The horse market can be scary for the everyday buyer. Two-time World Champion Matt Sherwood joined forces with businessman Troy Goeckeritz to create a solution to the uncertainty of the horse market: Gold Buckle Horse Sales. Gold Buckle Horse Sales began nearly two years ago with a process to take the guesswork out of finding the right horse.
Chelsea Shaffer, host of The Score and editorial director of The Team Roping Journal, met with Sherwood and Goeckeritz to discuss the ins and outs of Gold Buckle Horse Sales.
Q: Matt, talk about what the horse buying process looked like when he started in this team roping business 20 or 30 years ago?
M: Then, horses were not near as expensive on a dollar wise—it still felt like a lot at the time. A $5,000-$10,000 horse when I was young was a great horse and was pretty expensive. And you were in a lot more of a kind of buyer beware market. You would go try a horse and go, “I like it.” I don’t remember back in the day taking horses to competition and riding them and keeping them for a week or two and having, those luxuries. I’d go try it and either say, “Thank you, that’s not going to work,” or, “Here’s a check,” and I’m leaving with a horse and the horse is mine—good, bad or indifferent.
So, it’s gotten a lot different than that. I feel like today in the private sector especially, you have opportunities to go and, “Let me take this horse to a competition, let me ride him,” and through that I’ve had a lot of people, usually older guys or less experienced guys, like, “Hey, I’m looking at this horse, will you please go with me to try it?” So, I go with them, and it’s hard for, I want to say lower numbered, but like an inexperienced, less experienced rider to just hop on a horse that they don’t know. They don’t want to fall off, they don’t want to go faster than they’re comfortable doing. So, it’s easy for them to have someone like, “Hey, get on this horse and run a couple on them.” And I’ve even had people be like, “Hey, what do you think? I love him. Okay, we’re going to buy him.” And then they take the horse home, and then they can rope the sled on him, they can rope slow steers and they can take a long time before they feel like they have to go out in public on the horse. And they get to really know the horse and get more comfortable on the horse. So, I feel like things have changed a lot from just either buy them or don’t and get out of here to now you have time to check and take the horse to competition and ride the horse and keep him for a little while or even have people go with you and help you in the process if you feel inexperienced in that field where you can get someone that knows the market and the field better than you do to help you make good decisions.
Q: How has team roping changed to necessitate that? What do you think has caused the need for the market to change and respond to it?
M: Well, I think, when I was young—I have four brothers—when I was young, we had four or five horses, usually, that we roped on, and we shared the best horse, and they would get 20 or 30 or 40 runs. We had a couple of sections, we would bring the cows in and by the time we started roping, they were already tired, and they got ridden a lot. Where now I think horses mostly get ridden in the arena. Very few horses really get ridden outside the arena—ranched on, cowboyed on and kind of eliminate all of the kinks, if you will. To where now I feel like how horses are bred they’re bigger, stronger, faster, more athletic, you know? And so, there’s an element of, “Hey, I need to make sure this horse is going to work for me at what I want, even though I can watch the video, or I’ve seen the horse grow and I know it’s a great horse, but I don’t want the gates to open the first time and this horse blow out the box and throw me off the back, and I can’t ride him.” So, I think it’s just as horses are more athletic and bred better and used less, we all want our horses to look good, they’re fat, they’re pretty, they’re full of energy. And so, the right inexperienced rider, maybe the horse doesn’t fit. So that’s why horses, to me, are worth a lot because the ones that can, that’s the value in them. But also then, that’s the process of, “Hey, this horse isn’t for every level of rider. This is who I feel like this horse is going to be really good for.”
Q: How has, even for a two-time world champ, buying horses and finding a great one not been easy for you? What’s so difficult about finding a great one?
