What you realy need to know about equine prospects by Bill Weber

When I was first introduced to the horse business, one of the most perplexing elements of the business side was this term banded about so freely: “prospect”.  

I am first and foremost a business person.  My love for horses stems directly from my love for my partner, Christina.  When we first got together, I was so naive about horses and the horse business that I was a bit of a novelty at horse events with our colleagues.

I would watch in great amazement at horse sales as buyers would bid wildly to grab this thing called a “prospect” being lead through the ring.  All I really understood was we were selling our worst horses at this sale, yet, there were no shortage of buyers willing to fork out a few thousand dollars for these “prospects.”

I would hear the ring master saying all these wonderful things about the “prospects” we were selling.  I was so amazed that he could instantly spot all the great things we seemed to have missed when we decided to part ways with this particular horse.  I wanted to bid on the horses myself as surely we were going to sell it for less than it was worth; but self restraint got the better of me, the horses sold and we parted ways with those fine prospects.

Now being a businessman, I just had this sense that I really had to understand this prospect concept.  I talked this over time and time again with Christina.  I read anything I could find on the subject.  I just knew this was the missing keys to success in the horse business.

After weeks of reflection and research, it turns out I was making this whole prospect thing way too complex.  I like to say it was my dealings in complex business issues that caused this.  But it was really my greenness with horses and the horse business.

So here are my learning’s:

What makes a horse prospect?

The key to every equine prospect is: one horse with testicles and one willing mare.   When the foal is born alive, you got your equine prospect.

I would like to say something really insightful here and not sound so flippant.  But, that is how a prospect comes about at its most basic level.

Please pardon my political insensitivity… Secretariat and the dinner special at Le Meurice restaurant in Paris both started out as prospects.  Your goal, of course, is to find a prospect that is more appeasing than appetizing.

What makes a horse a legitimate prospect?

I think this is best way to define what a legitimate prospect is: a horse with the right conformation, breeding and temperament for the targeted discipline or desired use by the owner.

For example, a horse that would make a genuine dressage prospect would likely make a very poor barrel prospect as the physical requirements for dressage and barrel racing require much different demands on a horse’s body.  It’s just like in humans where a typical sprinter’s conformation differs greatly from a football lineman’s conformation.

Walking the fine line: separating horse prospects from suspects

I believe the term prospect has lost much of its meaning in recent years.  In my opinion, indiscriminate breeding on large scales have greatly diluted the recreational market in terms of value and quality of prospects.

In recent years, buyers considering a prospect for recreational use or amateur competition purposes had to comb through a tremendous number of prospects.  Unfortunately, for these buyers most of the prospects more closely resembled suspects.

Is the horse prospect market dead?

The prospect market is far from dead.  In fact, it is the backbone of the future for all aspects of the equine industry.  Good young horses coming up through the talent pipeline to replace older retiring horses are necessary for the continuing success of riders and businesses alike.

The Great Recession has had an awful impact on families and the economies around the world, but it likely has had a wonderful impact on the future of horse prospect market.  The recession combined with changing laws and regulations in the USA and Canada regarding horse slaughter, has driven prospect prices to historical lows.

However, this is positive news for you as it has driven many quasi-professional breeders and back yard breeders out of the business and along with them much of the poorer quality prospects. Hopefully this will reduce the amount of indiscriminate breeding that has plagued the industry.

We see a healthier industry emerging in the years ahead as only the strongest breeders and producers were able to survive this most difficult period.  This should lead to a higher percentage of legitimate prospects for you to choose from.  Additional, as prospect prices rise, the surviving breeders will be able to restore their balance sheets to more healthy and sustainable positions.

Is buying a horse prospect investing or gambling?

First, let’s define gambling and investing.  Gambling is purely a thing of random change and the odds always favor the house.  A gambler, no matter how much research they do or skills they possess, the odds are they always lose in the end.

Investing, however, is not a game of chance.  With solid research and just a little skill, there is always a good chance the investor will come out ahead.

