QUESTION: How come it’s easier to sell a $90k horse than a $1200 horse?
ANSWER: Money, trainer’s influence, and the power of persuasion
Lets face it, the industry is what it is because of the people who are involved. Horses are much like cars. People want the Ferrari, but can’t afford it, and there are just too few Ferraris out there. That, and those people really can’t handle a REAL Ferrari. But these buyers have mechanics (trainers) who can help find them a used Porsche, Mercedes, or maybe a Jaguar. Problem is, all the buying trust is put into the mechanic. They buyer really doesn’t know what they are doing; if something goes wrong, they can’t fix it, and looking under the hood just brings confusion. So when the mechanic says “that’s the perfect car for you,” they fall for it.
At least with buying a used car, the Kelly Blue Book gives a general idea of what cars should be worth. Of course, there is much background behind each car completely foreign to potential buyers, but a title search allows prospectors to determine vehicle accidents, number of owners, and hopefully, accurate mileage.
Horses have no such guidebook or history lookup and there are so many variables to buying a horse that can send well intentioned buyers down the wrong path. Before even thinking about wants, a buyer must assess their goals and riding situation. Realistically, what does a buyer whan to do with their future horse? How long do they anticipate riding, realistically? And are they looking for re-sale value or a horse for life?
There are also many variables when selling a horse. For a private party, selling a horse can be a painstaking process. For a trainer or barn, it is an opportunity.
The private seller has a difficult time putting a value on their horse. Most people over-value their own animals because it is personal. It’s fair; you put your time, sweat, money, and emotions into this animal. You want to see your horse get a good home, you also think the time and money put into the horse is going to pay off. There is nothing wrong with this—unless you actually want to sell your horse.
There is also another problem with private sellers. They may have been taken for a ride when buying their horse in the first place. Now, trying to sell for a comparable price to what they paid is nearly impossible. Why? Because the horse was never worth the amount they paid for it. Now to be selling this horse that may have gained some training and miles for less than what they paid is downright painful.
Selling horses is easier for the trainer, the sale barn, and the show barn. They maintain an advantage of a large pool of potential buyers walking in and out of their barn everyday. Not to mention the contacts they have outside of their barn; word spreads and the horse sells relatively quickly for a high return. Outside the really tough sale horse (lame, nuts, really ugly), selling a horse for a trainer/show barn/sale barn is a fairly easy deal.
Does that make the horse at a trainer’s barn, sale barn, or show barn worth more money? No. Should you pay an inflated price for a horse at a big barn? No. Should you pay a little more for a horse that is currently in professional training, currently campaigning at a level you are looking to compete, in shape to start going the day you buy it? Yes, but that’s not to say that every sale horse at one of these barns is doing just that. Many of the sale horses at big barns are being ridden by juniors and amateurs looking for extra horses to ride. Does that count as training? No, but if the juniors and/or amateurs riding this horse are riding under direct supervision and sometimes in lessons with the trainer, I would say the horse is being worked to a sufficient level as if the trainer was riding the horse him/herself.
As we know, many trainers teach much better than they ride. And even more suck at both.
If you call a big barn and say “I’m looking for a hunter to show long stirrup” and the trainer asks you what your price range is…DO NOT TELL THEM HOW MUCH MONEY YOU HAVE TO SPEND ON A HORSE UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. Let them tell you about the horses they have for sale and the price for those sale horses. You can determine from there if there is anything you want to look at.
The rich are inflating the price of horses just as much as the ignorant are creating a large pool of undesirable, poor examples of sport horses in need of a home that still have much too large of a price tag on them.
We need to even the playing field. Those of you with $100,000 to spend on a horse…stop. Do NOT buy a horse for $100,000 unless you are riding at a very high level and the horse is proven to perform at a very high level. If you are looking for a first horse, a safe horse, a pretty horse, a horse you can show—even at the upper levels, I can promise you there is a horse out there perfectly priced under $10,000.
Remember the used car analogy? Well, when you buy a horse you really don’t know what you are getting. Unless you are buying from your best friend who bred the horse and you have seen it everyday of it’s life and you know exactly what training it’s had, what health problems it may or may not have had, and more importantly, what quirks it may or may not have, it’s still a crapshoot in the end.
No matter what, even with a full vetting from a top veterinarian in the country who has never met the buyer, the buyer’s trainer, or anyone related to either one of them, there is still a chance the horse could soon have some injury, lameness, or chronic health problem. Even with the most honest trainer in the world who personally knows the horse you are purchasing and has followed the horse’s training and showing, there is a possibility this horse could hit a brick wall in it’s training/performance where the horse starts acting up, acting out, not performing, or otherwise becomes difficult to ride and impossible to show. That is the gamble of buying a horse.
With that gamble, do you really want to put your trust in a trainer you don’t know when YOU don’t even really know what your doing?
People like to over-valuate their horses just as much as they like to over inflate their riding ability. So we are working with too many difficult extremes that it’s difficult to see a happy medium in horse sales. If everyone could just be honest with themselves, about their horses, and about their riding, we could have something to work with on the private side of things. On the bigger picture with the training/show/sale barns, there needs to be a more open system. Why is honesty so bad? Why try to sell a horse for 100k if they are truly only worth 7k even if the buyer does have 100k to spend? Why not just tell that person, “Hey, I know you have a 100k to spend, but this horse here is really more what you need and what you are looking for and you only need to spend 7k.” Wow, that would be insane.
I know, people are going to think, “Hell, if someone has 100k to drop in your lap, wouldn’t you just take it and run?” No, I wouldn’t. Why? Because I want people to have a positive experience when purchasing a horse. I want the horse to have a positive experience in their new home. Everyone wins because if that person gains a ton of experience and wants to move up, guess where she is going to go for that new horse? The person who isn’t going to screw her! Going the other way turns someone sour and not only is she going to run from the sport, she is going to tell everyone she knows to stay far away from the horse industry and even farther away from me. Reputation aside, it’s good to know that you have helped someone get what they want, what they need, and see value in it.
But moreover, how can we regulate an industry that has such a huge economic diversity? Is that always going to be how the horse industry is? It’s not the best who wins, it’s the most fortunate. How can we have an industry standard of anything when there are so many sharks, villains, manipulators?
Why not be more transparent, with a different price from a barn with a trainer (obviously a bit higher due to commissions and continued training/work), or private seller, or trade price.
Why couldn’t a system like this work, be adhered to, and agreed upon? Is greed too much in the way? I know there are the private people out there trying to sell horses for $3000 that aren’t worth more than $500. But, maybe the Bluebook would encourage more responsible breeding practices as well.
Knowing how corrupt the horse industry is and how many of the participants are totally unaware of the truths hiding behind almost every stall door, it’s no wonder we are left with slimy sale barns, greedy trainers, and riders flashing their net worth around just to get the eyes and ears of their trainer. But it goes much further than that, and not all of it is manipulative, evil, or even intentional. There are so many questions when buying and selling horses that no one truly has an answer for. There are appraisers out there, do you have any idea how incompetent these “professionals” are?
Lets just say that the only way to make the buying and selling of horses more even handed is to have a tool that everyone can reference, anyone can use, and all horse people are aware of to guide them in the idea of what a horse SHOULD be selling for. There is no easy answer because people are going to complain that their horse should be worth $25,000 even though this “tool” has valued their horse at $4,500. But, bringing prices down is only part of the puzzle. Putting accurate values on horses specific qualities, training, and potential is something that no one has a grasp of, which is why buying and selling horses is such a game of cat and mouse.