I buy, ride, and sell a lot of rope horses, so naturally people ask me all the time what I look for and my opinion on a rope horse’s most important traits. We’re all trying to find that next phenomenal horse everybody talks about—that Scooter, Barney or Butterbean.
There are things I look for in horses at every level, whether I’m looking for myself or for a horse that suits a lower-numbered roper. There are also certain traits I consider deal breakers—things some horses do that I will not put up with.
I will say up front that for my personal horses, there are a few quirks I am willing to put up with if they’re great performers. But for resale and general purposes, I do have a “no way” list.
I will not tolerate a horse that bucks. I don’t want to be like Mike Beers that time he got bucked off and broke his pelvis. I’m not Billy Etbauer, and neither are any of the people I buy horses for. A horse that’ll hurt you by bucking you off is a no-go every time.
Rearing is just as bad as bucking in my book, and I’ll have no part of it. Most horses will rear in the box if they’re going to do it, and that’ll hurt you, too. No one wants to get hurt, so I don’t want to risk my health or anyone else’s on a horse that rears.
I can’t stand a horse that cribs. I find it really annoying, and a lot of horses that crib have a hard time maintaining their weight. So if I find out that a horse is a cribber, it’s usually a “no thank you.”
I hate a horse that won’t haul. When a horse is bad in the trailer, and fights and kicks back there, it keeps you on pins and needles all the time worrying about them getting hurt, hurting other horses back there and wrecking your trailer. There are times you need to find a ride for your horse, but if he fights the trailer it’s not really fair to ask someone else to risk their horses and equipment to do you a favor. I might put up with some monkey business in how a horse hauls if he’s just really outstanding. But most horses that fight the trailer aren’t worth it.
There’s a real range in horses’ personalities, just like people. I like having a horse that I enjoy throwing a flake of hay to every morning, and that I don’t mind brushing. If you’re always having to ease around one and stay on alert all the time just to keep him from hurting you or himself, it’s no fun. I don’t like a horse that’s like handling a rattlesnake. I don’t want to be afraid of or hate my horse.
Beware of a horse that kicks, because that’s a terrible trait, too. If a horse spooks or startles, and it’s his instinctive reaction to kick you, that’s no good. Cinchy horses are not preferred, but there are cases where a cinchy horse is worth tolerating because he’s good enough.
Horses that set back—aka pull back—are also not preferred. People cut their fingers off when horses pull back all the time, even experienced horsemen. Some horses seem like they’re almost laying for you. They are to be avoided, as are horses that want to be in the wrong lead running to steers, horses that don’t rate, and horses that don’t like to go over to the right.
Spinning in the box is another bad habit some horses acquire, and, though you can work through this and help a horse, a lot of horses always seem to go back and repeat those bad habits and weaknesses. It’s such a distraction, and a horse with a hole in him like that tends to take away from your roping.