Seasoned To Sell
By Frank Holmes
For Bill and Carrie Weller of Kadoka, South Dakota, success in the horse business is all about athletes and atmosphere. As far as prestigious horse sale locations go, the Kadoka, South Dakota, rodeo grounds is probably never going to make it onto anyone’s “top 10” list.
That’s not to say there’s anything shabby about the setup. The grounds themselves are well groomed and in good repair. What’s more, they’re put to use regularly for local rodeos and horse shows.
The problem lies in the arena’s geographic location.Kadoka itself is but a small ranching town with a population of 706, located in the southwestern sector of the state and adjacent to both the Badlands and the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. While not without its attributes, the town is not exactly a crossroads destination, either, so those attending the Weller Ranch 3rd Annual Invitational Gelding & Production Sale really wanted to get there. And those who came filled the auction tent stands to overflowing and sent the 113 cataloged sale entries to new homes in 20 states—at an impressive overall average sale price of $5,253.
Given the sale’s location and today’s challenging horse marketing environment, the event and its financial box score can only be viewed as an unqualified success. To what, then, do sale sponsors Bill and Carrie Weller attribute the strong showing? According to them, it’s all about the product, the presentation and the proof.
To begin with, the Weller Ranch product is the real deal.
The ranch is a four-generation enterprise, founded in 1949 by L.G. and Stella Weller as a registered and commercial Angus operation.
W.O. and Jean Weller—the second generation—have continued on with the cattle. In November of each year, they hold a production sale offering 100 head of 2-year-old Angus bulls and bred heifers.
Bill and Carrie Weller—the third generation—are involved with the cattle and also maintain a herd of registered Quarter Horses. Their interest in the horses has developed along two distinct lines.
The first involves Bill, age 41, and his ranching background.
“We are a working, 13,000-acre cattle ranch,” he says, “and that means we use horses in many of our everyday functions—calving, branding, doctoring, checking pastures, moving, sorting and shipping cattle to market.
“Having grown up on the backs of some pretty good using horses, I’ve come to really appreciate a capable, willing mount.”
After graduating from Kadoka high school in 1984, Bill attended Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington, and South Dakota State University (SDSU) in Brookings. While at SDSU, he began dating fellow horse enthusiast Carrie Regehr of Marion, South Dakota. Although not raised in a ranching environment, Carrie, now age 39, has contributed her own unique set of qualifications to the partnership.
“My parents, Roger and Lois Regehr, owned and operated a farm near Marion, South Dakota,” she says. “Although we did raise small grains, our emphasis was mainly on Rambouillet sheep. I grew up handling and showing them, but I always loved horses and managed to keep one or more around.
“I attended SDSU from 1986 through 1990,” she continues. “I was in the animal science program and had the opportunity to work closely with the school’s equine program. As students, we handled a lot of the breeding and foaling, and worked with the youngsters.
“I graduated in the spring of 1990 and then went to work for Wrigley Arabians of Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Again, this proved to be an excellent opportunity to gain more knowledge and practical experience in the reproductive end of the business.”
With a little encouragement from Bill, Carrie eventually found her way back home to South Dakota. The two were married on September 25, 1993, and promptly settled down into the life of a young ranch couple. In short order, that life included two sons—Gage and Tagg—and a Quarter Horse breeding program.
“I came to Kadoka with three geldings and a mare,” Carrie says. “The mare was Dee Frosted Maid, an SDSU-bred granddaughter of Sir Quincy Dan and Sonny Dee Bar. After a while, we decided to breed her. Then we added a 19-year-old stud—Corker Bars—and six or seven additional mares to the mix, and we were in the horse business.”
The Weller Ranch Quarter Horse program is now composed of two stallions and 30 broodmares.
Entrenched as the program’s senior sire is Sierra’s Notion, a1990 gray stallion by world champion halter horse Sierra Te and out of reserve world champion hunter under saddle horse Nasty Notions. Junior sire chores have recently been turned over to Seven S Barney, a 2002 gray stallion by AQHA World Show Superhorse Real Gun and out of Seven S Ruffles.
The broodmare band is made up of several daughters of SDSU sire Dee Bar Feature, and additional mares of Quincy Dan, Leo, Sonny Dee Bar, Two Eyed Jack, Jackie Bee, King Fritz, Hollywood Dun It, Robert Redford, Big Step and Skipa Star breeding.
After several years spent trying to market their foals locally with less-than-satisfactory results, the Wellers decided on a different approach.
“In the late fall of every year,” Bill says, “we hold an Angus bull and bred female sale. We hold it at the ranch, and before during and after we use our ranch horses to move the cattle around. Several years ago, we noticed a definite trend. After the sale, people would come up to us and try to buy our horses.
“We thought, ‘this might not be a bad deal,’ so we began adding a few broke geldings to the sale. Before long, the horse demand had outgrown the cattle sale. Again, we thought, ‘we need to take advantage of this.’ So, in August of 2005, we decided to put on our own invitational gelding and production sale.”
Even though relative newcomers to the world of Quarter Horse breeding and marketing, Bill and Carrie are well aware of the fact that the Western horse industry is currently in a state of flux—battling increased quality and numbers on one hand, and lack of a “killer market” bottom-defining base on the other. To succeed in this volatile marketplace, the duo knows that they are going to have to continue to refine their own battle plan.
“We do understand how blessed we are to be living a true Western lifestyle,” Carrie says. “We live in a region that is custom-made to economically handle the breeding and raising of large numbers of horses. It is also a ruggedly beautiful part of the country. We’re aware of the lure that our Black Hills and Badlands exert on people, and we incorporate that appeal in our marketing plans.
