Ranch horses that will make solid roping horses are increasing in value, and the trend is likely to continue. Here’s why:
By Lesli Krause Groves
Samuel Luchsinger is a rancher and Dave Hull claimed to be a pig farmer* when they were interviewed in Las Vegas last December. The two Okies had just won $348,000 by roping four steers.
That’s right: $348,000. Or, as it would look on a check, Three-hundred-forty-eight thousand & 00/100 dollars. “Life-changing money,” the announcer called it.
By their sizes and the availability of advertising space on their long-sleeved shirts, they looked more like two bulldoggers than big-time ropers. They are classified as “average;” Hull a #4, Luchsinger a #6.
Stories like Hull’s and Luchsinger’s continue to boost the roping horse market. Like most of their peers at World Series of Team Roping Finale XI at the South Point they don’t aspire to the pro ranks. There were seven divisions of Finale XI, with a total payout of $10,468,000 and another $250,000 in prizes.
As the announcer held the mic and Hull recounted what happened in Vegas, no one was thinking he should have his number raised. They were probably thinking, “Hey, that could be me!”
Spinning a steer two days earlier, Hull slipped a stirrup and ended up on the ground, then got clotheslined by the rope between the horse and steer.
In the short round of the #10 Finale, Hull and Luchsinger entered in fourth, knowing they had a good shot at big bucks. But as the flag dropped on their 8.1-second run, Hull wasn’t counting his money. He was thinking about the fingers caught in his dally. (They survived.)
Hull’s victory lap looked like it might turn into several, as his excited horse bolted out of control around the arena. “I thought I was going to be the first guy to die before he got his check,” Hull admitted to the announcer.
His partner reminded Hull that his runaway horse had also helped earn half of that $348,000 check.
Fueling the demand for roping horses
Team roping took off in the 1990s with the United States Team Roping Association and their number system, which classified ropers by their skill levels.
Ranch families had enjoyed team roping as a social competition for generations. But beginners were basically donating their jackpot money to the veterans. The number system leveled the playing field – or, in this case, the arena.
Both Hull and Luchsinger seek advice from their friend Charles Pogue. The 15-time NFR qualifier is a partner in Total Team Roping, the website and tv program dedicated to coaching team ropers at every level. Pogue says that finding a horse that might be capable of taking you to the NFR is getting more and more expensive. A professional roper doesn’t have a lot of time to develop and season a roping horse, so they look among the lower-numbered ropers’ horses for prospects that might be able to move up.
“These days, the lower-numbered ropers, in many cases, are roping at a bigger check than the pros,” said Pogue. “Not that long ago, guys like Samuel (Luchsinger) couldn’t really justify turning down $20,000 for his horse, because he probably wasn’t going to win that much in a year’s time. But now he can.”
“Guys-like-Samuel” – as in, not rolling in dough – are plentiful. But “Guys-like-Samuel,” as in ranch cowboys who can give a horse a full-time job, have helped develop a lot of roping horse superstars.
Rick Weber of Valentine, NE, says, at least where he lives, there’s a lot fewer guys like Samuel than there were when the team roping boon began.
What might affect supply?
“Modernization in ranching, or let’s call it motorization, has completely changed the horse industry where we live,” said Weber. “We’re right in the middle of cow country, and I’d say less than half the ranches around here use horses on a daily basis.”
There’s no formula to produce a roping horse superstar. But from stories that you hear, a lot of good horses only got that way because someone kept riding them despite their shortcomings, sometimes out of pride and sometimes out of necessity.
“It doesn’t always work,” said Weber. “There’s been one or two I don’t know if Billy Etbauer could have ridden. But a full-time job and wet saddle blankets make a world of difference. However, they just aren’t going to get that kind of riding any more,” he added. “And we’re keeping that in mind as we’re breeding these horses. You’re chances are better if their demeanor’s better. We believe the next wave in the horse market is going to be team roping horses.”
He admits he and his wife, Missy, started breeding horses because it was her passion, but they soon figured out they needed a focused program to be able to sustain it. They’ve learned about roping horses while keeping their son, Reece, now 20, mounted. (He must be mounted pretty well as he filled his permit at his first PRCA rodeo, when he was 18.)
With less demand for ranch horses in their region, Weber says most breeding programs focus on either speed horses or cutting and reining types. The speed horses tend to be big, with big motors, fast but not necessarily quick, and no “cow sense.” The cutting and reining types trend much smaller, quick but not necessarily fast, with lighter bone and muscle than a ranch horse.
Neither type is naturally suited to be a roping horse. “It would be like taking a greyhound to work sheep, or taking a border collie to hunt coyotes,” said Weber.
Analyzing the market
Does anyone know of any horse-related event with a purse greater than the $10 million paid out at the World Series of Team Roping Finale XI last December? Denny Gentry, the event’s founder, has only found one: Thoroughbred racing’s Breeders Cup series.
Unlike horse racing, there’s not a lot of data available to evaluate roping horses or their earnings. There’s no big yearling auctions that post sales figures, and even if they did, it would take several years to determine which ones were worth a pinch. Horses don’t have set sticker prices because they don’t roll off an assembly line, but $100,000 for a great one no longer has shock value.
Though many of today’s roping horses have been registered, or are eligible for registration, ropers historically don’t show much interest in their papers. If you look back at all the AQHA/PRCA Heading or Heeling Horses of the Year since 1989, you will understand why. Typically, you have to go back several generations to find common ancestors (Driftwood is a big one), and most of those would now be more than 70 years old.
Numbers are tricky things, and it’s impossible to know how closely the number of American Quarter Horses registered correlates to the potentially great team roping horses of the future, or what they will be worth. But Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and Denny Gentry would probably agree, the market looks bullish for horses that catch steers.