M: Well, I think that I’ve had a couple of pretty good horses, and so it’s made it harder, I guess maybe everyone’s different, but I kind of have a certain feel that I’m looking for, and horses like that are really rare. And so, I’ve done a bad job of trying horses that maybe they didn’t feel exactly like other ones I’ve had that I was successful on, but still had a lot of good qualities. And so, use those good qualities to be successful instead of just pass on them because they didn’t score exactly like my other horse and feel like I wanted them too, even though they had a lot of things. And part of it, I started rodeoing when I was older. I had a little bit of success, but I’ve always in my mind wondered, “I’m this old, can I justify a $50,000 horse when I don’t know if at my age I can continue to be successful?” But if I buy a horse for $50,000 or $60,000 or $70,000 and then I’m unsuccessful. And now I have a horse that I’ve invested my savings into that I’m not doing good on. And so, kind of a fear has actually been what I feel like is one of the downfalls. I’ve had good years and bad years, and I feel like if I would’ve just trusted in myself and like, “Hey, I need another head horse, I know where this one is, even though he is real expensive, but it’s going to be worth it.” It doesn’t matter what you spend on a horse if he makes a difference of you qualifying, for me, to the NFR, but for a lower number guy, if this horse helps you win at the World Series Finale where another horse would’ve cost you money. Maybe you win $40,000 or $50,000 where you would’ve spent $7,500 on three entry fees by not winning. So, I think at every level the value of a horse is there if you trust in yourself enough to know that you can go and compete at that level, whether you’re the best four or the best No. 9. Only difference is where you’re competing at. If you’re the best four, you have a chance to win so much money every year. If you’re the best nine, the same if you have a horse that allows you to utilize your abilities. Everyone says it’s all the horse, and it is a lot of horse, but if you’re a great roper and combined with a great horse, then you become one of the greatest at your level, whether, like I said, it’s a four or a six or a nine. But a great roper on a crappy horse, or a great horse with a crappy rider at certain levels, it takes a combination of both to make a great header at that level, or a heeler.
Q: Troy, how did you come into this process. All of this is going on in the market, and you entered the scene, what did you see? What needs did you see? And explain how you came to this whole industry to begin with.
T: Yeah, so I’ve been fascinated with horses since I was younger. My dad actually showed Arabians when I was little, and he was really big into showing Arabians, but we never really bought and sold. We loved to go to the sales, but I don’t think we were in any financial position to go buy these big, high-dollar horses or whatnot. My dad just loved to be around it. So, I remember going through a lot of horse auctions back in the day, and I know that that was the number one way to buy a horse, either just private treaty or an auction. And as I got older and I started buying some of my own horses, I did exactly what Matt said. I kept on going to somebody I trusted, to somebody with more experience, “Hey, what do you think of this horse? Hey, what do you think of this?” I’d send them videos like this and sometimes even pay them to come and try the horse with me. And what I’ve found is if we could bring that same service and match it with what the world is changing to, which is this online, big internet-driven business. Which, the internet connects somebody from the East Coast to the West Coast, and now somebody who’s selling a horse on the West Coast actually can sell it to somebody on the East Coast because of cell phones and pictures and videos and just all the technology that’s come about. How do we create a safe environment for that? And I saw Facebook Marketplace coming on and Instagram and all these platforms where people can throw up whatever they want—it’s free of charge—they can take a million videos to make it just right. And I ended up figuring out like, “Hey, we need to have some sort of checkpoint system to be able to kind of double check these horses.” And I saw that the industry was going blow up with the Riata Buckle now coming on, the futurities coming on, the Royal Crown, like, these huge futurities are now driving the roping industry. And when me and Matt talked about it originally, that was what I really wanted. I understood, “Hey, the live sales are great. They’re going to be there. They’re obviously offering online bidding, so there’s people that want to buy online. Why don’t we just step up a little bit more and make our process a little bit safer for the bidder?” When the bidders feel safe, they’re going to bid more. And when the sellers get more for their horses, they’re going to sell them, and the best consignors are going to come back.
And so that’s kind of how it evolved to start was me and Matt, and Cody Bradford—another partner in the business—kind of put our heads together and said, “Hey, how do we create an environment where somebody could buy online, not seeing the horse, but really have an opportunity to know exactly what that horse is before they buy it?” And that’s when we came up with the Gold Buckle Pro demo and our entire online buying process.
Q: So, walk me through the process as a buyer. What does the process look like?
