BOSS LADY

L’Esprit de Smith
Solo Select Horses appears to be in its peak performance era and at its helm is 30-year-old entrepreneurial whip Melanie Smith, a leader characterized by her business savvy and her passion—aka, l’espirit.
Melanie Smith

In the French language, l’espirit can be translated a few ways. First, it can mean “the mind,” and refer to the literal activities of the brain. It can also mean “spirit.” And in relation to Melanie Smith, founder and forger of Solo Select Horses, it can only mean both.

In a story Melanie has been asked to tell often in the past year, she candidly reveals her non-equine heritage, her endeavors in nursing, and her plucky courage to abandon both and instead capitalize on her passion for finding business opportunities in the horse world. In a sense, Smith’s tale is of a typical, by-the-bootstraps American Dream realized. Until you realize that she’s only just turned 30 and that, by 30, she hasn’t only realized success. No, by Melanie Smith’s 30th birthday, she has designed an industry disruptor that is changing the way horses will be bought, sold and bred from this day forward.

Selling High Sellers

Six years ago, Solo Select Horses found its start with roots in the online horse sale market. Ironically, the horse market—which surely has roots as old as the domestication of horses some 6,000 years ago—has barely operated in the online space, even today, and even more so when the focus is narrowed to horses in the Western performance industry. But that’s the space in which Melanie cut her horse-trading teeth, to the tune of online horse sales at a time when almost no one else had ever considered such a thing.

Melanie Smith and 2023’s top futurity rope horse sire Woody Be Tuff.
Melanie Smith and 2023’s top futurity rope horse sire Woody Be Tuff.

“When I was in nursing school, I was selling horses online and it was brand new then,” Melanie said. “Then, we started Facebook auctions and that was brand new, and it’s just continued to develop into this technology. It’s completely changed the industry.”

Before this issue will be delivered to mailboxes in January, Solo Select had its final sale of 2023 on Christmas Eve. And just prior to this story going to print, the company hosted its Thanksgiving sale, in which the top five high sellers averaged $128,000 and the top 10 $95,450.

“I think when we looked the other day, we were going to have sold [about] 600 horses in our online sales this year,” Melanie estimated ahead of the holiday events. 

NCHA stallion Boons Reflection (Once In A Blu Boon x Cats Reflection x High Brow Cat) topped the Thanksgiving Day sale at $170,000 and, right behind him, NRCHA mare Ain’t Karma A Hitch (Metallic Rebel x Shine Smartly x Shining Spark) pulled in $160,000. Then, equally as interesting as a stud and a mare going toe-to-toe at the top is two top-selling rope horse embryos averaging $43,000.

Before that, Solo Select was already on a record-breaking roll in 2023. In its $2.75-million grossing Labor Day sale, MS Baby Cakes (Metallic Cat x Special Nu Baby x Dual Rey) became the highest-selling horse in the history of online sales when she realized $540,000.

Maybe a month later, Solo Select consigned Blackkout (Winners Version x RC Back in Black) with Relentless Remuda partners Miles Baker and Trevor Brazile and broke the highseller record at the barrel horse industry’s Pink Buckle Sale when the stallion’s auction run was shut down at $875,000.

Then a few weeks after that, Solo Select’s yearling, Black Magic Woman (Shining Spark x Carrera Cat x Metallic Cat), set a new record for the Western Bloodstock NRCHA Sale when she sold for $180,000.

In a way, Solo Select has turned the horse world on its head: Mares are making just as much as the studs; rope horse trainers are selling barrel horses; NFR-caliber rope horses are producing high-dollar embryos; and anyone with a smart phone can have access to the sale’s bidding app from anywhere in whole, wide world.

READ: Solo Select and Relentless Remuda Enter Partnership with Bob Tonkin on Top-Earning Futurity Mare Big Time Movie Star

For Melanie, it’s all simply a part of the Solo Select mission to be the very best.

“It’s just something that’s easy to apply to every part of what we do because we want to be the leader in online sales,” she said. “We want to be the leaders in the breeding business, and we want to be at the top of the game. So, it’s easy for me to spread that around to our company and make that a culture that we all live by.

“We set ourselves to a higher standard than everybody else,” Melanie continued. “I don’t care what everybody else is doing. This is how we do it, and I think that’s important for the horse business because the horse business is behind all other businesses all the time. Like, we’re 20 years behind everything, you know? Computer programs, whatever you think about, the horse business is just always behind. So we’re just want to try to be a step ahead.”