“Then, too, the fact that many of the horses we wind up selling are experienced ranch mounts seems to make them more appealing to horsemen and horsewomen from all walks of life.
“Most of the horses have been born and raised in rugged, open terrain, and they have learned from birth to handle themselves in a variety of sticky situations. When this native intelligence is augmented by ranch seasoning-under-saddle, the results are more often than not a product that has tremendous appeal to arena competitors and casual recreation riders alike.”
With a solid product in the offing and a picturesque locale in which to present it, all that remained for the Wellers to round out their marketing plan was to package the ingredients in a way that appealed to the buying public. Here again, the couple’s contrasting strengths and interests were combined in pursuit of the common good.
“In the late 1980s,” Bill says, “I attended the Western College of Auctioneering in Billings, Montana. At one time, I thought I might want to become a livestock auctioneer. I never did go ahead and pursue it, but the experience left me with an in-depth understanding of the auctioneering game and how to use it to my advantage as both a buyer and a seller.
“Carrie and I are not at the point where we’re raising enough of our own riding prospects to fill out the performance portion of our sale, so, throughout the late fall, winter and early spring, I am always on the lookout for some good prospects to bring back, put some time on and sell. Because of how we make a major portion of our living, we are able to season these horses with some good, old-fashioned on-the-job training. We start working cattle with our sale horses in early spring, and, by the time the sale rolls around, they’ve probably done their part on herding, sorting, holding, dragging and branding 4,000 to 5,000 head of cattle.”
Bill Weller’s contributions to the overall game plan, then, lie mainly in the selection and seasoning of the ranch-owned performance sale entries. Carrie’s approach takes a slightly different tack.
“I really love the breeding end of the business,” she says. “I love to make the crosses, and work with the mares and colts. And we’ve progressed far enough in our program that I’m now able to make the next generation of crosses and see how Seven S Barney is going to nick with the Sierras Notion daughters.
“Despite the fact that Bill and I are approaching each year’s sale from two different angles, there is one thing that keeps us both headed in the same direction—we both like pretty horses, and, whether it’s a riding horse or a weanling foal, we want each and every sale entry to be as pretty as possible.
“Then, too, I’ve always been interested in photography, and I have been able to progress to the point where I’ve hung out my own shingle as a livestock photographer. I take all the photos we use in our ranch and sale promotion material.”
As far the Weller Ranch is concerned, the proof is in the pudding and the pudding is the Annual Invitational Gelding & Production Sale. The third edition of the event was held August 2–3, 2007.
Hosted by the Wellers and presided over by experienced North Country auctioneer Lynn Weishaar, the event played out to a packed house of between 500 and 600 bidders and spectators. Up for grabs were 45 Weller Ranch entries—25 riding horses and 20 weanlings—and 68 outside consignments.
As a testimony to Bill Weller’s eye for a horse, the top three sellers were all consigned by the Weller Ranch.
High-selling horse honors went to Pistols Banker, a 2001 sorrel gelding by Lenas Main Banker and out of Pistol San Smoke. The well-broke ranch horse sold for $13,500 to Bill Coultas of Ventura, California.
Billy Classy Buck, a 1998 buckskin gelding by Skippa Rickashay and out of Some Class Buck, took second-highest-selling honors when he elicited a final bid of $12,500 from Mangen Angus of Broadus, Montana.
The third-highest-selling horse was Mr Iceman Leo, a homebred Weller Ranch consignment sired by Corker Bars and out of Poco Miss Leoette. A seasoned ranch mount and well-started heading horse, the 2000 palomino gelding went to Western States Ranches (John Johnson agent) of Dublin, Texas, for $12,250.
Next on the top-seller’s list and the high-point consignor horse was Smart Lil Firecracker, a 2002 sorrel gelding by Lenas Loaded Gun and out of Dry Lil Gal. Consigned by Cleve Pritchard of Kadoka, this talented ranch and arena performer sold for $12,000 to Jim Evans, who is an NFR-qualifying steer tripper from Reva, South Dakota.
Top-selling weanling was Smokin Notions, a black filly by Sierras Notion who was purchased for $2,400 by Kilker Farms of Orient, South Dakota. Illuminotions, a striking gray dun filly by Sierras Notions, took home second-highest-selling weanling honors when she was sold for $2,200 to Lindsay Johnson of Cheyenne, Wyoming.
John Johnson/Western States Ranches was the winner of one free year’s use of a 20-foot Featherlite aluminum stock combo trailer, and Cleve Pritchard took home the Maynard trophy belt buckle for the Top Consigned Horse.
The sale’s top 10 average was $10,845, and the Weller Ranch average was $6,581. The weanling average was $916.
By any measure, a horse sale held in a small town in western South Dakota, that grosses close to $600,000, has to be considered an unqualified success.
For Bill and Carrie Weller, it represents that and more.
“We appreciate all the support we’ve received over the past several years,” Bill says. “We are certainly aware of the fact that we could never have pulled any of this off by ourselves. It’s taken the combined efforts of everyone involved—family, friends, sales crew, consignors and buyers—and we are thankful for their willingness to participate.
“As far as what the future holds for us, we’d like to keep doing what we’re doing and get a little better at it each year.
“We believe that the future of the horse industry lies in the pretty athletes—the dead-broke horses with correct, balanced conformation, and the athletic ability and willing minds to go on and make top-notch horses that can go to the arena, the trails, the show pen or the backyard horse enthusiast.
“And, as long as we’re able to draw a crowd of people up here each fall to see what we’ve got to offer, we’ll keep trying to make their journey worthwhile.”
Frank Holmes is a Western Horseman contributing editor. Send comments on this story to email@example.com.