My family is four generations deep in cowboys, and until the current one—my roping sons—none of us had ever paid enough for a horse to even have a conversation about horse insurance. My grandfather was a world-class horseman who trained hall of fame working cow horses. He started his hands-on, ranch-based program the day they hit the ground. So if they even had horse insurance back then, it wouldn’t have made sense, because there was virtually no investment to protect. Horses also weren’t worth what they are today.
The family tradition of starting from scratch continues, but times have certainly changed. The good ones are pretty pricey and in high demand. Even the prospects can come with a hefty price tag. The rodeo and roping boom has raised the stakes on the value of roping horses exponentially. The loss of a good one is devastating enough without having to worry about how to come up with the money to replace one if you can even find another that suits you.
We’ve struggled with an occasional loss over the years, but only recently had the heartbreaking loss of a great one. The only small silver lining of such a sad situation was working with someone who savvies how much good horses mean to their cowboy counterparts. Wrangler National Finals Rodeo tie-down roper Matt Shiozawa’s wife, Ali, helps us with our horse insurance. We like doing business within the rodeo family, and she’s been a joy to work with “in sickness and in health.”
Ali, who’s a horse insurance producer for Texas-based Plains Horizon Equine Insurance, also handles the horse insurance needs of 2018 NFR header and tie-down roper Rhen Richard. “I’ve been friends with her and Matt for a long time,” said Utah native Rhen. “If I can do business with somebody I’m friends with, I’d always rather do that. I like knowing the people I deal with, and Ali gets the world we live in, because it’s her world, too. She’s going to go to bat for us when it’s fair.”
Ali answers to “Matt’s wife” and “Stella, Lu Lu and Ivory’s mom.” She didn’t originally plan to put her master’s degree in athletic administration to work in the horse-insurance business.
“When Matt and I got married in 2007, he suggested I get my property and casualty insurance license, so that I could work and still travel with him and be on the road,” she said. “He thought that would be an easy way for me to continue to travel with him and still make a little bit of money on the side.”
They got married in April 2007. By June 2007, she’d earned that license.
“Like any business start-up, it can be slow at times and you have years where you wonder,” said Mrs. Shazam, who lives with her family in Idaho and estimates that 90 percent of her clients are rodeo-related, from junior rodeo families to full-time professionals. “I work, but I still consider myself a stay-at-home mom, and everything I do is for my kids and my family. We got married during Logandale, so this year we took the girls out of school for a week and had a family week at Logandale. I set up a makeshift office in the trailer. As long as I have my laptop, my phone and an internet connection, I can roll.”
Rhen’s #1 head horse right now is a 13-year-old buckskin he calls Festus. He rode an 8-year-old bay by the name of Apple during the California spring run this year. How important are great horses to what cowboys do?
“They’re everything,” Rhen said. “85 percent of your success comes from your horse. The rest is you and what you draw. The good ones cost a lot. Horse insurance can seem expensive, too, but it seems like if you insure one, it’s a lot less likely that something bad will happen. The horror stories happen when someone’s good horse goes out and he didn’t have him insured. The best-case scenario is having that insurance and never collecting on it. We insure our good ones with the hope and intention that we will never have to collect.”
Like anyone who’s owned horses for long, Rhen’s been through the good, the bad and the ugly. His head horse Khadafy had to be put down after shattering his sesamoid bone at a jackpot a few years ago. He lost his good heel horse Rascal last fall.
“I almost always insure them for what I paid for them,” Rhen said. “But I have one now that I bought young for not a lot of money as a yearling that I made the Finals on last year (his calf horse, Patron, who’s 8 now) that’s an exception. Between maintenance, vet bills and my time, he’d be very expensive to replace. Time is money, and if I charged for my time, I’d easily have $70,000 to $80,000 into him.
“But the fact is, I couldn’t replace any of the horses I own with what they’re insured for. Even if you had a blank check you can’t find and replace the great ones.”
This conversation applies equally to recreational ropers who make up the majority of team ropers today. “Grey’s Anatomy” star James Pickens, who recently held his 10 annual James Pickens Jr. Foundation Charity Roping during the Clovis (California) Rodeo, competes in World Series ropings every chance he gets around his busy Hollywood day job. He insures his horses through Kentucky-based R.J. Ketch Equine.
“I’ve talked to ropers who had devastating losses when their horse died,” James said. “I’m a proactive person, so I insure mine so I don’t have to come out of my pocket with that replacement expense if something terrible happens.
“I have two horses—Reno’s 16 and Moose is 14—that have been really good to me. They’re pretty much push-button, which makes them perfect for me. As a guy who doesn’t get to rope all the time, I need a horse I can really count on, that I’m confident in because he takes care of me. I’m not 20 years old, where if I get bucked off I’ll jump right up. At my age, it’d be more of a splat than a bounce. I don’t want or need a horse that breathes fire. These horses are priceless in terms of my safety and my success.”
So he pays the insurance premiums to protect his precious investments and partners.
“A good horse gives you your best chance at getting to the pay window,” Pick said. “And the good ones are really hard to find, because everyone’s looking for them. Horses like mine that are not high maintenance are very valuable. A lot of guys are looking for that same horse, and they’re expensive because of that.”
Horse insurance agents are like everyone else. The best people make the best ones.
“I tell people all the time that if they have questions, they should call a professional,” Ali said. “Don’t just go off of hearsay, because there are a lot of misconstrued ideas about horse insurance. Call someone. It doesn’t have to be me. But you can call me, even if you don’t do business with me. Base your business decisions on the facts. These horses are irreplaceable to the people who count on them. They’re also investments, and most investments need to be protected.”