What is a Horse Futurity

Competitors of the American Horse Quarter breed in the Brazilian national championship.
Barrel horse futurities are offered as incentives to breed outstanding horses for the sport. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

If you buy a purebred horse or attend a show where people with registered horses are competing you might hear or read about futurities.  Futurity programs differ between breed registries, but in general, they are established to encourage breeding for outstanding offspring. To be entered in a futurity class in any competition, a horse must have been enrolled in a futurity program, either before or very shortly after birth. A mature horse can not be enrolled in a futurity program.

Once a horse is part of a futurity program they will then compete against horses enrolled within the same time period. So for example, weanlings will compete against each other, yearlings may be shown in conformation classes against same age youngsters and horses started under saddle may be shown in performances classes. There are usually requirements that both the sire and dam of the horse must meet; they must be enrolled in a specific program themselves or meet specific criteria. Futurity classes may be judged for conformation only, or the horse may be judged on its performance under saddle or in harness. The motive of most futurity programs is to produce outstanding individuals within a breed and encourage their use.

Breeders must pay to be included in a futurity program and in some cases, may have to pay for their horse each year, or for each competition to maintain their eligibility in the program. These payments may help fund pools of prize money to be distributed to those who win when they enter the eligible horse in futurity competitions. These money prizes and the respect that futurity winners gain gives breeders incentives to breed high-quality horses able to do the job they were bred to do. Ideally, these horses represent the best of their breed.

Most major breed registries have futurity programs. The largest is of course, the American Quarter Horse registry with futurities offered for many disciplines. There are also maturity programs for horses within a specific age group. The American Paint Horse registry offers a tiered futurity program based on the cost of the horse’s sire’s stud fee and other specifications. The program is divided into Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze and horses may be entered at their level or below when competing. Horses are shown in in-hand classes and in performance classes. The cost of these programs is in the thousands of dollars, however, the paybacks for winning are equally impressive. The Arabian Horse Association offers futurity classes for Arabian, Half-Arabian and Anglo-Arabians. Horses enrolled in these programs compete in futurity classes at national and international competitions. Horses in these programs must be DNA tested to ensure that they are eligible.

Some competition based associations such as those promoting barrel horses, jumpers or other performances horses may have their own futurity programs. Competitions for breeds exist within almost every discpline from driving, dressage to long distance riding. 

Futurities are common in the race horse world.  These are races that two-year-olds run in. They may be Thoroughbreds, Arabians, Quarter Horses or other breeds that offer flat races. The purses for these races are typically higher than other races, as owners and breeders contribute to the pool through the program fees.

The word futurity means “the quality of being or happening in the future” according to the Miriam Webster dictionary.

Examples: The owners of the two-year-old Arabian were thrilled when their colt won first place in the futurity class.