The Rise of Futurities: Talented young horses are a driver for the growing horse market
Anyone even casually involved in the horse industry is aware of the massive growth in the market. Horses once priced in the low-to-mid four figures are easily clearing five figures at every avenue for sales.
Auction barns, consignment sales, invitational sales and private treaties have all seen a rise in prices across the board for every class of horse.
While there are multiple reasons this may be the case, there is no denying the rise of futurity and other aged events across the Western industry have been a major driver in the price of horses in recent years.
With a spotlight on the Western industry as a whole, aged events have been given the spotlight in areas where they have not been as popular in the past.
Finding a niche
Jay and Lindsay Wadhams started the American Rope Horse Futurity Association (ARHFA) nearly 18 years ago with the goal of promoting growth in the roping horse industry.
According to their website, “ARHFA was formed to bring attention to futurity-aged horses in the same way the cow horse, cutting and barrel industries had already capitalized on.”
The Wadhams were also the first to track earnings of competitors in their events through Q-data.
“When we started, we were doing a few shows here and there, and we put on the Battle in the Saddle Roping for the American Quarter Horse Association in Oklahoma City,” Jay notes. “When they moved the snaffle bit futurity to Fort Worth, Texas, Dean Tufton with DT Quarter was able to talk them into having a roping event as well, and we were able to run the event.”
“This is how our events have evolved,” he adds. “Now, everyone has got their spin on different futurities and incentives. But, it has without a doubt, changed the horse business.”
Jay notes many of the incentives associated with aged events have made horses worth a lot more money than ever before. The full-circle nature of the horse industry means this has applied to other cow-bred horses as well and created an influx of former cutters and cow horses in the roping horse world.
“I don’t like calling horses rejects because they don’t fit into a certain event,” he says. “It takes such a special horse to perform at a high level in those types of events, and just like people, not everyone is going to be an NBA star but they find something they are good at. Fortunately, a lot of these horses excel in roping.”
The Wadhams now reside in the heart of the team roping business in Arizona, where Jay says the horse market is as high as ever.
“Everyone is always looking for a good horse, and trainers can make money on young horses by getting them seasoned and ready for people to win jackpots,” he explains.
Jay believes the mix of both judged and timed events in roping futurities are further showing how good horses can be.
“When we take horses with winnings in my events, buyers know they are getting a well-rounded, good horse,” he says. “If they are acting poorly in the box or in the pen, the judges are docking their score accordingly.”
“There is money to be won on these young horses, and I believe they are driving the market in the direction it’s going,” he adds. “It can be hard for young horses to go out and compete with older, more seasoned horses, and it costs a lot of money to enter.”
He continues, “It’s hard to want to take colts to big ropings and know a kid could enter on a seasoned horse and outrope you. Aged events level the playing field and give young horses a place to shine.”
Necessity breeds innovation
Emily Parry, executive director of the Colorado Reined Cow Horse Association (CRCA), believes the popularity of aged horse events has to do with the rising cost of older horses.
“During COVID-19, we saw a lot of professionals outside of the horse industry finally have the time to pursue their passions, including those centered on horses,” she says. “So, a gelding that would have cost $5,000 in 2019, was all the sudden worth quadruple this amount due to the demand for finished horses.”
“Older horses just got crazy, and I think there was a lot of trickle down to younger horses,” she says. “Not everyone could afford to buy finished horses, so there was a lot more need to develop younger horses.”
CRCA has always had classes catered to younger horses, but the popularity of these classes has only grown. Beginning with their Firecracker Show in Douglas, they will be featuring a developing futurity class for young horses who may be behind.
“This is a concept we came up with at our winter meeting, and we are really excited to roll this out in Douglas in July,” she says. “This allows horses who might be behind in their three-year-old year to work on specific classes in more of a jackpot format.”
Brooke Howell of South Dakota is no stranger to the rodeo world but has dove head first into the world of futurities in recent years following an internship with Bill Myers Performance Horses.
“I was not familiar with the futurity world before, and I’ve never rode horses bred like that,” she says. “While working for Myers, I was able to learn a lot about futurities and all of the incentives attached to them. Paying into these incentives is really driving the market up for young horses.”
“For these offspring to be able to run for that much money at such a young age is a huge deal. Even scrolling through Facebook sale pages, a person will notice some people won’t even entertain buying colts that aren’t paid into the big futurities,” she adds.
Although a lot of big futurities require horses be of a certain lineage, Brooke notes open futurities, such as Royal Crown, are great opportunities for everyday-bred horses to compete for big money at a young age.
“One of the best things to come out of these events is the improved quality of horses,” she says. “There is incentive to breed to proven bloodlines, and people aren’t just breeding to breed. They are doing the research because they want higher-quality horses. The rodeo world has evolved a lot and it is so competitive, so having the edge with horses is incredibly important.”
While there is a lot of good coming from the incentives of futurities, Brooke sees how there could be issues associated with the cost and sheer amount of futurity events popping up in the industry.
“There are only so many mares to breed, and people can only afford to pay into so many of these programs as they can get really expensive. In Ruby Buckle, for example, owners have to pay into the incentive the minute the horse is born until they are old enough to compete, which can get expensive for people who breed a lot of mares,” she says.
She continues, “When we get to a point where there are too many incentives, it won’t hold much meaning and won’t be special anymore. A good stud will always sell breedings. I think events with good, added money are decently affordable and will continue to be affordable, while helping to campaign good horses and raise their value.”
Callie Hanson is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.