SJ Ranch Horse Sale









Jim Keyes, Range and Livestock Scientist, Utah State University

With my part time vocation as an auctioneer, I get to be involved in a number of horse sales throughout the year.  I also get numerous phone calls from folks who are looking to buy horses, many of them first time horse owners.  Most of the time it’s very amusing to have a conversation with one of these potential equestrians.  The common request goes something like this, “I want to buy a three year old horse that is bomb proof for my five year old daughter to learn to ride with.”


They approach buying a horse the same way they would buy an automobile.  They want something fairly new, with only a few miles, and will last them a long time.  When I tell them that a horse of that type is probably not a good fit for their child I usually get one of two responses.  It’s either, “Well, thanks I’ll try somewhere else,” or “Please tell me what I should be looking for.”  I like the second response because it gives me an opportunity to educate them a little, and maybe prevent them from getting somebody hurt.


As all experienced horse people are aware, in most all cases, the more miles a horse has the better it will be.  It will have seen more things, experienced more situations, and have most of the kinks worked out.


As a beef producer your ranch horses are the only tools you have that don’t depreciate every year.  Your tractors, machinery, and buildings all depreciate every year. Ranch horses only appreciate as they spend more hours in the work force.


I manage a horse sale every July, and a big part of what we sell are authentic ranch horses in their early to mid-teens that are getting a little old to make a big circle.  They still have a lot of life a head of them and make fantastic mounts for people who enjoy trail riding and other forms of equine recreation.


To really appreciate in value, however, a horse needs a job.  I know ranchers who have horses, but will opt for a four wheeler to do a task if at all possible.  That does not make good horses.  Whether it’s moving cattle, checking fence, or just heading up to the mailbox, it all gives a horse experience.


If the country is rough or the cows a little nervous or unsure of where they are headed, a four wheeler can actually be a detriment.  It doesn’t take a cow very long to figure out that she can out maneuver one.


Stan Weaver of Weaver Quarter Horses in Big Sandy, Montana expressed at the recent Cattle Industry Convention in Tampa Florida that a man on foot or a four-wheeler will cause extra stress to cattle.  He said, “Cattle respect horses.”


My dad told me about hiring on to a ranch a few years back where the owner was partial to a four wheeler.  They were moving cows through a gate during one of the owner’s visits.  One old sister decided that she was not going to go.  After several attempts my dad started to take his rope down.  The owner screamed, “Don’t rope her.  That will just make her wild!”  He then proceeded to chase her around and around on the four wheeler.  Finally the owner lost his temper, rammed the cow, knocked her down, and then drove the four wheeler up her rib cage.  (Of course none of this would make a cow wild.)  My dad said he just looked at the whole scene in disgust, rode back to camp, rolled his bed, and left the ranch.


Good solid ranch horses can be a valuable asset to any ranch and a potential source of income.  These horses don’t have to be the kind that will get down in the ground to cut a cow or be able to hold a 1700 lb. bull down while you get off and doctor it.  They just need to be experienced, and they only get that through constant use.


In the past, when a horse needed to be retired, many ranches would just take them to the local sale barn and sell them by the pound to an order buyer.  Times have changed.  Authentic ranch horses can be of great value if the time is taken to market them correctly.

Ranch horse sales are being held all over the country, and potential horse buyers have recognized that these sales are great places to find the older, experienced horses.   The folks involved in recreational horse activities are generally more affluent, and are not afraid to spend a lot of money on a decent animal.  They want something that is safe and reliable.


A good ranch horse may not be able to perform any skill at a high level, but it can perform almost every skill at an acceptable level.  They are trustworthy, proficient, and generally have a huge heart.


The best horse we ever had at our place started on the racetrack, went to the feedlot, and eventually ended up with us.  He was lazy, but he could outrun any other horse.  He wasn’t extremely athletic, but you could open a gate on him.  He never did a sliding stop or a 1 1/2 point rollback, but I could rope anything on him and we used him to pick up bucking horses.


Most important of all, he taught all of my children to ride.  I trusted him with what was most important to me. About the time he hit twenty he started going downhill.  No matter what we did for him he continued to lose weight.  I finally asked my friend to put him down because there was no way I could do it.  It had to be done.


We’ve all had those kinds of horses, and they will live in our memories just like cherished family members.  They are ranch horses and they have been our partners in how we make our living.


Most cowboys and ranchers have got to have younger horses coming along all the time or pretty soon you end up with a bunch of older horses that can’t do the job.  Instead of wasting those older horses by just taking them to the sale barn or even just turning them out, share them.  Sell them to someone who is looking for a “bombproof” recreation horse and will give them the type of home they deserve.


Use the fact that ranch horses appreciate in value over time to help your bottom line.  Have a goal to market these horses when the time comes.  They become another product that can help keep you in business.


They are also a source of pride.  They become what you make them.  You hold their destiny in your hands.  Stan Weaver said, “Every time you use a ranch horse, you add value to them.”  He’s right!