In my opinion, buying a prospect is both.  For a seasoned professional who possesses good skills and does their research, then buying a prospect is investing.  They certainly do not always get it right, but over time they will likely select many more successful prospects than dreadful suspects.

For an amateur, it is just gambling.  They lack both the experience of dealing with many horses and the skills to make the most of their research to make it more than a game of chance.  In the end, amateurs almost always buy the wrong horse.  Sure, amateurs do get it right sometime; just like someone always wins the raffle as well.

Protecting yourself when buying a prospect

Please do not misunderstand my point of view.  I am not trying to prevent an amateur from considering an equine prospect.  Finding the right prospect can be the most rewarding experience the horse world has to offer.

Remember, I am a businessman first and foremost.  When I see people wasting good, hard earned money on a game of chance, it is exceptionally painful for me.  My goal is simply: to see people make a sound investment and not gamble their money away.

Given that the line between intelligent investing and gambling can be a somewhat thin one, there are ways to guard against making serious errors in judgment.

Here are a few:

  • Never spend more on a prospect than you can afford to lose.  Do not fall into the trap of believing that if it does not work out, you can sell it for what you paid; you can’t.  You will very likely lose much of your upfront money you paid for the horse and all of your costs for feed, care, and training.
  • Do lots of research and don’t rush, give yourself lots of time before you buy to ensure the idea of a horse prospect skill sounds like a good idea.
  • Enlist the help of a professional to help you make your selection.  I do stress a profession, not just a friend who knows a bit more than you do. While your friends will be a great source of ideas and help, you will benefit more from the help of someone who has a good track record selecting and training prospects.
  • Pedigree does help but it needs to be put in perspective.  Studies have shown that the further back go back you go in the family tree, the less meaningful the contributions to the horse in question.  What you look for is how well the immediate relatives have done in discipline of your intended use.
  • Trust the seller, but verify.  The horse business is a tough business and sometimes it pushes people to stretch their ethics a wee bit.  If the seller says the prospect’s sire is a good barrel racer, find direct evidence that is the case.  If you cannot verify, walk away as you can be sure there is always another prospect.
  • Never buy on a ‘hot tip’ of a horse.  Acting on hot tips with horses, horse racing or stocks seldom works out as emotions not judgment tends to drive those decisions.
  • Continually play devil’s advocate and ask yourself why this equine prospect is better than any other.
  • Guard against your own weaknesses; especially if you do not have much time of your own to invest in the search and are prone to mood swings. People with the most success tend to be very down to earth and stable individuals.
  • Read books by and from knowledgeable horse people to improve your general knowledge.

Lastly, be aware that buying a horse prospect is only the beginning.  All the work is still ahead of you in turning that prospect into the horse of your dreams.  The work ahead and the costs of feed, care and training will be considerable.

If you picked right, the enjoyment will be immeasurable.

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Feeding beet pulp to horses

Beet pulp is a pelleted form of horse feed that can be found at feed stores across the country.  What makes beet pulp such a wonderful addition to your regular feeding program is unlike other supplements  it can used as a hay replacement for at least half of your horses normal hay ration.

For horses that are sensitive to dust and mold found in hay it is a lifesaver.  Older horses, horses with dental problems or horses that are just hard keepers will also benefit from the addition of to their diet.  However, beat pulp is not just for horses that have difficulty with hay or oats, it is economical, it is easy to store, it is compact making it great on road trips, there is zero waist when feeding it and once a horse learns to eat it, they love it and thrive on it!

How beet pulp differs from grains and other supplements

  • Beet pulp provides energy in the form of fibre the same way hay does
  • This differs from grains, such as oats, barley or corn, and other grain based pelleted feed.  These feeds provide calories in the form of starch, for this reason they are fed as supplements in limited quantities to avoid causing problems like colic and laminitis (founder).

