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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