People ask me all the time about my preferences in horses, and what I look for in a horse. One of the first things I mention is that I don’t tend to be very interested in buying young horses. I’ve roped for a living the last quarter of a century, and I’ve just learned to bank on the experience of horses that have been there before. They don’t rattle as easily as a younger, less experienced horse, and when the chips are down I rely on that confidence they have from being in that situation before.
It’s only natural to have more confidence in an older horse. You know he’s not going to hump up and do something stupid. I have a hard time trusting younger horses, because they’re unpredictable. They’re almost like time bombs, and with all the pressure we expose them to they tend to crack sooner or later.
I would much rather invest my time in keeping an older horse in shape than having to keep one saddled all day and keep him ridden down to knock the edge off of him. If you’re concentrating on your horse, you aren’t going to be as sharp and focused on your roping. I don’t want any distractions.
An older horse might try to cheat you now and then, and you might have to spend some time in the practice pen keeping him freed up and scoring just right. But if you keep him in shape and lined out, you can bank on him.
One of the downfalls of riding an older horse is you might have to have two of them or really manage one. I’ve ridden my good horse, Barney, about three years now. He’s 18, so I really pick and choose where I ride him. In the meantime, I always have a second horse I’m trying to build confidence in. It’s hard not to ride your best one every time, but you have to manage the good ones to help them last.
The general public tends to want to go look for a young horse. I guess people figure they can keep a young one around a long time. Most people perceive that a 10- to 11-year-old horse is past his prime. One of the first things I ask people who want to sell me a horse is how old he is. I have very little interest in one that’s under 10 years old, because of the unpredictability factor. If I was going to ride a young horse, the only place I’d take him is to a jackpot that didn’t have a lot of significance to it.
Age isn’t the ultimate determining factor in which horse I ride. Performance is always No. 1. You know the end is coming when the shortcuts or cheating start costing you. If one starts ducking, quits pulling or facing, and can’t be tuned back up, it’s time to move on. Some horses start fighting the trailer when they get sick of all the traveling, too. A horse will usually tell you when it’s over. In the meantime, my money’s on the veterans.