Are you in the process of buying a barrel horse? If so, I am so excited for you! There is nothing like getting a brand new horse and seeing where the two of you can go. It opens up so many more doors to opportunity and fun.
That being said, be prepared to open your pocket book nice and wide. With barrel racing becoming more and more popular the cost of a barrel horse has gone up quite a bit in the past few years. Even a prospect with barrel horse bloodlines will set your back several thousand dollars. If you are looking for a seasoned barrel horse, be prepared to spend five figures or more.
Because buying a barrel horse is such a large investment, you need to be sure that you are making the right choice. There would be nothing worse than spending your hard earned money only to find that you had made a horrible pick.
Talk about buyer’s remorse.
Check out this post: 3 mistakes made when buying a barrel horse
You can minimize the risk of this happening to you when you’re looking at buying a barrel horse by asking questions. Lots of questions.
The questions that are included here are numerous and extremely thorough. That’s for good reason. After asking all of these questions, you should be very certain about the animal that you are looking at (let’s assume we are dealing with an honest seller here). The end goal is that you, as a buyer, are able to make an informed decision that is based on facts, not assumptions.
Part way into asking so many questions you may start to feel silly or even annoying. You may start to worry that you are bothering the seller.
I understand this and would feel the exact same way. But please do not let this stop you from asking the remaining questions. Failure to do so could result in a poor purchase on your part.
When buying a barrel horse we want to get things right the first time. Ask lots of questions. Look at lots of horses. Talk to lots of people.
The process may not be quick but, trust me, it will be worth it when you end up buying a barrel horse that is sound, ready for the job, and a good match for you.
Nothing drives me crazier than looking at a Facebook ad for a barrel horse that includes a picture from a barrel race, along with a single statement saying:
I’m selling my good horse so PM if you’re interested.
For those who know the seller, this may be sufficient information. However, for most people, this is not helpful at all. Is it a mare or a gelding? How old? Why are you selling? Price? Location?
For the sake of all of us, if you are selling a horse, please include a bit more information. I understand that you may not want to publicly advertise price, but at least cover the information that the following questions will ask.
When buying a barrel horse, or any horse for that matter, I highly encourage you to ask the following questions. Some are basic and obvious while others are more in depth and are in regards to things that you may not have thought about before. Regardless, they are all worth getting answers to.
Mare, gelding or stud?
Most of us have a personal preference when it comes to our mount’s gender. I personally prefer geldings. Dealing with moody mares during my youth was enough to put a bad taste in my mouth that I still haven’t gotten over.
That being said, there is no real reason to have a personal preference. All genders have been successful in the barrel pen – even at the highest levels of competition.
How tall is the horse?
For some of you, when buying a barrel horse you may not care about height. Ability and age would likely rank above this. However, it never hurts to ask if you are looking at a horse via the internet. In terms of barrel horse success, height does not play a huge part. Both short and tall horses have successfully run at everywhere from Calgary to Las Vegas.
How old is the horse?
Age requirement will be determined by what your goals are for the horse. Is it something you would like to grow with? Are you wanting something that is a good step-up for your daughter? Would you like to load up, go to the next rodeo, and immediately start winning? All of these horses will likely be of different ages.
Specifying what age you are looking for will also aid in narrowing down your selection.
Is the horse registered/what breed is he?
When buying a barrel horse you will likely be looking for either a quarter horse, a Thoroughbred, or a mix of the two. For some people this is more important than it is for others. However, you should know that very few grade horses have made it big in professional barrel racing. At the 2018 NFR, for example, every single barrel horse was registered with the AQHA.
If you are looking at a horse, ask to see their papers. Do they have bloodlines that have done well in the sport?
If amateur rodeos and local jackpots are your plan, you don’t necessarily need to be as concerned with this but it still doesn’t hurt to have a look. Do your research. Does the horse have bloodlines that are known to be hot? Is that something that you can handle?
Can I have a vet check done?
The next question to ask when buying a barrel horse is whether or not you can have a vet check done. If the answer is no, that is a HUGE red flag. In all likelihood they are trying to hide something that would likely make the horse unsaleable.
I highly encourage you to vet check any horse prior to signing on the dotted line. This will ensure that you do not have any surprise soundness or other health issues. Having this done could potentially save you a lot of money going forward.
Can the horse go barefoot/what are its feet like?
The old cowboy saying goes, “No foot, no horse.” As such, having a good look at the hooves prior to buying a barrel horse is a must. I often start by asking if the horse is currently barefoot and, if not, if it is possible for them to go barefoot. It may be the case that the current owner has not let them go barefoot and so does not know, but it does not hurt to ask.