Solo Savants

The name Solo Select is a nod to Melanie’s gumption. The reality is that Solo Select is her online horse sale business version 2.0. She’d built one before and walked away from it. Then she did it again. From scratch, again.

To say Melanie has done it all by herself is inaccurate, but so far, she’s established herself as the key ingredient for a business poised to meet market demands at the cross section of proven bloodlines and new technologies. Perhaps most importantly, she’s the person who can bring the rest of the market to that cross section.

“Mel is the person that will pick up the phone and talk to you and explain stuff to you,” Miles Baker said. “She knows the business. She understands it well and, with her marketing savvy, she has so much reach.”

In her first horse sale venture, Melanie put a story on her website about her arguably ineloquent welcome into the world of horses. Her prose created a sense of relevance for prospective buyers who were equally unsure of their footing while also providing them a solid and trustworthy entry point.

“There is no telling how much that little story made,” Melanie told horse trainer and podcast host Clinton Anderson, under whom Ain’t Karma A Hitch has been showing. 

Miles Baker on bronze champion Pride And Joyy (“Kilo”) and Trevor Brazile on World Champion Darkk Side, flanked by Ty Smith and Melanie Smith at the 2023 AQHA World Show.

In this iteration of the business, Melanie has grown in lockstep with Solo Select, learning where to put her talents and where to put the talents of others to use. She works in close partnership with Solo Select CEO Ty Smith, who has been with the company from the start, but has really stepped into the fold in the past two years.

“We’re such a great duo,” Melanie said of their professional dynamic. “He has such a pulse on the market because he looks at and watches so many sales. …It’s interesting because, not only has Ty bought the second highest selling horse at the Western Bloodstock, he was also a partner on the highest horse ever sold at Western Bloodstock, and he’s the highest volume buyer there. That just goes to show how in the trenches he is.

“I think that part—him having his thumb on that—is crucial to the success of what we’re seeing this year,” Melanie continued. “Having the high sellers and having the high-selling embryos of all time, having the highest selling horse on the internet of all time—all of those things are because we know what works and, when I say we, I mean him a lot of the time because he’s the horse sale guru.”

Ty, of Ty Smith Performance Horses, played a big role in forming the partnership between Solo Select and Relentless Remuda, for instance.

LISTEN: Horse Market Report: Solo Select’s Ty Smith’s Take on the 2023 Rope Horse Business

“I knew Ty way before I knew Trevor, and I met Melanie just by buying some horses from her” Baker said. “Ty’s been around horses his whole life. He showed horses when he was young and then he rodeoed in college and he’s always been savvy on the rope horse side of stuff because he was involved in that at a young age. Ty roped incredibly good. He headed really well.

“Ty was kind of under a guy named Doug Carpenter, and he was like a genius in the horse deal,” Baker added. “I would venture to say [Ty’s] as sharp as you could find when it comes to the horse market, what’s happening in the horse world and the breeding game. … He’s not an overnight sensation by any means.”

Ty Smith, CEO

Baker’s resolute confidence in the team at Solo Select resulted in Brazile agreeing to a partnership—something he’d only ever done with Baker to form Relentless Remuda and, before that, with Lari Dee Guy. And, so far, it’s been a winning join-up for all parties.

“Right after they had bought ‘Buckles,’ we all got to talking about this rope horse deal,” Melanie said. “We did a deal with them on Dirty Fling (Metallic Cat x Streak Of Gin x A Streak Of Fling) and then we bought a set of mares and it’s just grown from there.”

According to Melanie, the Solo Select and Relentless Remuda cross works better than a lot of partnerships because each side has more to offer than dollars alone.

“It just goes back to having great relationships with people,” Melanie said. “We are excellent at what we do and they are excellent at what they do. If I’m going to partner with someone [for financial reasons], I’m going to partner with the bank for 8% interest. But those guys bring so much to the table, and we do the same for them. That’s what I tell them: ‘If you guys can make them win, I’ll make sure everybody knows about it. That’s what I need from you guys.’”

The need for Solo Select’s skills are equally valuable to the Relentless Remuda side, making the partnership pure gold for this moment in horse market time.

“Trevor and I had seen where the breeding game was going with the rope horse deal before it started,” Baker explained. “I said, ‘We need to learn,’ and so we got in with Ty and Mel and, Trev called it ‘going to college’ when we started partnering with them because we’re going to learn and grow from it. Then it just turned into us talking all day, every day. I talk to Melanie four and five times a day.”

