Ready to Go: How Futurities Are Changing the Market
Why would a 7-year-old finished rope horse be for sale if it doesn’t have a hole? Who’s mostly selling futurity horses? What are the latest opportunities for lower-numbered ropers? We talked to insiders to get the futurity scoop.

Why would a 7-year-old finished rope horse be for sale if it doesn’t have a hole? Who’s mostly selling futurity horses? What are the latest opportunities for lower-numbered ropers? We talked to insiders to get the futurity scoop.

In the old days, if a “finished” young rope horse were for sale, you’d wonder what was wrong with it. Now, more and more 7-year-olds that aged out of futurities are on the market so the owner can start over with more—much like cutting or barrel racing. 

“Here’s the thing about buying a horse out of futurities,” said rope-horse trainer Steve Orth. “They’re great horses to buy because they have a good foundation. They all score, run in there and rate, and let you catch. They’re going to be broke. They’ve had so much time spent with them, they’re super gentle.”

And they’re super patterned. Orth had 4-year-old A Genuine Whizkey in his barn this winter that 16-year-old Nicky Northcott rode to $10,500 at Abilene’s Roping Futurities of America slot roping after making just a few practice runs. Plus, a 10-year-old neighbor has ridden the sorrel. It’s fair to say that today’s 7-year-old ex-futurity horse is as finished as yesterday’s 11-year-old. In fact, it’ll have that user-friendly pattern and mild move that’s always made pros want to buy from old men and girls. Orth said most aged-out futurity horses make good horses for any level of roper from a 4 to a 10.

“This is what I tell everybody looking at buying horses 7 to 10 years old,” said Orth. “They are perfectly ready to jackpot all day long, because they’ve had so much of it.”

 And they’re dependable. You’ll have a gentle, broke horse you can leave off for weeks and not need to worry, he said. If you’re looking for a rodeo horse, however, futurity horses don’t get those kinds of looks. 

“We had a nice futurity horse coming 7 that Chase Tryan bought,” said Texas rope-horse trainer Clay Logan of the five-time NFR heeler. “He used him at jackpots in Montana and down south while he turned his other one out. I saw he finally cracked him out at RodeoHouston this year. But it took Chase a full year to feel like he was ready, and I had already hauled that horse a lot.”

There’s no doubt you have better odds of winning consistent jackpot money on a 10-year-old over a 5-year-old. But you might be priced out. On the other hand, the caveat that nobody wants to talk about? Any 4-year-old good enough to, say, out-work what comes out of the Relentless Remuda, means it was working fairly hard at 3. A rope-horse trainer like Justin Johnson, who’s judged every big cutting on the planet, knows how many of those 3-year-old cutting prospects are still sound at 8 years old.

Thus, the helpful thing about buying a futurity horse directly from its trainer is that person spent three years—not three months—with the horse. They can tell you exactly what you’re getting, private treaty.

“And these days, it’s so easy to see what a horse has done,” said California trainer Les Oswald. “People can see two years of videos of them being hauled.”

Jackpotting on Futurity Horses

The Riata will let lower-numbered ropers ride all-ages horses and will raise their futurity age to 6 and under for the #10.5. | Andersen/CBarC Photography

Lately, however, there’s nothing to say lower-numbered buyers need to wait until horses age out. A new barrel-racing-like divisional format will be introduced in August at the 6-and-under Equinety Platinum Medal futurity, paying horses in the top 45 of the average in three separate tiers. 

Plus, American Rope Horse Futurities of America has a 6-and-under futurity for non-pros numbered at 5.5/5.5 or lower. They also offer Limited (capped at 6/6.5) and Intermediate (6.5/8) sidepots in the big futurities. On Royal Crown offspring, there’s a stand-alone Intermediate futurity (6.5/6.5) with a sidepot for Limited riders (4.5/5.5) and a 4-year-old incentive. 

Producers are constantly massaging these formats; they’re building this plane as they fly it. Riata Buckle co-owner Denny Gentry is, of course, doing something unprecedented. He realized in November during his first futurity for lower-numbered ropers that they struggled a bit on 5-year-olds. So this fall, he’s changed things. Except for the Open and #14.5 futurities, Riata Buckle “futurities” will be horses of all ages with futurity overlays. The #12.5 roping will have a 5-and-under incentive and the #10.5 roping has a new 6-and-under incentive.

“When I say ‘incentive,’ I’m talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars here,” Gentry said. “Not $10,000 or $20,000. We’re trying a new approach, doing futurities as incentives within jackpots. That way, the futurity horses can double-dip.”

