McDealer of Horses

Name: Gene Rucker, 56.
Hometown: Usk,
Job description: Licensed
and federally bonded
horse dealer.
Family: Married to wife
Linda, 20 years.
Previous occupation: Top-20
country-Western singer.
Business motto: "The only
thing that really amounts to
anything in this life is your
word. If your word’s no
good, you’re no good."
Biggest sales pet peeve:
"People who treat horses
like four-wheelers."


Fast-food franchises and their merchandising machinery have
nothing on Gene Rucker, the most innovative horse seller we’ve met.

IF THE GOLDEN ARCHES EVER COME TO A LITTLE Hole-in-the-wall hamlet called Usk, Washington (population 140), you can be sure they won’t be hanging over a burger joint. Most likely those arches will be glowing over the granddaddy of the fast-food industry’s equine equivalent: The buy-a-horse store owned and operated by Gene Rucker, whose every ad proclaims him a “licensed and federally bonded horse dealer.”
   With as much marketing chutzpah as a Madison Avenue PR agency, Rucker pushes all the right buttons for the thousands who’ve made their pilgrimage down miles of interstate highways to meet him, shop his regular inventory of 30 or so horses, and, quite literally, see if the man’s walk lines up with his talk.
   Like shepherds following the star to Bethlehem, buyers are lured by Rucker’s never-ending, nickel-type advertising


that spans a five-state region and is further turbo charged, worldwide, by the Internet. He’ll spend close to $10,000 a year letting the public know he takes Mastercard and Visa. He fully guarantees every horse sold–even allows the buyer to take the horse home for a 7-day tryout. "Take ’em home, ride ’em, bring ’em back for a full refund in 7 days." That’s Rucker’s slogan, and it might as well be his jingle, set to the tuneYou Deserve a Break Today.
   If some of his promotional phrases sound like lyrics from a good ol’ country-Western tune, Rucker can’t help it. Before turning to the horse business, he spent the majority of his life on the road, performing in Nashville and touring with the likes of Merle Haggard and Ricky Skaggs. He’s recorded four albums reaching as high as Number 12 on the country charts. "I spent the first half of my life signin’ autographs," Rucker

B y   R o n n a   S n y d e r

Gene Rucker’s
unique style of
selling horses like
fast food often
means wheeling and
dealing with two
clients at once.


reminisces. "So I’m not about to spend the last half hidin’ from folks ’cause I sold them a bad horse."
   Dozens of pictures and thank-you notes taped to the trader’s wall testify to his fondness for those same folks–and their apparent fondness for him. He points out each customer by name, and like a proud father who gave his kid the perfect present, he describes the horse he found for each purchase pilgrim.  Actress Patty Duke and her husband are two of Rucker’s "favorite customers." Says Rucker of the famous family, "They told me ‘you think we’re celebrities, but when it comes to horses, you’re the celebrity!’"
   This is a man who tries his darndest to make horse buying as easy and pleasant as ordering a Big Mac. Besides the guarantee and offer of bank-card usage, Rucker serves up used saddles and bridles, and propane heaters to ward off the cold while customers watch horses being ridden. His smiling wife, Linda, provides cups of steaming coffee, and Rucker even hands out premiums–free cassettes of his earlier hits. He’ll bring your purchase to you, too, with a cheerful, "SureI’ll deliver him to ya!"
   Rucker puts 35,000 miles a year on his Ford Powerstroke, finding the right horses for his program. "If it weren’t for divorces, I’d sure be low on horses," he sings. With mostly grade Quarter- and Paint-type crosses, his average horse sells in figures comparable to the plain burger at McDonalds: $1,200 to $1,600. If buyers choose to "super-size" their order with a registered Quarter Horse or Paint, the prices rise accordingly.
   While reluctant to give the annual number of horses sold, Rucker does confess he takes back approximately


5 percent of his horses on warranty. And he admits it’s not common to move more than a couple of horses a day. He’s not about to put up a sign that says "100 billion sold." "Wouldn’t nobody believe that anyways," he smiles.
   No matter how thoroughly Rucker might believe he’s found a dependable family horse, he puts all new purchases through the same debugging drill. His goal is to ensure uniformity of product, whether a horse comes from the bayous or the badlands. He employs a full-time trainer assigned to find each horse’s hot buttons and disconnect them.
   Example: Every horse meets up with the tarp. The spooky plastic thing is dragged all over the horse and between his legs, then laid on the ground for him to learn to walk over. "That way," Rucker explains, "the horse isn’t gonna leave the country if a rider’s slicker falls off or blows in the wind." And don’t kid yourself–the Ruckerized tarp-proof horse makes a pretty impressive sales demonstration. Rucker’s offerings also get arena schooling and trail work. But they don’t head out on just any trail. His Usk location provides an obstacle course of railroad tracks, chip trucks, and logging mills. Horses that make it that far from his place must cross creeks, even swim out into the Pend O’Reille River just 100 yards from Rucker’s home of 29 years.
   Once a horse gets a passing grade on these tests, Rucker adds the "special sauce"–a bath, a clip job, and his own brand of "aw shucks" honesty. Then the horse goes on the menu–to provide yet another customer with a satisfying experience, and change back from his horse-buying dollar.

To browse our list of Gentle Family Horses that are For Sale - Click Here

Article posted with permission from the January 1998 issue of Horse & Rider®
Copyright 2002, PRIMEDIA Inc. All rights reserved.
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