If the horse cannot go barefoot, that is not the end of the world. A good farrier can do amazing things for a horse. And, to be honest, most horses these days cannot go barefoot on rocky ground without being extremely tender-footed.
This is where you need to be knowledgeable or have someone with you that is. Take a look at the horse’s feet and make an assessment.
Does the horse tie quietly?
We have all heard of that barrel horse. He is so quirky that he cannot be left tied to the trailer unsupervised. It would be a wreck waiting to happen.
If this is the case with the horse you are looking at, it would be good information to have. While it may not be a deal breaker for some people, you should know if this is going to be an issue as it can be a severe inconvenience.
Does the horse haul okay?
When buying a barrel horse it is always good to ask how the horse hauls. In all likelihood you will be hauling quite a bit and having a horse that will load and haul okay will be quite important.
Does he load into various trailers okay? Is he okay loading into a trailer that is a bit narrower with a rear tack? Is he okay hauling in a stock trailer with other horses? How does he handle being hauled for several hours? Will he eat and drink on the road?
How does the horse behave around children? Is he kid safe?
If you have kids, or are around kids, and are buying a barrel horse, you will likely need something that will, at the very least, tolerate children being around. Ask the seller how the horse responds to kids, if they know.
My horse, for example, will become very quiet and slow around children. He knows that he needs to be gentle and careful so as not to hurt or scare the kids. Other horses, however, may spook and be otherwise unsafe for kids.
Is the horse up to date on worming, dental work and vaccinations?
I had a neighbor buy quite an expensive pony for his grandchildren last year. He spent more than he had wanted to but he figured that it was worth it for his grandchildren to enjoy the animal. Unfortunately, not even a year after purchasing the pony, it died. It turns out that the horse had not been kept up to date by the prior owner in regards to worming and vaccinations. The pony was taken to the vet in hopes that they could save him but it ended up all being for naught.
All of that money down the drain.
How horrible would this be if you spent a pile of money, fell in love with a horse and then it ended up dead? Asking this question when buying a barrel horse can help prevent this – along with a vet check, of course.
Does the horse require maintenance?
Many barrel horses these day require injections, Lasix, or any number of other maintenance protocols. When buying a barrel horse it is important to be aware if the horse that you are looking at requires anything like that. This is because these can become quite costly very quickly.
How extensively has the horse been hauled?
If you are looking at buying a barrel horse that has been seasoned, you definitely want to be asking this question. You want to ask it in regards to the current/most recent season as well as in regards to over the lifetime of the horse. If you want something that is seasoned, you want them to have been hauled quite a bit. However, at the same time, you don’t want something that has had its legs run off.
When buying a barrel horse you also want to ask where it has been hauled. It doesn’t just matter how often it has been hauled but also where has it been hauled. If you are looking for a rodeo horse but the one that you are looking at has only been to jackpots, this may not be the right pick. Similarly, if you mainly run in buildings, you may not want a horse that has only had experience in big outdoor pens.
Does the horse have any quirks?
This is a bit of a vague question but it needs to be asked when buying a barrel horse. So many barrel horses have little quirks that are unique to just them. Some of the quirks are just silly little things that add personality to the horse. Others, however, have quirks that whoever is riding or handling them needs to be aware of for safety purposes.
Why are you selling the horse?
This is my top question to ask when buying a barrel horse – or any horse for that matter. I want to know how long the current owner has had the horse and why they are selling. For some people it may be as simple as the fact that they do not have time for the horse or need the money that selling the horse will bring. Others may say that the horse is too much or not enough for their needs.
In some cases, the answer to this question may not be something that you want to hear. The horse has terrible alley issues. I’ve been bucked off 50% of the time I ride the horse. He’s just plain mean and I am scared of him.
Regardless of the answer, you need to know what it is.
I will note here that some people may not be honest when answering this question. Give people the benefit of the doubt but always remain skeptical.
What bit does the horse ride in?
A good question to ask is what bit the horse rides in and, additionally, what other bits can the horse ride in. Does the horse run in a different bridle than what it works or warms up in?
While the bit that the horse runs in is a bit irrelevant as a buying consideration it does still matter. Assuming that you buy the horse, this will be very important information.
Knowing this information may give you a bit of an insight into the horse. A horse that just runs in an o-ring snaffle probably has a bit better foundational training than something that runs in a severe gag bit with a tie-down, etc.
Can I ride the horse a few times before I make a decision?
When I bought my current horse I went out and rode him two or three times before I made the decision to purchase him. I wanted to get a good feel for him and whether or not we would make a good match. When buying a barrel horse that is anything more than a prospect, you will want to do this as well. Many people will not allow you to make a run but, at the very least, will allow you to ride the horse around an arena.