Also, the 6-and-under incentive may build in a market for futurity horses that are already 5: lower-numbered jackpotters can buy them and get another big-money year out of them.

[READ MORE: No Wolves Allowed: Intermediate, Limited and Numbered Futurities are the Next Gen of Team Roping]

“If a team roper thinks he’ll have an advantage by riding a younger horse, I’m going to give it to him,” Gentry said. “If you can go into the roping and win a hole, now you can double dip.”

Gentry, after all, is who came up with the “roping within a roping” incentive format in the USTRC decades ago.

“Other guys are having Intermediate futurities and that’s fine,” Gentry said. “We’re going to stay with our team concept, which doubles the payoffs and is already having an impact in the market.”

Gentry is known for massaging formats before their time to draw the most players and provide the biggest payoffs. He said it’s “human nature” that most rope horse futurities followed existing cutting and reining cultures to be geared toward trainers and upper-end horsemen. 

“I intend to cater to that crowd, too, because that’s what owners want,” he said. “But instead of everything built around 20 trainers, our whole deal is geared toward the other 99% of team ropers.”

Aged Events Expanding

The Riata Buckle in November 2023 highlighted ropers and their horses of every level. | Andersen/CBarC Photography

People who’ve bought Riata-Buckle-eligible yearlings or 2-year-olds lament how long the training takes before they can campaign them for big money. So Gentry’s team is debating inventive ways to cut that downtime in payoffs. Ultimately, breeders are having such an influence that Royal Crown and Riata Buckle both are now hosting all-ages futurities for offspring of enrolled stallions.

“Stallion owners want progeny earnings under their stallions,” Gentry said. “Whether a rope horse is 4 or 20, that money still counts under that stud.”

It counts now, anyway, because Riata Buckle just teamed with AQHA to record rope horse earnings everywhere from the NFR to your local jackpot. New this year, any money won on Riata-Buckle-sired horses of any age at any Ariat WSTR, USTRC, NTR or NTRL jackpot throughout the year can qualify for Gentry’s new #10.5 and #12.5 Riata Buckle Bonus Ropings in Guthrie—with $100,000 added to each. Horses ridden can be verified via photography.

[READ MORE: Why the Numbers Matter: Tracking Rope Horse Earnings]

“It’s a way to utilize ropings that already exist here and in Canada,” Gentry said. “You can rope locally and we’re not creating more competition for producers; then, it’s a ticket into a roping with a lot of added money.”

Getting back to true futurities, there’s been a big move toward stand-alone 4-year-old events, as opposed to only 6-and-under. That’s going to put more finished horses on the market earlier, in theory. Jay Wadhams admits that most 4-year-olds aren’t ready for the ARHFA’s Sun Circuit futurity in February, but trainers will start having them ready by spring. Next year, he’s excited for ARHFA to put on a brand-new futurity in conjunction with the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

The push toward younger horses also affects what breeders are doing. With futurities being so competitive and ranching taking so much time, colt-starting might get skipped over in some programs. The Stuart Ranch, for instance, is going to move prospects through quicker by selling more yearlings in their annual August sale (plus what they’ll consign to the Platinum Medal and Riata Buckle sales).

And plenty of futurity-horse owners already plan to keep their one 3-year-old, once it ages out, for themselves to use at jackpots. Shane Boston planned to keep a sorrel gelding he hired Logan to campaign through futurities. But he made money selling it to JB James, and World Champion Header Chad Masters has the horse now. 

Several other owners of top futurity colts have already turned down good money—usually for 5-year-olds that can go one more year to get a little more finished. One of those horses is Sara Hudson’s Dual Oak E, on whom Orth won the ARHFA’s Sun Circuit futurity and placed second at the Cornhusker. Six-year-olds like him quickly become a trainer’s go-to for jackpots and even rodeos.

“A lot of my futurity horses haven’t left my program much,” Orth said. “But these colts I have coming up are going to sell.”

[READ MORE: 2023 Team Roping Journal’s Breeder’s Guide]

While 7-year-old futurity graduates are the cream of the crop, it’s becoming more and more attractive to buy a 3-year-old and watch as it’s trained and campaigned—so you know all of the horse’s history—especially considering the new non-pro, divisional and intermediate opportunities. And now, there are lifelong benefits to Riata Buckle and Royal Crown offspring.

“This industry is changing so fast,” Gentry said. “We’re not going to set up a program and camp on it for 10 years. We’ll do what we need to get maximum interest. Ropers will be watching us every year to see what changes.” TRJ

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