T: As a buyer, it’s really nice because we have monthly catalogs. We don’t usually take a ton of horses. We’re not out there to sell 50 or 100 at a time. What happens with a seller when they want to come sell their horse through our sale, we have what we call a certified process and it’s basically, number one, being approved into the sale. So, we have a panel of Gold Buckle Pros that we contract with across the entire nation. We have people all over that know a lot of the horses that come through our sale, and most of the time they know that horse because they competed at a jackpot against it or whatnot. So, once we get a consignor, we actually can reach out to a Gold Buckle Pro that works with Gold Buckle directly, ask them about the consignor and about the horse. Once the horse is approved into the sale and we feel good about taking that horse, that horse goes through a demo process for an entire hour. So, the consignor is allowed to take their own video, pictures, whatever, but we set up a time for an hour where that horse has to be taken to one of our unbiased, third-party contracted pros, and that pro goes through a checklist of each horse where they start on the ground, they talk about the gentleness of the horse, they walk around it, they pick up all four feet, they point out any blemishes, scars, scrapes, bumps, bruises that maybe a picture could hide, and we want to make sure that we’re walking around the horse and just pointing out anything that we see that would potentially be something that a buyer would want to know.
At that point, we put the bridle on, we saddle the horse and usually the pro will then watch the owner of the horse demo the horse a little bit—ride it around, warm it up, just kind of to get a feel for how that horse reacts with its own rider, its own owner. Then the pro will hop on that horse, and he will then do the same thing; he’ll warm him up, spin him, back him up, get a good feel of how that horse is. If it’s a prospect, you’re going to get a good feel of how he moves and get a good feel if that horse feels sound. And then if it’s a finished head horse or heel horse they’ll have steers. They’ll run five or six steers and hop off that horse and then talk about it. So, all in all, they’ll spend a good hour with that horse just getting to know the horse as if they were buying it for themselves, and then they report that back on a video. We edit that video to shrink an hour-long process down to 10 or 12 minutes and get all the important information out to the bidder.
So as a bidder, when I go on to Gold Buckle, I look at a horse, I can watch that video and even reach out to that pro and say, “Hey, this is the type of rider I am. Do you feel like that horse would fit somebody like me?” And we’ve just had such good success on, number one, finding great horses, working with great consignors, and then fitting the right rider with the right horse. And you’ll hear in a lot of our videos, a lot of our pros aren’t putting a value on the horse. They’re just giving their honest opinion and saying, “Hey, I’m paid by Gold Buckle to ride this horse and give you, kind of, some of the great things it does and some of the things that maybe it can work on, and what type of rider I see this horse being really good for.”
Q: Who are some of the pros that people can find in these videos?
T: Matt is our senior VP of all of our pros, so all the pros that we bring on or that we contract with go through Matt directly. A lot of them are really close friends of his. We’ve got quite a few. Andy Holcomb out on the West Coast is one of our pros. We also have a few female cowgirls—Kylie McLean down in Arizona is one of our pros. We like to get a good mix. Matt, maybe you can answer, who are some of the pros that you feel like are noteworthy that we’ve worked with before?
M: Well, like Ryan Motes has done the demo, Andy has done log demos. I want to say I do most of them. Chad Smith has done some, Matt Liston has done some, Thadd Ward has done some, Cory Clark.
T: These guys and girls have had such amazing experience in the horse world, and they’ve been around so many good horses and so many probably not so good horses. And having their opinion means a lot to a lot of people. We pay the pros from Gold Buckle, that way they can show up and give a good synopsis of the horse and really feel like, “Hey, I’m doing the best I possibly can in the hour that I know this horse.” And we’re not saying that we’re going to solve all the problems, but we will solve a lot of the problems that everybody, it seems like, who’s bought a horse has a horror story. “Oh, I bought this, and this happened, or I did this.” I think the saying is, if you’re going to buy a horse from your mother-in-law, make sure you get it vet checked. I think that’s the course—that’s the consensus. So, we want to make sure that we bring ultimate buyer confidence, which will bring great consignors because if we have great buyers, we’ll have great consignors. So that’s kind of the process.