Le Nouveau Rope Horse

The scope of what Solo Select is managing on a day-to-day basis is impressive, to say the least. Not only do they have the right people in the right places, but they have also designed a company and sister companies to provide a full-service, dang-near cradle-to-grave horse buying and breeding experience. They can even handle hauling logistics or talk about their challenges and successes on “The Business of Horses,” a podcast Melanie launched in March of this year.

Photography is one of the invaluable Assets Melanie brings to the Solo Select table.
Photography is one of the invaluable Assets Melanie brings to the Solo Select table.

Of considerable note, however, is Solo Select’s impact on the evolution of the rope horse.

“We’ve got a 2-year-old right now that really good, named Rock Vader, by Valiant Hero,” Melanie offered of a racehorse they’ve added to their string. “It kind of merges with the direction I think some of the rope horse industry is going. I think we get the right racehorse studs. I think there’s a big market for that crossed on these cutting and cow horse mares and, in my opinion, in 10 years when we all sit down, it’s going to be something like ‘Kilo’ (Stevie Rey Von x Fun N Fancy Free x Peptoboonsmal) or ‘Stevie’ (Metallic Cat x Miss Ella Rey x Dual Rey) or ‘Darkk Side’ (Once In A Blu Boon x DT Sugar Chex Whiz) out of a racehorse mare—that’s going to be the team roping stallion.

READ: Relentless Remuda and Solo Select Syndicate 2019 Stallion The Darkk Side

“That’s my theory, and it’s Miles’ and Trevor’s theory.”

In “Raised Relentless,” a recent film that aired on horseweek.tv, Brazile offers his insights on the rope horse they’re designing and why.

“We’ve got an end-goal in mind for these horses from the beginning,” he says in the video. “The horses that we’re starting nowadays, as a 2-year-old, are being programed from Day 1 to be a rope horse. Any strengths that they are going to need, we’re putting in them. And strengths they weren’t going to need, they aren’t going to have that wasting space in their mind.”

The end product, according to Baker, is a rope horse that’s ready from the ground up.

“We’ve just taken the long way around for so long, like getting rejects and putting them into the roping. Now, they’re going to be rope horses from the beginning. In the past, we kind of took a secondhand product and turned into what we wanted it to be. We’re going to see it at the futurities in the next few years how much tougher they’re going to be because I’m roping on 2-year-olds now. Used to [be], we weren’t roping on them until they were 4, and they had already failed at something else. So we’re going to see a big difference.”

And, in actuality, the wait doesn’t have to be for them to hit the ground either anymore. The advancements in breeding technologies and ICSI, specifically, have generated a path that Solo Select is paving for ropers to be a part the breeding game and the design of the future rope horse in ways that were never before imagined.

“The team roping industry hasn’t done a great job of breeding and promoting its top mares,” Ty said ahead of offering the Woody Be Tuff x Junior Nogueira’s Apache R Hali embryo in the Thanksgiving sale. “Junior is one of the first to have a mare of this caliber and promote her like the rest of the performance horse world has done and, so far, the results have been exceptional. There just aren’t other opportunities to buy an embryo out of a mare like this, who has won at such a high level for so long.”

Crème De La Crème

Inarguably, the missions driving Relentless Remuda and Solo Select couldn’t be better aligned. One doesn’t become a 26-time World Champion or a business partner of said World Champion without a heap of relentless try. At Solo Select, plainly and prominently stated on the home page is its bar for daily operations: The Very Best.

Volunteering at a therapeutic riding facility was Melanie’s gateway into the horse world.
Volunteering at a therapeutic riding facility was Melanie’s gateway into the horse world.

According to Melanie, though, that doesn’t make her, her business or entry into this burgeoning rope horse evolution inaccessible to anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact.

“There is a future in the team roping for breeders. It’s such a new thing, but it can be such a rewarding process that can involve more of the family, too. What I see a lot is a dad who likes to rope and, this way, the kids and the wife get to be a part of breeding decisions and seeing what studs are winning, even at the higher end. So, even if you’re not roping at that level, you get to enjoy watching those horses at that level win because you’ve chosen to breed to them. That’s fun for the whole family.

That’s one part that I think is kind of cool,” Melanie continued. “Until this time, it’s never paid off to be a breeder in the team roping, so now, this is the first year we’ve had team ropers as breeding clients, and they’re not professional ropers. They rope on the weekends for fun. For whatever reason—their age, their ability, their job—they’re never going to be an NFR team roper. But they can be the breeder of one, and that’s pretty cool.”

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