice, but at the end of the day, is it necessary for what you want to do? Cutting horses are fine-tuned and selectively bred individuals. The three greatest sires in history: High Brow Cat, Dual Rey and Smart Little Lena. What is something that all three have in common? Good looks?? You can form your own opinion there. Refer to above quote again. But did pretty have anything to do with their abilities or their foals’ abilities to be good cutting horses? Of course it didn’t. Now I love a beautiful horse just like everyone else. It certainly helps when it comes to the market. But in the performance horse game, the judges are not to judge on pretty. I’ve always found reiners to be a beautiful “type” of horse. Perhaps mating selection by breeders are more selective for pretty than performance cutters? It’s hard to say, but it seems that way to me.

Color… Color is a big deal for some. I don’t blame anyone for liking color and making a decision based on color. Your dollars are yours, and you should spend them any way you like. My favorite color personally is green. I want to win (again, the judges aren’t supposed to judge based on color). My dad, well, he sees a palomino in the catalog and he’ll circle that one three times! It’s his Achilles’ heel, so to speak. The world is a better place with more palominos in it!

Vet exams! Totally necessary. You should always do your due diligence. Veterinarians are wonderful, needed and necessary, but problem is that there is so much opinion involved with evaluating a horse. Finding an OCD, spur, divot, flat spot, etc., etc. – what does that mean in the reality of having a show horse? I mean, if the horse isn’t lame, what is the x-ray really showing me? The horse can’t talk to us, so we have to learn how to listen to them in the way they speak to us. Develop a good working relationship with your vet. It will save you a fortune over time. I’ve had perfectly clean x-rays and the horse was a plug. I’ve also had x-rays that would scare anyone away, and that horse was a champion. Horses are like people, some will give their heart and soul no matter what. X-rays and sale catalogs, unfortunately, can’t give us that information.

Evaluating a horse, to me, is really like looking at a piece of art. You can show the exact same piece of art to four different people, and you’ll get exactly four different opinions on it. Remember this dress? (Look it up in Wikipedia under “The Dress!”)

The Dress viral phenomenon

Even in my own household, opinions were opposite. I see the dress as black and blue, my wife sees it as white and gold. I’ve been told there is a scientific reason for that. There is not a scientific reason for opinions on horses, they are just opinions.

To sum this up – I can’t think of any market more fun but also fickler than horses! Surround yourself with people you can trust. Place insurance on every horse that you can’t afford to lose. Anything with a heartbeat will die, and every living creature is subject to sickness or accident. Although, take it from me, if you want to have your horse live forever and never get injured – place insurance on it! That was a joke…. well, sort of.

The horse industry is big business. Tens of millions of dollars will be spent on performance horses over the next three months. Racehorses will be in the billons. Again, surround yourself with people you can trust and enjoy the ride! There is no substitute for horses.


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