How Much Will You Pay? Part One

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The thought of buying a new horse is overwhelming, exhausting, and downright scary. Luckily, I am not in the market for a new horse.

But even in this economy, people are buying and selling horses. Believe it or not, the high end of the sport horse market is still seeing inconceivable prices.

This all hit me, a few days ago, when I received an anonymous phone call from someone just looking for “advice”. I was told they were referred to me by a friend of a friend, and the caller set up her predicament in the most innocent way imaginable.

“Do you have time, to just talk for a bit, about the horse world?”

“Sure.”

“I have a question, well a few questions. I’m just…perplexed.”

“Okay…”

Understand, I didn’t know who this person was and had no idea what she might have wanted to know.

And I guess this isn’t the first time this has happened, either. There’s an evil force at work in the world that propels otherwise inconspicuous souls – strangers even – to dump their tragedies (perceived or otherwise) in MY lap. Groceries store cashiers. Co-workers. Fellow horse boarders. Friends of course.

And then this lady.

Open minded is my defensive approach to the aggressive, abstract problem-haver. In the realm of horses, tears could mean anything from someone being frustrated with their inability to ride, or them seeing an improper saddle fit as a metaphor for their failed marriage. Or maybe the people are just looking for someone to sympathize (and I’m a hard sell) because…maybe their horse has weird allergies, or there’s a situation revolving around unethical performance injections, or some soap opera drama regarding a trainer liking someone else better suddenly. And it’s to be expected any and all queries directed my way are equally severe, dramatic, and high on the emergency register to the respective person.

So on the other end of my phone, I just waited patiently to find out, exactly, what this case could be about.

“How much are some blankets and a bridle worth?”

“Ummm, well, it depends on the blankets, what kind, how many, their condition. And with the bridle, same thing, condition and brand/kind.”

“Well, could you give a range?”

Normally in such a situation, I’d be turning the lights out. But this woman’s obvious unfamiliarity with these subjects brought about an otherwise non-existent morbid curiosity to the throws of her predicament. What was she really getting at?

“Lets assume it’s for blankets, all Rambo, the most expensive, and lets say it’s a high quality bridle – retails new for $600. I would say used, even in good condition, all that stuff could come in anywhere from $800-$1200.”

I thought it was a fair response.

“Okay, so not $4000? They wouldn’t be worth $4000?”

“Uh, no.”

Then I start getting the story.

New to riding as an adult, 6-12 months in. My guess was mid 30’s to mid 40’s. She was looking to buy a horse, had a trainer, and was – in her words – “confused”. She said a horse in the barn became “for sale” and the horse was getting “pushed” on her (my word). She said the seller and trainer were claiming it was a really good deal because there was $4000 worth of equipment (just blankets and a bridle) included. Also she didn’t really understand why she would have to pay a finders fee to the trainer when she learned about the horse being for sale from someone else in the barn.

“How did this trainer FIND the horse exactly?”

I thought it was a very good question.

She continued to tell me they were withholding information. She wanted to know what information she should feel was important. She told me about the age of the horse being blown off, and then changed.

“Is it wrong of me to want to know the age of the horse?”

“No. Of course you should be able to ask AND get an answer to the age of a horse you are buying.”

I was floored. It was amazing this woman is questioning her own logic. I explained she needed to be careful, make sure any questions she had were answered to her satisfaction, and told her also, to get a vetting on the horse.

Then she hit me with the kicker…

“I mean if I’m paying $125,000, I should be able to get more information about the horse I am buying.”

*choke* *gasp* *cough*

“Yes [cough], if you are paying $125, $1250, $12,500, or $125,000, you have a right to ask questions, get answers, and also decide NOT TO BUY.”

She asked about ethical practices and guidelines regarding horse sales.

“Hahahahahahahahahahah! Hahahahahahaahhah!” [fights back tears] “Hahahahahahah! Okay, what? Ethical horse sale practices? In the horse industry? Maahahahwhahahahahahhahahah! Ahahahahahahahahha!” [pees pants]

“Seriously, nothing?”

What else could I do? Being someone not familiar with the horse industry – and holding cash- was like being a mouse thrown in a crazy cat hoarder’s house.

“RUN FOR YOUR LIFE.”

“Really?”

“Yes, my suggestion for you would be to find a different hobby. I’m not joking. I think it’s fabulous you’ve found horse riding as an adult, but frankly, in this industry, you’re swimming with sharks, and they see a giant bulls eye painted on your forehead.”

I told her to follow her gut. She was grateful, the phone call ended, and I hoped she was inclined enough to walk from this sale.

Outside of the fact that $100,000+ horse deals were still going on like nothing (I thought even rich people lost money in 2008, right?), the unethical practices rendered upon this new “prey” really struck me. The concept of “ethical” horse sale practices cyclically appear in the horse media, but usually those articles read more like jokes. I mean, “horse industry ethics” is an oxymoron. The horse industry, by definition, is unethical.

I can’t tell you how many very nice and very wealthy people I’ve met who’ve found horses as adults, or got back into horses as adults, to only leave the sport a few short years later after being taken by one too many swine.

Does that mean there isn’t ONE honest horseman/horsewoman out there? No, but they are few and far between. Horse industry success comes with some amount of cutthroat behavior, and very few successful horse professionals have kept their nose clean.

Sure, it would be nice if we could clean the horse industry of the “bad seeds”, but there are just too many of them. And there are too many newbies who get in over their head, get taken, and then feel like they have to take the next person to get even.

There has to be a better method to traverse the messy practices of buying and selling horses. There has to be a better method to valuating horse worth beyond the seller asking, “how much will you pay?”

If there was a guide to navigating horse sale expectations, maybe that would help. Cars have their Kelly Blue Book, why not equines? It’s not as simple as formulas, or table valuations, and with a living creature involved, the variables add up. But at the very least, a horse sale guide would allow new comers to the sport a peak behind the walls of sale practices and leave them more informed and better prepared to spot and avoid the sharks.

This is part one of that guide.

In part two, we’ll venture into a horse industry staple that can only thrive off smoke and mirrors: the sale barn.