If you’re coming to Arizona to find a rope horse, you’ll be a kid in a candy store no matter where you look. Horse sales are more than an auction here—the big ones are a social gathering at the center of the team roping world. From sales designed by women for women to places to buy NFR-caliber prospects, Arizona is the epicenter of the horse-buying universe in the winter months.
“There’s a lot of opportunity to buy a good one,” Steve Friskup, leading auctioneer, said. “The whole northern half of America congregates in Wickenburg, as well as Arizonans and Texans. You have a huge amount of people gathered there for one sport. You have a lot of professionals who’ve now chosen to make a living selling horses for professionals.”
Friskup equates going to The Horse Sale at Rancho Rio in Wickenburg to going to a Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction.
“If you’re a primo car buyer, you go to a Barrett-Jackson auction,” Friskup said. “It’s the same way with ropers. You can expect to take in an overload of your favorite sport.”
Most horses for sale in Arizona are marketed far and wide, allowing buyers to make a more informed choice.
“It’s no longer a three-minute decision,” Friskup said. “Most everybody who does their homework has a pretty good idea of what they want when they get there. We don’t talk a lot of people into buying horses they don’t want. You can find a horse to fit just about any caliber of roper around there somewhere. The lower numbered ropers would find a lot of opportunity there. In Arizona, the centerpiece horse is still the team roping horse and that’s what makes the sale.”
Don’t Get Horse Traded!
If you don’t see a horse in the sale catalogs that suit, there are plenty of top hands across the state willing to part with a good one or two for the right price. Here are the dos and don’ts of buying from a private seller, according to NFR headers and Arizona regulars Dustin Bird and Tom Richards.
• Do make sure you’re buying a horse for what you need him to do, not for what NFR-caliber ropers do. Ropers buy a horse because he works good for somebody else, but you don’t necessarily need that sort of horse.
• Don’t stress the vet check if you’ve seen the horse and know he’s what you want. It’s a good idea to get one so you know what you’re going to deal with, but it doesn’t need to be a deal breaker.
• Do watch the horse at a roping to see how he acts.
• Do take a horse to try for a few days. You’ll see so much more.
• Don’t get forced into making up your mind too fast. It shouldn’t be a quick decision. If they’ll only let you run two steers and then want you to make up your mind, that’s not a good idea.
• Do make sure the horse will stay solid for more than four or five steers in a row.
• Don’t get in a rush. A lot of people come here in the winter thinking they’ll sell their horses for a ton of money, so you can’t get in a rush when you see a fancy horse with a big-named guy riding it.
• Do know who you’re buying from. There are pretty reputable people you can buy from, so don’t be afraid to ask around.
• Do consider a vet check. I vet check my horses. I’ve taken my medicine a couple times so now it’s worth it to get it done. And before I sell a high-dollar horse, I will vet check him myself. I want pictures. I want to know what I’m advertising.
• Do ask to try a horse for a few days. If I try a horse for three or four days, and I’ve run quite a few on him, and he’s not on bute or ace, I’ll take a chance. But it’s hard to buy one in one day and know.
Art of the Cowgirl Elite Ranch Horse Sale
Date: Jan. 24–26, 2020
Location: Corona Ranch; Laveen Village, Arizona
High Seller: $30,000
Top 10 Average: $18,500
Number of Horses: 18
Preview Details: Each horse will have an allotted time with cattle to work, rope or both. Horses will also compete in the Clarke Butte Ranch All Women Ranch Rodeo or in the World’s Greatest Horsewoman event. Horses will be available the entire weekend for potential buyers to view and ride, and a vet is available on-site for any vet checks and x-rays.
Auctioneer: Curt Pate and Norma Sanders
More Info: This sale includes money earners in ranch rodeos, cow horse, ranch horse versatility and various rodeo disciplines, as well as ranch and trail horses. Most horses come from handy women of the West. The sale is part of the larger Art of the Cowgirl event, which includes an art show, clinics and fellowship.
Hershberger Horse Sale
Date: Feb. 8, 2020
Location: Double T Arena; Litchfield Park, Arizona
High Seller: $36,000
Top 10 Average: $27,050
Number of Horses: 110
Preview Details: Jackpot team roping the day before, followed by a second preview day-of in roping, cutting and cow horse.
Auctioneer: Joel White
More Info: The Hershberger Performance Horse Sale, in its 15 year in 2020, offers horses from across the Western United States and Canada, consigned by top trainers like Ryan VonAhn, Mozaun McKibben and Casey Hicks. One lucky buyer receives a Corriente trophy saddle, and the high-volume buyer and seller and high-seller receive trophy rifles as well.
Date: February 22, 2020
Location: Rancho de los Caballeros; Wickenburg, Arizona
High Seller: $88,000
Top 10 Average: $46,250
Number of Horses: 50
Preview Details: In-arena preview at 10:00 a.m. day of sale
Auctioneer: Steve Friskup
More Info: Touted as “Not your daddy’s horse sale,” Cowgirl Cadillacs features gentle, classy, well broke horses offered exclusively by female consignors. The three-day event is held at Rancho de los Caballeros, a guest ranch established in 1948 that sits on 20,000 acres of the High Sonoran Desert. Legendary stock contractor Ike Sankey manages the sales, and it’s hosted by Cowgirl magazine. The day prior to the sale, Cowgirl Cadillacs hosts a welcome reception for buyers and sellers as well as a prime rib dinner.
The Horse Sale at Rancho Rio
Date: March 6, 2020
Location: Rancho Rio; Wickenburg, Arizona
High Seller: $85,000
Top 10 Average: $47,300
Number of Horses: 60
Preview Details: While most consignors have their horses in Arizona for buyers to watch at jackpots well in advance of the sale, The Horse Sale at Rancho Rio hosts its official preview the day before, allowing consignors to run four steers for buyers on even cattle at Rancho Rio.
Auctioneer: Steve Friskup
More Info: Last year, The Horse Sale at Rancho Rio moved more than $1.1 million in rope horses in its fifth edition. AQHA World Champion Brad Lund consigned the top horse for the second year in a row, and Laurie Mills of Wyoming’s Mills Livestock Company bought the top two high sellers. The Horse Sale is held in conjunction with the NTR’s National Finals, which paid out more than $500,000 in cash and awarded massive prize packages, including trucks and trophy saddles.