The online shopping platforms for horses have never been more active, and it's easy to understand why. They give the seller opportunities to find clients directly (without trainers, brokers, or intermediaries), and allow buyers to sort through a vast number of available horses without hopping on a pricey flight (not to mention navigating COVID restrictions).
Today's fast-paced market is also prompting people to be more open to the risk of shopping online, with horses getting sold just mere hours after their video is posted online.
While you may not be keen to buy a horse sight unseen, why not start from behind your computer to analyze what’s out there? If nothing else, it's fun to look and drool over some beautiful horses.
Here are my guidelines for effective online horse shopping:
Write down your dream horse criteria. This is a great exercise to get you thinking about what's important to you in a horse, what's not, and what you'd be willing to compromise on. Things like:
- Age range
- Goal level
- Type of horse: unbroke, green horse, intermediate horse, experienced horse, schoolmaster, etc.
- Preferred color
- Preferred sex
- Budget range
- Horse blood level (dead-brain, nice blood, fiery, …)
- And everything else you can think of
The list can continue on, as it'll help you narrow down the field of horses to suit your needs.
Be realistic! Often, this 'unicorn' of a horse we wish for comes at a hefty price. Why? Expensive horses get their price tag from the simple economic concept of supply and demand, topped by our unregulated horse market, which means that, in the end, a horse is worth what someone else is ready to pay for it. The 2022 high market prices can certainly feel discouraging, but I'd encourage you to not lose hope. There are plenty of horses out there waiting to find their new owners, and sometimes it just comes down to the patience one has during the search process.
Filter, Filter, Filter…
Creating this checklist will help narrow down the search engines on a horse shopping platform. Don’t be hesitant to ease up your checklist (especially when referring to appearance aspects). Being flexible on your criteria is somewhat important as we are dealing with living, breathing animals. Although, something that should never be compromised during the shopping process is the horse’s readiness to tackle YOUR level of training and riding.
This question should help you simplify the above concept: “What type of horse and level of experience will suit me as a rider today?” If you don’t totally know the answer to this question maybe e-shopping should remain a fun “window-shop” activity and instead you should lean on your trainer or seek professional help to guide you through the process.
Checklist in hand, it's time to find your best e-shopping site and translate the list in search engines. Some sites to get you started (but there are others out there!): Ehorses.com, bigeq.com, ussporthorses.com, equirodi.com, horse-pass.online
You've found your website(s), refined your research and it leads you to pages and pages of horse profiles to read from. You're probably asking yourself, "What do I do now?"
- Organization - Next time you're scrolling, make sure to put a “like” beside every profile you want to see again. A misplaced “closed page click” can happen so easily. By doing this, you can then review the liked list anytime you want going forward.
- Distance - If you are not willing to buy without trying, what is the maximum distance you would like to travel? Often, the sites offer a mile radius search criteria. Be sure to take advantage of this feature to reduce your chance to fall in love with an unreachable horse.
- Videos and More Videos - If an advertisement comes with one or more videos, that's great. You shouldn’t feel shy to ask for more videos and also when the videos were taken. If your interest in a horse is strong, I suggest you have at least home videos and show videos to look through.
- Show Results - Results are still an important part of the selection. If eliminations occurred, you should ask why. Not every horse OR rider has a blank sheet. Unfortunate events do happen, and they're not always a deal-breaker, but you should always know the story behind it.
- Communication with the Seller - Today`s number one phone app used in the equestrian community is, without a doubt, Whatsapp. This application facilitates international calls, video transfers, etc. I personally often start a new conversation by leaving a voice message on Whatsapp. In that voice message, I present myself and ask more information about the horse I am interested in. This personal touch might make you stand out from all the other messages a seller might receive after posting his or her advertisement.
- Obvious Questions - Never be shy to ask questions that might seem obvious to you. Some examples include:
- Does the horse has any stall tics (air sucking, weaving, biting, kicking, etc.)?
- Did the horse have any important injuries?
- How long have you owned him? This helps to establish the storyline.
- Is he brave with other horses at the show?
- Does he travel well?
- Can he be handled by anyone?
- Documentation - After a discussion with the seller, this is the information you should have gathered to make a clear decision in the end:
- Results: regional, national, international
- Papers: link with pedigree info or picture of passport
- Confirmation pictures
- X-rays and vet report (if applicable)
Ready, Set, Whoa…
On some ads, you might see the common phrase “Serious buyers only”. But what does that really mean? You can imagine the hefty amount of responses a seller can receive with an attractive horse post. Nothing stops you from contacting a seller for more info. The only question you should ask yourself is, "Are you really ready to buy a new horse today?" The horse market moves fast, so if you ask about a horse now and plan to purchase it next summer or after you sell your current horse, it might be better to hold off on your search quest until you are absolutely ready.
I remember listening to The Equestrian Podcast back in 2018 where Noëlle Floyd was talking about her debut and bad horse import experience from Europe to the U.S.A. Most of the conversation was how those two horses did not turn out to be what she thought they would be. The story of someone buying the “wrong” horse is way more common than some like to admit. Horse shopping is not easy and should not be easy. Taking your time to make a rational decision without skipping steps is truly important whether it's online or offline.
P.S. Don’t forget that a “too good to be true” horse advertisement is probably in fact, too good to be true.
Read this next: Secrets of a Horse and Rider Matchmaker
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.