Beet pulp pellets are made during the process of making sugar for human consumption from sugar beets. The pellets that I feed to horses are made from the pulp of the beet after the sugar is extracted.

Beet pulp provides an excellent source of digestible fibre for horses; in fact some recent studies have found beet pulp fibre to be more digestible than the fibre in hay.  For comparison: I pound of beet pulp will provide an equal amount of energy to 1.5 pounds of hay. When compared to oats it is about equal with the added benefit that it can fed in large quantities unlike oats.

The protean content of beet pulp will range between 8-12 % which is a little higher than timothy hay and a little lower than Alfalfa.

How to feed beet pulp to horses

Beet pulp can be fed to horses both in dry form or soaked in water.  The most common way to feed peat pulp pellets is to soak the pellets in water for a minimum of a few hours before feeding.  For many years in was believed that soaking the pellets was necessary to prevent the pellets from swelling up in the horses stomach causing it to rupture of swelling in their throat causing choking.  Research has show that the dry pellets pose no health threat to the horse and may be fed dry with no ill effects.

Although not a requirement, I choose to soak our beat pulp pellets before I feed them.   My experience has shown that the horses simply prefer them soaked and that is the primary reason I do it. Another convenient aspect of soaking the pellets is it allows me to easily add supplements.  I add vitamins or mineral when I add the water mixing it all together, this way I can be sure they are eating them.

Soaking the pellets will transform the pellets from a hard material to a soft mash after a few hours.  When soaking the pellets you will need a minimum of 1 gallon of water for every gallon of beat pulp.  Just place the pellets in a pail and cover them with as much water as the pellets are deep.  For example: for 1 inch of pellets add water until they are covered by 1 inch of water.   I just start the pellets soaking for the next feeding when I have finished the current feeding.  They can sit soaked for 12- 24 hours without spoiling.  I would advise against feeding it if the mash had been sitting for 36 hrs or more as it will start to mold

Like all new things it will likely take a few days for a horse that has never had beat pulp to get used to it.  When introducing it I usually start by soaking about 1 lb of pellets.  Once the water is absorbed, I mix the mash with some oats or something that I know they like to eat.  It usually only takes a few days and they gobble it up even when it is not mixed with something else.  Once they have learned to eat it, you can reduce the quantity of their other rations while increasing the quantity of beat pulp until you reach the level you want in their diet.

Just remember for every 1.5 lbs of hay or 1 lb of oats you take away from their diet add 1 lb of beat pulp (measure weight dry before you soak it in water).  For easy reference if you don’t have a scale handy:   1 Gallon of dry beat pulp pellets is approximately 6 lbs.

How much beet pulp should you feed your horse?

You can supplement anywhere from 1-10 lbs of feed in your horses diet with beet pulps pellets.  Many owners choose to feed 2-5 lbs as part of their horse’s diet.

The following is a typical diet I use:

  • 6 lbs of beat pulp pellets
  • 3-4 lbs oats
  • 10-12 lbs of hay
  • Liquid vitamin or granulated minerals as per manufacturer’s instructions

I have fed horses that are sensitive to hay dust the following variation of this diet:

  • 9 lbs of beat pulp pellets
  • 3-4 lbs oats
  • 5 lbs of lentil screening pellets
  • 5 lbs of dust free hay
  • Liquid vitamin or granulated minerals as per manufacturer’s instructions

The 5 lbs of hay I fed with this diet could be supplemented with hay cubes for a horse that could not tolerate any type of hay in their diet.

The quantity of pellets you choose will likely depend on the needs of your individual horse and availability of beat pulp pellets compared with other feeds.  I would recommend experimenting with your horse to determine how well they like and adapt to beat pulp.  If we listen they can often do a very good job of telling what is working.

In summary, I find beet pulp both an excellent and economical food for my horses that can be safely fed in large quantities like other forages.  Its compact form makes it the perfect food to travel with and the fact that it is dust free has improved the quality of life for my horses that have issues with dust and hay molds.