And then we’ve actually even elevated it another level, which is our event sales. And our event sales are where you as a participant in the event, if you’re going to the BFI which is the next one, you can actually enter your horse on our app free of charge. We will market your horse the entire week of the BFI. We’ll put on the live stream, we’ll capture the runs, we’ll put those on there. And so many times I’ve heard of people wanting to go to events, chasing people out of the arena, “Hey, is your horse for sale? Is it not for sale?” Well, Gold Buckle’s the place that now people can list their horses, and when they get to the event, they’ll already have them listed. We try to match the team number with the lot number. So, if it’s team number 205, you know it’s lot 205, you can now match that and watch that video and know that that horse is actually for sale and be bidding on it. Because another thing that I’ve heard in the industry is when a certain person walks up to somebody, if they have a big name and say, “Hey, is your horse for sale?” It usually goes up in price. Well, our platform’s nice because you can now bid safely with a paddle number, and so people can just be placing bids throughout the event.
Q: What are some of the key dates that people need to pay attention to if they’re interested in Gold Buckle Horse Sales?
T: We have a monthly rope horse sale starting this month. The Ruby buckle is coming up in April. We’ll have a barrel racing catalog also in April. We’ve got basically rope horse catalogs coming every month throughout the summer. Me and Matt have also talked about doing an onsite demo where you’ll see that coming up in your area. We’ll have 20 horses or so that will be spread out throughout the country in certain areas, and we’ll show up, we’ll demo all those horses in one day, we’ll livestream that video so that everybody can see pros on those horses. And the biggest thing I’ve noticed in the online world is just the confidence to know that what the seller is saying is true. And so, for a seller to have somebody like Matt Sherwood show up, ride their horse and say, “Man, this horse just works so good. It was awesome in the box, scored a bunch of steers. I ran a bunch of steers, he was quiet.” That gives bidders so much confidence to go buy that horse without maybe going and trying it themselves. And so that is ultimately what we do at Gold Buckle.
M: Several times we’ve went to do the demo and got so far into the demo process and had to tell the consignor, “Hey, we can’t sell this horse.” Bad in the box, reared out of the box, spun around in the box. One time we were talking to a guy at the very, very beginning of this and he told us, “I can make any rope horse look good on video.” And I feel like that’s exactly what we’re trying to avoid because you can score four or five and then turn the camera on, score one, “Wow, that horse scores amazing.” Or steer stop four or five and then run up there and stick it on one and your horse gets on its butt and, “Wow, that horse has no duck at all.” There are so many things that you can do with the camera off that then when you turn the camera on, your horse looks good. And so, it isn’t just like we go ride these horses and put them in there. And I understand that you run five or six or seven steers on a horse and you obviously don’t know everything about the horse. It takes a long time, and I try to say that on almost every demo that I do, but it does allow you the opportunity to get in there, back in the box, rope a steer, come right back up, back in the box, rope a steer and have an idea of this horse isn’t going to take the heat. By the third or fourth steer he’s prancing out of the box, turning sideways, kicking his butt out. And so, we’re able to say, “Hey, this horse is really young, not a finished horse. This is what he does.” And not saying that every horse has to be perfect to put in our sale, but it allows us to tell potential buyers about every horse the best that we can, myself or any of the other pros. And that’s one of the things that the pros are a little bit hesitant about is like, “Well, I only ran seven or eight steers on the horse. I don’t really want to put my name on it and say, ‘Oh, this is what that horse is.’” And so hopefully buyers know that we don’t know everything about the horse, but we are trying to eliminate if you tell me, “I got to finish that horse, he’s ready to go,” and on the third steer he spins around and I can’t get him in the box, then we’re going to say, “Hey, no thank you. We’re not putting this horse in the sale.” Because even if we disclose that, if someone takes the horse home and that happens, then it’s disappointing that they bought a horse. If a horse is three or four years old and he’s a little bit nervous in the box and green, then that’s a whole different thing. Then we just disclose, “Hey, this horse is four years old, just getting started, little bit nervous. Needs to go to a young guy that has the time and energy and can finish the horse out.” But anything that comes to us is a finished horse. If they’re having problem, we just turn them away. And so, it helps prevent us putting horses for sale that could possibly have made the horse look good on video, but maybe the horse does have problems that would be disappointing when someone buys the horse and gets it home.