better and better

Today’s Rope Horse Talent Pool Runs Deep
The money is bigger, the roping is faster and the horses are better than ever before.
“Never stop trying to upgrade your horse herd,” Jake always says. | Kari DeCastro photo

Back in my day, your best horse was your practice, jackpot and rodeo horse. That might be hard for today’s young ropers to comprehend, but it’s true. There are more team ropers in the world than ever before, and both the caliber of horses and level of horsemanship is at an all-time high. 

I was at a roping in Buckeye, Arizona, today, and visiting with a friend while watching a roping. We couldn’t get over the quality and quantity of good horses in every roping, open guys and recreational ropers included. 

Everything about roping has advanced so much, also including the opportunity to win big money. That, in turn, has made making and investing in high-end horses make sense. Naturally, this is all being reflected in horse prices.

What’s a good horse worth? I bought a horse from a guy by the name of Al Gomes in Chowchilla, California, back in the early 80s. He had navicular, but he was a nice horse and Al didn’t really want to sell him. But there’s always a price. I’ll never forget Al telling me that if he was going to sell his best horse, he had to get enough money to buy a new truck. 

I paid him $10,000 for that horse, and at that time, that’s what a new truck cost. Since Al told me that, I’ve always used the price of a new truck as my Kelley Blue Book on horses. Just like a used vehicle, there are always factors like soundness and age to consider with horses. But that’s a pretty fair rule of thumb as a baseline. 

Today’s rope-horse futurities are playing a part in this also. People now specifically breed horses for roping, and the way even the young horses look and ride these days is just so impressive. The rope-horse economy is making it worth the time and effort to make all of these nice horses. 

Paying a fair price for a good horse goes hand-in-hand with people now having a chance to go to Vegas and win $150,000 to $200,000. It makes sense, because riding a nice horse is one of the most obvious advantages a roper can give himself. And more ropers than ever before at every level keeps demand for good horses high. It’s a wise investment. 

One size does not fit all when it comes to rope horses. A horse that might not fit me and my style might be a great fit for you. But you can only go so far with your talent with a rope, I don’t care who you are, and you can’t win if you’re afoot. 

The great ropers and great horses in every era are just that. But there are so many more today than ever before. And in my heyday, there were a lot of guys with one horse that defined their career, whereas a guy like Kaleb Driggers has several really nice ones at all times. 

I see people riding lower-quality horses at roping schools all the time. They might not have the budget to buy a good one, or the skills to keep a nice horse working. But regardless of the reasons, riding a lesser horse handicaps them and makes improving their roping an uphill battle. 

It’s important to keep developing your horsemanship skills along the way, so you can keep upgrading your horses. And so when you do get your hands on a good one, you can help him last. I see most people taking better care of their horses now than ever before. They’re keeping them fit, and taking advantage of modern veterinary technology and maintenance programs. 

There are better bits and saddles now, too. People used to always ride saddles they won, no matter what brand or size of seat. A lot of people are riding good-fitting custom saddles now, and there are a lot more good saddle companies today. It’s again a matter of supply and demand. 

Leg protection for horses has evolved over time also. We used to use some splint boots and bell boots, maybe, but team roping horses never had boots on all four legs, like they do now. 

Never stop trying to rope better, and never stop trying to upgrade your horse herd, whether it’s improving the ones you have or getting a better one every chance you get. And don’t let foolish pride get in your way. I’ve never taken a horse from start to finish. I’ve ridden young, green horses, but have never started a colt and taken him all the way. With all the futurities, I’m seeing some phenomenal 4- and 5-year-olds. They’re nice horses to start with, they’re being exposed to more at an early age and it shows.


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