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Relevance of the horse’s age when buying a horse

If you are a beginner looking for a safe, trained horse to learn with, a common misperception is: an older horse is safer than a younger horse. It would be unwise to make this generalization. Reactive or fearful behavior will not go away with age. A safe horse is the product of inherent temperament, training, and handling not age. A horse will become steadier as they age and gain experience but only if they are trained, handled properly and used consistently.  There are many older horses that have spent most of their life grazing; this does not qualify as experience, handling and use.

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences undergraduate study found that reaction and fear responses did not vary significantly with age. The study concluded that reactivity and fear responses in younger horses and older horses were essentially equal. This has been our experience as well.

When considering a horse, focus more on the horse’s innate characteristics and temperament. We have found that our best horses are curious, calm, and outgoing even when they are very young, it doesn’t require age. Rather than choosing a horse based on age focus on the experience the horse has gained a look for temperament traits that are the foundation of a safe trainable horse.

Other facts or industry consensus on age:

  • Horses can live to be 30 or older with good care but rarely compete in competitions much beyond  the age of 20
  • Horses generally reach their physical growth maturity at approximately 4 to 5 years
  • Mental maturity generally follows physical maturity relative to the horse. But, like people, maturity means different things for different horses and does not always relate to overall intelligence or trust.
  • Training under saddle is usually started between the ages of 2-4
  • A horse over the age of 16 is considered a veteran
  • Average age for a horse being bought/sold is 9.5 years.
  • For performance category horses, depending on the sport, peak performance years fall between 6 – 15 years.

The up-side of an older horse:

Generally speaking, a well trained, older horse is going to be less influenced by the inexperienced rider’s ability. They will help build your confidence and be patient with the things you don’t know.  They are also less apt to do something really ridiculous that could result in you or them getting hurt.

The down-side of an older horse:

The downside may be that the horse has experience with inexperienced riders and may know some tricks to avoid having to do what you want.  If they use their experience against you it is worse than a horse with no experience at all.  Another down side is if things work out really great their age will limit the number of years you have together.  Taking care of their physical needs can result in expensive vet bills.

The up-side of a younger horse:

The younger horse is more mouldable to what you like and your needs. It has more upward developmental potential giving you the chance to get a great horse at a cheaper price. If things work out you have many potential years together.  Additionally, if you need to sell you will likely realize more upside in your valuable investment. Presuming the horse is healthy care and vet cost should be low. You will need professional coaching and you must be willing to spend many hours training and working with your horse to succeed (this point can be seen as either and up-side or down-side depending on your perspective).

The down-side of a younger horse:

The younger horse will be very influence by your behavior and skills. For this reason many inexperienced owners with horses spend allot of time worrying that they are ruining their horse. If thing go wrong, you may not know why and this can be hard on your confidence.  They are more apt to do something goofy that could result in you or them getting injured.  Coaching and training cost will be higher and you will need to be able to commit to many hours with your horse to succeed.

Finally, when considering a horse of any age, focus on the quality of the horse’s experience. Learn as much as you can about the current owner, their abilities and use of the horse.

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What is the right horse temperament for you?

In my blog, buying a horse with the right temperament, I talked about the importance of temperament when shopping for a horse.

So after doing your homework looking at numerous horses and collecting all kinds of information how do you figure out what it all means?

Find your match

To put this information to use you must realize that you are not trying to find the perfect horse as much as the perfect match. The horse is only one half of the equation; you are the other half. There are just as many differences in human temperament and personality as there are in horses. When you set out to find your perfect horse, first ask the questions perfect for what? And perfect for whom?

Owning a horse is much like a marriage. Going into it we all have a list of things we look for in a partner, we want things in common, we have appearance or size requirements but we all have at least a few things that we consider non-negotiable. To know what these things are you first must know yourself, what works for you and what you want.

Then there is the attraction or spark factor, this is what gets us through the hard times and reminds us why we want to make it work. The important thing to remember is a horse that could be perfect for you could be someone else biggest nightmare.

