No one could have predicted the year 2020 has been. The cutting horse industry has never experienced something like COVID-19. All equine sports have had to adapt to continue to function in the midst of the pandemic. But how has COVID -19 actually impacted the sport and the community involved with it?
It’s important to recognize that many people have suffered the loss of loved ones and/or endured the illness themselves not to mention dealt with financial hardship. While it’s impossible to know those statistics in the cutting industry, we can investigate other ways it’s been felt.
Jay Winborn, Executive Director of the NCHA, said the Futurity is different this year. There are be no banquets, no parties, a limit on spectators and a mask mandate set by the city of Fort Worth. “…All I can do is ask for the cooperation of our people and to understand why we’re doing it,” pleaded Jay, despite many people attending the Will Rogers coliseum not wearing masks.
Winborn said that many people have not had personal experiences with COVID. “A lot of people haven’t known anybody that’s gotten sick or if they have got sick, it hasn’t been that bad.” Fort Worth City holds the responsibility of enforcing the mask mandate at the Will Rogers coliseum. Winborn said “…what the individual decides to do is up to them.”
Winborn said he is committed to doing everything he can to keep the Futurity going in a safe and efficient manner. “Please, do the NCHA, do yourself and do the community a favor and wear your mask!”
In regards to the financial impacts on the NCHA, Winborn said they are doing fine. The Association has lost revenue, but on the flip side, it has not had to spend money putting on events. His concern is the flow-on effect from almost 150 shows being cancelled.
“…the trickle-down of that is substantial when you start thinking about the people that have invested money to compete in the sport and what they were not able to do. The trainers that derive a living from hauling from show to show, the vendors, the show staff that work these shows. It permeates far greater than just the Association. That is something I am very, very sensitive to…”
The solution, he said, is not to raise fees but do the opposite. “I think we can continue to reduce expenses. It’s going to help us be in a position to be more financially fit as we move forward.”
Fortunately, cutting is an easy sport to practice social distancing in when you’re on the back of a horse.
“It’s not like playing soccer or being in the running club where you’re going to be around [other people]…during the quarantine the communication I put out was use this time to better develop your skills and work your horses and work on your riding and everything else that needs to be done to contribute to your cutting ability.”
Another silver lining to come out of the pandemic was the heightened enthusiasm for showing after the shutdown. “When we did open up and get back to cutting, I noticed that our entries had grown quite a bit because I think people were not able to go and when the time came that they were, they were ready and excited,” said Winborn.
It’s been a baptism by fire for Winborn who took over management of the NCHA just 12 months ago. While the pandemic has sidelined his plans to grow the Association, he hopes to refocus those efforts in 2021.
When it comes to the horse market, COVID-19 has had no negative impact on prices. Jeremy Barwick, owner of Western Bloodstock and co-owner of Brazos Valley Stallion Station, said sales are up.
“As far as horse prices, they have been higher this year. I haven’t seen any negative effects.”
But it has forced Western Bloodstock to change the way it does business. Barwick added online bidding so people can purchase horses from home. The auctions take place in real time, and they have received a lot of positive feedback.
“…I think I will keep [online auctions] from now on. Some people are just more comfortable staying home and bidding on one. A lot of people have done their homework ahead of time so they are comfortable bidding on the horse online.”
At the NRCHA Snaffle Bit Futurity Sale, online bidders made 70% of the bids. That just helps the prices Barwick said. The snaffle bit sale was up 22% with a 94% sale rate. Western Bloodstock also had to move the sales during the NCHA and RNCHA Futurities to the Watt Arena instead of the John Justin Arena, to allow room for social distancing.
“Even back at the breeding barn, I thought that our breeding numbers were going to plummet. We bred more mares than we’ve ever bred,” said Barwick.
“Broodmares have really shocked me. That’s typically your weakest market, [the demand] started last year and has carried on this year, but the market has been strong,” he added.
So strong in fact, a new record was set when Wes Ashlock sold a two-year-old filly Wood She B Magic for an impressive $1.05M to Billy Wolf in the NCHA Futurity sale.
It’s a trend Jim Ware, owner of the Triangle Sale has also experienced despite having to reschedule one of their annual sales three times.
They finally held their sale at the AQHA World Show in Oklahoma City in November. Ware said it was a great success with the top sale netting $100,000.
“We had 471 horses lotted [not including the outs], 85% of them sold and averaged over $10,000. With that number of horses, that’s a big sale. It was a big two day sale with a lot of people there.”
During the downtime, they strategized about how to continue doing business within the restrictions of COVID-19. Triangle Sale has a great reputation for its fun atmosphere for bidders and hospitality which in the past made Ware hesitant about going online.
“You cannot duplicate [that festive feeling] in online sales.”
However, with COVID restricting their events, Ware decided it was time to offer online sales. Triangle’s first such auction was a special offering of historic bloodlines produced by Oxbow Ranch and renowned trainer Lindy Burch. That sale runs until December 15.
“If you can create a market with the online sale where you can sell weanlings or sell embryos and not have to wait until they are a year old, you are money ahead.”
Ware believes online sales will offer great opportunities for people and help attract new buyers without taking replacing in-person sales.
Ware said the pandemic and the shutdown reminded him of 9/11, “…it was totally different, but at the same time the world stopped.
“In the fall of 2001, we had gathered the best set of horses, unbelievable mares in the sale like Meradas Little Sue and some other great mares. We were just worried to death because as it turned out consigners decided not to sell because the market wouldn’t be good…the market was incredible and we set an all time record with Meradas Little Sue. There were a lot of people that had money in the stock market or other investment means. They took that money out of those other investments and decided to spend some of it. We had incredible sales.”
“I encouraged people to be calm about COVID – 19 since I had seen it first hand and sweated through it and worried through it. So I knew it could be good or it could be bad. Turns out, it has been good.”
Ware said the 6666 Ranch’s Return To The Remuda sale in October was also one of the best it had been.
“[COVID-19] has not had a negative effect, thus far, on the market in any way.”
Another unexpected boon to the NCHA Futurity from COVID was the National Finals Rodeo and Cowboy Christmas shopping coming to the Metroplex and the Will Rogers.