Riding

5 Tips on Finding Sleepers, Part 2

Your best speed prospect might be right under your nose.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

Your next speed prospect may be out of the cow horse pen or off the ranch. Journal photo.

This is the second in a two-part series. Want to review Part 1?

“Sleeper,” in terms of horseflesh, means something different to almost everyone. In general, it’s a horse whom other people have overlooked and who can often be purchased inexpensively. Here are more tips on finding your diamond in the rough:

1. Take over someone’s bad fit.

Dena Milner is an equine marketing specialist and a barrel horse trainer. She raised FM Radio, Lions Share Of Fame and Muddi Gras, who have earned more than $60,000 combined for their new owners in barrel races. Dena says her passion is training horses from her Texas home for others to excel on. Some of her marketing clients include the Four Sixes Ranch, Heritage Place, Carol Rose Quarter Horses and Haythorn Land and Cattle Co.

Dena has a novel approach to finding sleepers: Take over a horse that is a bad fit for someone else. In fact, short of stalking, she suggests that you eyeball horse and rider combinations during a period of time at different barrel races to get a feel for the horse.

If a horse and rider simply don’t fit because maybe the rider needs a push-type horse and she has a free runner (and free runners fit you to a T), it might be a chance for you to talk to that owner and suggest buying the horse, which could be a solution to her problems, as well.

Did you know you can get rewards just from spending time with your horse? Join the AQHA Horseback Riding Program and start earning prizes today!

“One of the main things that I find is that not every horse fits every rider,” Dena says. “And a sleeper, to me, and it’s different for everyone, is finding a horse that someone else has and for some reason that combination doesn’t work. You have to work as a team, and you have to be compatible, with a lot of communication. A horse and rider combo may not be immediate. You can go to a show and watch a nervous rider struggling with a horse that needs a quiet rider or a rider with a big horse who really needs a smaller horse. A novice horse with a novice rider is a tough combination to make work, the horse is learning and so is the rider.”

And that, Dena says, is your opportunity to get a horse that may fit your riding style. Which, if it works right, will allow you to go on and make a winner out of that horse, or at the very least, get more from that horse than the current rider.

Some owners are vested in making it work with the horse they have and might not welcome your advances, but others, Dena says, are glad to see that someone is interested in their horse and they do want to sell and go on to find something that is a better fit for them. Dena calls it a win-win situation.

Another type of horse-rider combination that rarely works is the person working full-time who buys a horse that needs a full-time rider or a lot of training.

“As a horse owner, you have to take into consideration your lifestyle,” Dena says. “That means that a young horse that needs miles can’t just sit in a pen.”

Another mistake that Dena sees riders making is that the rider wants to get into a different “type” of horse, say a racing-bred horse vs. a cow-bred horse, and many times that rider doesn’t understand the difference in mentality between the two. The stride is different, the mentality is different, the time to mature is different, and also the time needed to really get a horse broke. If a rider works, has a family and lives in the middle of a city with two acres, it’s probably not a good fit to get anything less than an older, been-there-done-that horse.

“That’s a hard thing to realize,” Dena says. “People often see the big goal, but they don’t see the small steps it takes to get from Point A to Point B and the struggles it takes to keep them there. The main thing I tell clients is that there is always something to learn from every horse you ride, every person you meet and every situation you find yourself in.”

There are plenty of ways to earn hours for the AQHA Horseback Riding Program. Join today to start earning rewards for trail riding, schooling, ranch work, ground work and more!

2. Look in other disciplines for your horse.

Marlene McRae of Kerrville, Texas, is a WPRA world champion barrel racer, a two-time Olympic gold medal winner, a four-time reserve world champion barrel racer, a five-time Calgary Stampede champion and has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo at least 10 times. As a trainer, she has ridden more than 200 horses to a winning career. Anyone who has ever talked with Marlene for a minute or two knows that she doesn’t cut corners and she doesn’t mince words.

“Every horse that I’ve won $100,000 or more on has come from the working cow pen,” Marlene says. “I don’t really have favorite bloodlines. I don’t care. If they are athletes with conformation, I don’t care how they are bred.”

Marlene allows that bloodlines do give her a bit of an idea of a horse’s personality before riding. For example, she has had good success with Doc O’Lena and Doc’s Hickory horses, “but there are too many different bloodlines to be able to say specifically. I don’t want to be close-minded and created that close-mindedness in others.

While bloodlines do matter heavily in futurity athletes, rodeo horses are a lot like rodeo athletes: Results are what matter most. Marlene has taken horses from the roping pens, cutting pens, working cow horse pens, reining pens, off the ranch - you name it, she’ll get a good prospect that is already well broke and turn it into a winning barrel racer.

“In rodeo, it comes down to conformation for longevity,” Marlene says. “It matters how tough they are and if they have a good mental disposition. The bottom line is, can they play the game?”