Surprises await trainers Ike and Shanna Thomas at horse sales
By Dianna Troyer
After years of training and selling horses at auctions, Ike and Shanna Thomas have learned to expect the unexpected. Still, they were stunned by the outcome of the Cody Horse Sale in May.
Ranchers and rodeo competitors usually buy the horses Ike trains at Grouse Creek Ranch in northern Utah, where he works as the manager.
This time, a new type of buyer noticed the couple’s distinctive horse, Scooby Doo. A 6-year-old Belgian draft horse/quarter horse cross, Scooby has an eye-catching splashy red roan paint coat.
Smitten with the sturdy gelding, a San Francisco police officer paid $34,000 for Scooby to become his equine patrol partner.
“We were surprised,” Ike says. “It’s the most we’ve ever been paid for a horse. We never thought one of our horses would work in mounted patrol.”
At 1,400 pounds and 16 hands high, “Scooby will be great for that kind of work because he’s athletic and strong, yet also agile and quick,” Ike says.
Shanna says Scooby’s personality makes him perfect for his new job, too.
“We used him a few times to give horseback rides for kids who had never ridden a horse before,” she says. “He was kind and patient and really connected with them.”
Ike and Shanna had never been to the Cody sale.
“My grandparents suggested we go there because it attracts buyers who like draft horse crosses,” Shanna says. “We’re glad we took their advice.”
What did they do with their financial windfall?
“We invested in more horses,” Shanna says, grinning. On the way home from Cody, they stopped in Riverton, Wyoming, and picked up two colts.
“We liked their bloodlines,” Ike says. “We thought they would be a good fit with our training program like Scooby was.”
When Scooby was 3, a client brought him to Ike for training.
“He was focused and eager to please,” Ike says. “I liked him so much I bought him.”
When selling horses at auctions, Ike and Shanna accept they have no control over the outcome.
“We wonder who will buy our horses, what they’ll be used for, and how much they’ll sell for,” Ike says.
Shanna says they prefer private sales so they can make ideal matches between horses and riders based on a rider’s skill and a horse’s personality and abilities.
“Living in a remote place like Grouse Creek, though, we need to get our horses and names out there,” Shanna says, “so we go to two or three sales every year.”
They also go to the Shelman Family Horse Sale in Oregon, and one of their favorites, the Van Norman and Friends Production Sale in Elko, Nevada, in mid-September.
Ike and Shanna are taking two horses to the Elko sale.
“A 3-year-old filly has a nice start on her,” Ike says. “A 5-yearold gelding has been a great ranch horse and is excelling in the roping arena as well. We like Van Norman’s sale because the buyers there know about our training program and that we offer horses that have a good ranch work foundation.”
Ike relies on a training method developed by the late Ray Hunt, known for developing ideas of natural horsemanship. One of his mottos was, “Make the wrong thing difficult and the right thing easy.” He taught riders to understand a horse’s point of view and why and how a horse reacts to pressure and riding cues.
“I like his method because it’s about taking your time and letting the horse progress at its own pace,” Ike says. “If a horse learns quickly, you can challenge and push him. If not, I don’t push. Generally, I’ll put about 10 to 15 rides on 2-year-olds and turn them out on the mountain to grow up.”
Running around on the range, they learn to watch where they place their feet, to not spook at things, and accept all kinds of weather, bugs and terrain.
“Then in the fall when they’re 3, I’ll start working with them again,” Ike says. “We’ll do an easy day of four or five hours moving cattle or branding. For our older horses, our long days can be dark to dark, starting at about 6 a.m., especially in spring and fall. In summer, we try to get it done before it gets too hot.”
When horses reach age 6 or 7 “when we’re sure just about anyone can get along with them, we’ll consign them to a sale,” Shanna says.
Some of their horses may never be sold. Among them is El Gato—a 12-year-old dun quarter horse.
“His name means ‘the cat,’ and he’s really athletic,” Shanna says. “At rodeos, he does it all—roping, poles, barrels. He’ll probably always be with us. I’ve had him since he was a colt and trained him. He’s great with our kids.”
Ike and Shanna own a core of about eight horses.
“We try to keep our family and friends in horses for 4-H or rodeos as well,” Shanna says.
Ike and Shanna still compete at rodeos and started their kids in the sport, too. They met at the College of Southern Idaho, where they were members of the rodeo team with a love for roping.
“I’m working on getting our website going to let people know about our horses,” Shanna says of their domain name, which will be we.b.ropin.com.
Shanna says while it is bittersweet sometimes to sell the horses, “It’s so rewarding when our clients keep in touch with us and send photos of what they’re doing.”
Ike says, “We’re always excited to see our horses go on and progress for their owners.”