“I bought a project horse to resell and will definitely make easy profit out of it.”
“Sadly, my horse is getting older and I need to sell him before his value crashes.”
“This horse has made me cry so many times, I give up. It’s time to find him a new home.”
Whatever your story, and whether you think you are a horse selling expert or have no idea where to begin, it’s common knowledge that selling horses is far from an easy task. Every seller approaches the process differently, and markets for horse sales are vastly different even within the same country. Clearly, there should be a Horse Selling for Dummies book out there!
The horse market may be one of the most disorganized and undisciplined industries there is. We are trading live animals directly between sellers and owners, who participate in dealings with potentially no prior professional experience. A horse trade scenario can easily be painted as an old western movie with thrills and stunts worthy of the best cowboy action scene. Selling adventures rarely go according to plan, and when you think you have seen it all, the movie’s unexpected plot twist will stun its audience.
The main question is: “How can I, a horse owner, broker, trainer or breeder, successfully sell in this sandstorm of a horse market?”
Let’s start with the dollar symbol.
The Price Is Right
Pricing a horse remains an art – an abstract art, for some. The value of a horse is dictated by how much the client is willing to pay for it. So, where to start the quest of finding a client that will be ready to write a big check for my precious horse?
First of all, it might be a good idea to find a trusted ally to guide you through the process. Sure, that will probably cost you a commission. For the money-conscious sellers out there, this option might sound scary as trust is a huge factor in this decision. That said, it does not mean you shouldn’t find help.
Personally, I like to keep the price of horses within a price range and only divulge an actual dollar amount to a serious buyer who is committed to trying the horse. People are suspicious when they hear through the grapevine of a horse’s price changing or dropping. It will put them on the hazard for no justifiable reason, because as we all know, a horse price can change drastically in consequence of how quick an owner wants to see his money back.
If you have no idea what price to put on your horse, do your homework and find comparable horses out there. It is not an exact science, and it all depends on what amount will make you happy at the end.
Oh, and don’t forget, people will negotiate! So it doesn’t hurt if you round up the final number so you can cut a few hundreds or grands to give power to the buyer.
The Political Factor
In my early days, I was that amateur rider trying to sell my own horses in a market that was way bigger than me. What I learned was that politics still have a prominent role in the horse community.
Then, a couple of years ago, I brought my junior hunter horse to sell during the Wellington winter circuit, the home of horse selling in North America and probably worldwide. To be cost-efficient, I did not take any trainers that year and wanted to sell my horse on my own. The first week I entered the amateur owners division, I won a couple of classes and finished as a reserve champion. Should be easy to sell a quality and amateur friendly hunter horse, not overpriced right? But no. I was even approached by an old trainer of mine, who came to me bragging that the judge called her saying he would have tried the horse if it was in her barn.
Horse politics… It is a sad reality, but it remains a reality. Instead of whining over it, make a plan according to what suits you the best, considering all the factors of this niche economy.
What Am I Selling?
Know your horse, gather show results, and know where your horse belongs (and in whose hands). Anybody can draft a stellar resume worthy of a future president, but does your kid’s 10-year-old, 1.10m jumper really have the scope for the grand prix?
Probably not. Over-romanced expectations, hidden defects or other horse malfunctions will occur at some point, so it’s better you give all the facts before making people lose their time on trying a horse they will clearly not buy in the end.
It might also be a good idea to get a fresh set of x-rays. It will take away unexpected surprises when the deal comes through. Plus, it shows a sign of good faith to the buyer, and it will help you decide on a price for the horse in consequence of the radiological exam.
Want it or not, aesthetics do matter. A braided, freshly clipped horse will give a good first impression to the buyer. Normal buyers will try a couple of horses, but sometimes the final horse pick may be decided by the details or a horse crush. Don’t skimp here – make your horse the prettiest unicorn out there!
Video That Sells
Put your directing movie cap on and prepare a quality video. If you have good show videos, great! Select 2 or 3 of the best ones. It still wouldn’t hurt to make home videos as it gives a close-up view of the horse. Montages with music and all are great for sure, but keep it short and sweet or people will scroll through and miss the good parts.
For jumping horses, I like to make 4 individuals clips:
- Trotting both directions, both in a frame and on a loose rein
- Cantering both direction with lead changes on a diagonal. You should add counter canter if the horse is an equitation/medal horse.
- Jumping video on a course at the height that makes the horse look his best.
The Glove That Fits
In the selling process you should put emphasis on what type of rider suits your horse. Is my customer an amateur rider or a professional? The hardest category of horses are the ones that hang in the middle, too much quality or challenging for an amateur, but not interesting enough for a professional to develop. Pay attention to your target market to find the best situation for your horse.
Keep Control of the Situation
With many years of buying and selling under my belt, horses, people, and situations have never stopped impressing me, and not always in the best ways. We need to remember that they are unpredictable animals and for a trial to go well, you need to stay in control of it.
Don’t let the clients overuse the horse if it does not go as they want; it’s your horse and YOU have the final word. Too many times, I have seen trials go wrong when potential clients try to ride a horse that obviously doesn’t suit them. Sometimes it is simply not a match, and you should not be shy to put your foot down and stop a trial before the situation gets sour. Riders or trainers are often timid to call the end of a trial themselves, not wanting to anger the owner for making them lose their time.
At the end of the day, being an advocate for your horse will save everyone time and energy. Moral of the story: stay in control and protect your horse.
Be the Negotiator
For the grand finale, price negotiation and veterinarian checks are left on the table. The buyer will always have the stronger hand. The final price approval depends on how “desperate” you are to sell your horse. Even if the price is lower than expected, you need to keep in mind that offers don’t present themselves every day. On the other hand, you need to stand your ground by putting on your best negotiator cap and leave any emotional thinking at home.
The selling process is long, unpredictable, and energy-consuming. Hopefully, your loved one will find someone that will take care of him like a family member. Meanwhile, breathe, stay calm, grab some popcorn and enjoy the cowboy adventure.
Written by Anne-Sophie Milette
Anne-Sophie started show jumping at the age of 11, despite coming from a non-horsey family. She has developed her own ‘best-of-breed’ approach, guided by instinct, experience and good counseling. After performing at top levels and training with the best in the business, she is now based in Belgium where she rides professionally and is specialized in finding the right horses for her international clientele. You can learn more about her at www.topnotch.horse.