Define your goals

When going through all of the information you have for the horses you are considering make sure you have clearly defined your goals. Don’t expect a horse to be too many things. I have had people come to me looking for a horse to trail ride but they also would like to possibly train it for cutting and their daughter wants to learn to ride so it would be good if the horse was good with kids.

Define your goals; each horse has its strengths and weakness just like us. Focus on finding the horse right for what you are planning to do now. If you are learning to ride, buy a horse that can teach you and build your confidence. Down the road if you decide you want to show, you will want to get a horse that will help you succeed at your selected discipline. It will very likely be a different horse than the one that is right for what you want to do now when you are learning to ride.

When advertises tell you they have the perfect horse this means nothing until you understand why the horse was perfect for them.  Don’t let anyone tell you they have the perfect horse for you until they know who you are and what you want.  Then be sure they have your best interests in mind. As buyers we too often ask a lot of questions about the horse and too few about the seller and what they have really done with the horse.

Your safety

If all of this sounds complicated there is one thing that’s not and that’s your safety.  The most important criteria are to find a horse that won’t hurt you and damage your confidence.  If you don’t have this, you won’t get what you want out of the relationship. When it comes to safety opposites attract for success.

It works like this:

  • If you are inexperience you need a horse that is experienced
  • If you are very experienced you will likely have more fun with an inexperienced horse
  • If you are the steady relaxed type you will do well with a horse that needs you to lead the way. (This is still true if you are inexperienced and the horse is experienced, just because the horse is experienced doesn’t mean he is confident).
  • If you are a nervous jitterbug you need a horse with nerves of steel.

These are the things that you and the horse need from each other.  Don’t underestimate how much you will love this, being needed and having your needs met can be the most rewarding part of owning a horse.

Having fun together

After looking at the things you and your horse need from each other, you can look at the things that you want. These are the areas where you let loose and have fun together; the qualities you and the horse have in common. It includes things like energy level and social needs.

Are you a loner? Do you have a little bit of show off in you? Do you have aspirations of competing in an event or do you hope to never do anything but walk?  These are the places you want common ground with a horse. These are things that impact how much you like and understand each other.

Finding your match can take time so the best way is to just enjoy the process and take the time to learn as you go.  This important step is essential to success and enjoyment for you and your horse.

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Canadian governments favour producers of meat horses over sport and recreation

It was with dismay and disbelief that I learned this week that the Pasture Recovery Initiative (PRI) launched by the Canadian federal and provincial governments would not be available for horse producers unless the horses were being raised specifically for meat production.

The message that this sends to an already struggling industry is that the only horse producers that our Canadian governments deem to be worth helping are the ones raising horses for meat.  This implication by our own government is the lowest of low blows for the people of the horse industry that have spent their lifetime learning and working to produce something that we can all be proud of.

This is not a discussion about the rights or wrongs of horses being slaughtered for meat because this takes the discussion to a new level.  The Alberta, Saskatchewan and Canadian Federal governments are only going to provide drought assistance to horse producers breeding horses specifically for meat; sending the message that the only part of the horse industry they value is the horse meat market.  As a long time horse breeder, a Canadian and a proud Albertan I find this message appalling.

This is the time of the year when, as a horse breeder, we watch with excited anticipation as our foals grow, we carefully monitor their condition, make sure they are safe and dream about the future when we first slip a saddle onto their back.  Many people not involved in the horse industry, locals and tourists alike, get out to take in a horse show; a local rodeo or enjoy a few days at the Calgary Stampede or Spruce Meadows.   Regardless of our role, whether part of the horse industry or just someone who enjoys watching an equestrian sport or horse race; are we truly comfortable with the message from our government that horses can only be valued by the pound?

