When it comes to buying and selling horses, it would be nice if not everyone had to watch their backs and pocketbooks. The reality is anyone can come across a bad deal even when they have their wits about them, frankly, because sometimes, buyers are hunted.
All that sharing can get you in trouble.
Every piece of personal information spoken about at the barn can make its way back to the trainer. The model of your car, your neighborhood, your spouse’s job, your last vacation, your kid’s college (or if you’re a kid, your college), and all sorts of other materialistic details meet up to put a dollar sign on your forehead.
The catalyst of many (and depending on the barn, all) horse sales, trainers may often, suddenly (*poof*) find horses for sale. You may not have known you were even in the market.
But even if you were looking, how much is a particular horse worth? It’s the most common question from both buyers and sellers, and a sensible one to ask. The answer, though unfortunate, is all horse pricing is relative, and usually not in the buyer’s (or horse’s) favor.
A horse is worth as much as a buyer is willing to spend.
Yes, it’s true. That $500 plug of a horse could sell for $25,000 if a buyer with the money and the lack of experience is found and is looking for something close to what that $500 plug has to offer.
Usually the seller needs to be working with outside “trainers” to find buyers to prey on in this way. A trainer might have a horse for sale for $4000. A different trainer might call up and say, “Hey, I have a buyer with a price range of $15,000-$20,000, and I think the $4K horse is a fit.” The trainers then work together. Next, the asking price is changed to $25,000, the horse sells for a “bargain” at $18,000, and the buyer’s trainer gets their 10% ($1800 as opposed to $400). In addition, the seller’s trainer pockets the difference, keeping $12,600, and the original owner of the horse, oblivious to this all, is netted $3600, after paying a 10% commission on what they though the horse really sold for.
You want more of these? I’ve got hundreds. LITERALLY HUNDREDS of these examples.
But lets play devil’s advocate. Who gets hurt in this sale?
The horse seller: gets a horse sold in record time, at the price they asked for.
The horse buyer: gets a horse within their price range and within the performance specs they asked for.
The trainers: both make a decent(/obscene) commission, and theoretically spent more fake-smile time with the clients they just swindled.
Everyone is happy, right?
Except the price of that $4000 worker was dramatically driven up more than 400% to satisfy each trainer’s greed. All for a horse realistically priced at $4000. So now further greed sets in and prices are raised within that barn making horses typically in a fair price range out of reach for many buyers. The cycle continues, grows, and spreads. And each subsequently over-priced horse will then, at some point, be resold, sometimes at a great loss. Or if a seller refuses to take a net loss of what would be a realistic sale price, then the cycle gets worse, and lies and coverups are then used to move horses onto other unsuspecting saps.
And at some point, that overvaluation catches up with the horse. At some point, all the real buying and selling of faux values finds its way to cause damage to the equine. The riders. The industry.
If only there was some timely parallel that could be referenced right about here. Hmmmmm…
Here’s the next question I hear a lot: can a horse REALLY be worth $125,000?
Very few. A handful of extremely talented sport horses can be worth six figures. These six figure sport horses all have the talent, the brain, and the physical soundness to compete at the very upper levels of their sport. Most likely, these are professional’s horses. Horses with incredible talent aren’t usually easy to ride. That doesn’t mean they are crazy, psycho horses; just that talented mounts often need very good, very accurate piloting in order to reach their potential and often STAY at their potential.
A first time horse buyer purchasing a six figure horse is completely ridiculous. There is no reason, outside of having money to lose, that a newcomer to the sport should by buying a horse worth as much as a house. Unless a buyer like this is unnaturally talented and is looking to compete at very high levels, those pennies are only paying for attention from a trainer. That’s it.
A made 14-17 year old horse (depending on the level the horse can continue to train/compete) should not be selling for six figures. Sure, if the horse could pack ANYONE around a 4’6″ course AND stay sound AND do it for a few years…maybe…MAYBE…I could see the value in that. But if it is a horse to take lessons on, to be “social” with out at the barn, to continue learning, and to show in long stirrup or AA hunters/jumpers, forget it.
A schoolmaster dressage horse shouldn’t sell for six figures. Most likely any horse that made has been pounded into the ground leaving very few jumps or tests left in them physically. In this instance of horse valuation, the level of training and accomplishments by said horse should be discounted by the amount of possible remaining use.
Even more amazing than considering six figure horse sales to a beginner rider are tens of thousands of decent horses priced $2500-$5500 that can’t find a buyer. Yet, the $75,000-$150,000 priced horses are selling like hotcakes. This is just wrong. Is it that people that can spend this much on a horse just wouldn’t even consider a $5,000 horse? Because I bet they could find a horse close to the skill of what some of these six figure horses are going for. I’m not kidding.
Even six figure purchases don’t guarantee health. It’s true, I have seen a few of these horses go to beginners, and I knew their soundness levels. In some cases, it wasn’t good. But they buyers didn’t know what questions to ask…
So where does this all come back to? Who’s pulling the strings?
Well, as a trainer, it’s hard to escape getting sucked into the game. And as outlined, some of them have fallen victim and then turned predator after the need for additional income. And that’s on top of greed.
The result, as stated in part one, is that too often I have met ex-horse (or casual-horse) people that have been burned just one too many times. And all cite a wicked trainer as dousing them in gas.
I don’t blame anyone for saying “screw this”. Horses cost too much money and eat up too much time to be stressed out and pissed off by how unethical the business practices are.
But come on. Every horse person has met someone with just too much money. These people aren’t even affected by bad deals. Why? Because they can always get another horse, and they can blindly get led into believing it was just bad luck. This happens perpetually because they can afford for it to happen perpetually.
Am I blaming the rich for the horse industries woes? Yeah. A little. And what would I tell them to do?
Stop waiving your cash around. It doesn’t impress anyone except the people trying to steal it from you. And though those same people will kiss your ass, you are creating MONSTERS.
And concerning charlatan monsters in part four of How Much Will You Pay?, we’ll talk more about horse price inflation and some better methods of valuing horses.