How often does the horse have to be worked?
There are some horses out there that can go without being rode or handled at all and will still be the exact same horse four months later when you saddle them up. On the other end of the spectrum there are horses that can’t hardly be left a day without being a handful the next ride.
Ask the seller how often the horse needs to be worked. If it is more than you can realistically maintain, find another horse.
Is the horse currently legged up?
If you are buying a barrel horse so that you can immediately enter, then you will want something that is legged up and physically prepared to do so. In the case where the seller is selling because they do not have time for the horse, then that horse may not be legged up. As such, you may want to either A) look for another horse, or B) take into account the fact that, if you buy this horse, you will need at least a few weeks before you can compete.
What is the horse’s training history?
Who started the horse and who patterned him? Has the horse gone through many owners up to this point? Is he fancy broke? What other disciplines is the horse trained in? Can you rope off of him or do poles?
These are other important questions that I ask. Personally, I want something that is fancy broke. That is why my current horse came from a cutting trainer. I wanted something that I knew had a solid foundation that we could fall back on and, in the event that barrels didn’t pan out, we could go do something else.
Regardless of what you are looking for, a barrel horse needs a solid foundation and needs to be able to do various basic maneuvers in order to be successful. Check out this post where I explain what your horse should be able to do before heading to the barrels.
Is he off the track?
Many barrel horses are off the track for the obvious reason that they are fast. If this is the case with the horse you are looking at, you need to ask some questions regarding that.
What was the horses running record? Did he live up to expectations? Why is he no longer on the track? Did he break well from the gate? Was there any gate issues?
What level of rider has been using the horse?
For those of you who are experienced, this question will not matter so much. However, for those of you who aren’t quite as experienced, you should know the answer to this question. When buying a barrel horse you should be looking for something that can be ridden by someone like you are someone only slightly more experienced (so as to push you out of your comfort zone a bit).
What is the horse’s winning record?
When buying a barrel horse that is seasoned you will likely want something that has at least some sort of a winning record. If you want to be competitive, you need a horse that can win and has proven as much.
That being said, if the horse is being sold because it’s not a good fit, you may be able to look past a recent losing streak.
What is the horse like going into the competition arena?
It’s classic barre horse activity. Going into the alleyway at a barrel race the horse is prancing, zig-zagging this way and that. He rears up a couple of times before finally being let loose into the arena. Some barrel racers can handle this. It just comes with the sport. For others, this would absolutely wreck their nerves.
When looking at buying a barrel horse ask the seller how the horse handles going into the arena. If possible, ask to see some videos of the horse going in.
Is the horse a free runner or more of a push style?
We all have our preference in regards to push style and free running horses and, if we are honest, our individual riding styles are usually more suited to one over the other. For example, if you tend to be a more quiet rider, a free runner would be more your style.
What feed are they on?
Supplements are expensive and, if you have a horse that requires a lot of them, it can add up extremely quickly. When buying a barrel horse it is important to ask what the horse is used to being on. Beyond your regular hay, grass and mineral, what does the horse require? Are those additional items a necessity?
Has she ever been bred?
If you are buying a mare, you may want to ask if she has ever been bred. If so, how long ago was that? While this may not impact the horse’s ability to perform, it is useful information to have.
How is the horse with other horses?
You will likely be bringing your new barrel horse home to other horses. As such, it is important that a horse, at the very least, have somewhat of an agreeable personality. There is nothing more inconvenient than having to keep horses separate – especially if your corral and stalling system is limited.
Of course, you won’t know how things will go until you bring the horse home to your current horses but it doesn’t hurt to ask. If the horse has a tendency of being aggressive to other horses, you may want to pass.
How does he handle different ground?
If you are purchasing a rodeo horse, this is extremely important. If you know that you will mostly be riding in smaller pens that tend to have harder ground, you likely won’t want to purchase something that has only run in ground that is soft and deep. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they won’t be able to handle the harder ground, but there is a risk. At the very least, there would be a learning curve for them in developing the skills to handle such ground.
Finish Line Thoughts
Of course, there are many more questions that you could be asking when buying a barrel horse. In fact, these questions posed above raise many additional questions. For example, the barefoot question brings up all sorts of questions about feet: does he stand for the farrier, do his feet crack easily, etc. That being said, the above is a great start.
If all of this has made you feel overwhelmed, I highly suggest that you seek the help of someone experienced that you trust to help you make a purchasing decision. They will be much better prepared to make the correct decision when buying a barrel horse for your specific needs.
And, remember, it’s always a #gooddaytoride.
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