The equestrian part of the horses industry generates millions of dollars in revenue each year through tourism and taxes with events such as show jumping, dressage, rodeo, horse racing, etc.  The horses used in these events are certainly not bred by those breeding horses for meat.  They are produced by breeders committed to breeding quality stock with the goal of contributing something much more valuable to society than another meal; however this is the part of the industry that our government is not going support or recognize.  In 2009-10 a horses value for export as meat is less than the cost to raise it and yet these producers will get support.

We all know as horse owners that $60.00 is only a token amount to the true cost of feeding a horse for the year. Every little bit does help when margins are as thin as in today’s horse market.  For some it would have represented being able to carry on our not.   What was much more valuable than the $60.00 was the token of support and the encouragement for people in the equine industries that they were producing something that we as a society and as Canadians, value.

All of this leaves the question…How is it possible for a place like Alberta were we sell ourselves to the world with venues like the Calgary Stampede and Spruce Meadows that our government can get away with recognizing horse meat producers as the only legitimate part of the industry?

If you find this as unacceptable as I do please pass this information along.

The Horse Industry Association of Alberta has written to the Alberta Minister of Agriculture, the Honourable Jack Hayden, to object to the exclusion of the vast majority of equine breeding stock from this vital recovery program.  If you have time to do the same, send your letter to:

Honourable Jack Hayden
Legislature Office
#423 Legislature Building
10800 97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB  T5K 2B6

Tell them what you think. Also send a copy of your letter to your MLAs.

Saskatchewan producers have also been excluded from this program, other than meat and PMU, and we encourage you to write to your Saskatchewan Minister of Agriculture and local MLAs.

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Buying a horse with the right temperament

If you are planning to purchase a trail horse one of the most important things to look for is a horse with a suitable temperament. It is important to realize horses have natural differences in temperament just like people. Some are outgoing and confident; some are nervous and unsure; some love to go new places while others would give anything to never leave home.  Although training and exposure can influence these natural traits nothing ever changes a fearful horse into a brave horse.

Temperament is largely genetic and has been linked to the dam/sire’s temperament. For trail riding a horse should have a confident, trusting temperament. It is impossible to have a relaxing fun ride on a horse that has a heart attack ever time a bird fly’s by regardless of how well trained they are.

The point is every time your horse reacts to fear even if it is just tensing or freezing your heart will be at least part way to your throat. This is particularly true for people who have had bad experiences while riding or those experienced enough with horses to know what fear reactions can lead to.  Riding with fear is just not as much fun as it should be.

So if you are buying a trail horse, you have a free drop to get a horse you can really have fun on; so don’t compromise on temperament. It is easy to talk yourself into thinking you can make up for it with training or exposure just because you like your horse.

So how can you assess the temperament of a horse you just met?  Temperamental traits of a horse are not easy to assess when you meet a horse for the first time in their stall or paddock.  The best time to assess the temperament of a horse is when they are introduced to something new of or when they are brought into new surroundings.  This is where you can see if they react with curiosity, indifference, fear or flight and if they look to you for reassurance.  All of these reactions can provide valuable insight to the temperament of the horse.

All horses will react with fear under certain circumstances but a valuable test is how long it take for the horse transition from fearful behavior of a object or place to curious behavior.  If the horse makes the transition from fear to curiosity quite quickly then training them not to be fearful will likely be quite easy. If the horse make this transition very slowly or never show signs of wanting to investigate their fear it is going to be very difficult to train this horse not to fear.

A book titled “Is Your Horse A Rock Star” understanding your horse’s personality by Dessa Hockley is an excellent source of information.  In her book the author has developed a questioner that profiles horses into temperament groups. She then discusses the training methods and disciplines that will work best for the horse based on their personally and temperament. You can also visit Dessa online http://www.horsepersonality.com/ and take the horse personality quiz. The version in her book provides more insight but the online version will get you started.

When buying a horses you will need help from the current owner/trainer to answer the questions for the personally quiz. When you go to look at the horse ask the person showing the horse to help you; it just may provide some valuable insight and help you find the horse that is right for you.

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