Internet Horse Shopping

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Online horse sale sites are the modern version of the old-time feed-store bulletin board, a place where buyers and sellers could post index cards: ”Looking for kids’ pony,” or ”For Sale: Adult Amateur Jumper.”

Today, all levels of horses are for sale online, from $250,000 warmbloods to free companion horses. You can search for horses using categories from the horse’s physical location to his color. Many sites want your business, both as a seller who will pay to place an ad and as a buyer who will read advertisements as you browse for your next horse.

Most sites offer both quick and advanced searches. Parameters vary, but a quick search will often use features such as price, location, and breed to search. We suggest using advanced search functions. Taking a few extra seconds to fill out more requirements, such as bloodline, discipline, age, and height, will give you a more specific return and turn up horses closer to your ideal.

Be as open as possible as you choose discipline categories, which seem to us to be somewhat capricious. For example, you may be looking for a trail horse. But if you only choose ”Trail Horse” on the discipline menu, you could miss horses that sellers have categorized as ”Foxhunter” or ”Pony Club,” either of which would be probably be suitable for trail riding. Select more than one discipline — often by holding down the control key — or ignore this parameter.

We found the temperament parameters — often 1 for bombproof up to 10 for high-spirited — unhelpful. Horses are complex animals. Some may be lazy, easygoing under saddle, but holy terrors in the pasture. Or a horse classified as a 6 may simply be responsive and quick off the leg, but the 6 makes him sound skittish. And you really don’t know who is rating the horse’s temperament and what parameters they’re using to do so.

Refine Your Search
http://www.2buyhorses.com/ lists counties in various states, probably the most specific location search we saw. But it also has height choices of tall, average, or short, which sound more like pants lengths than horse heights. If height is crucial, stick with a menu that classifies horses by hands.

You can also sort by the type of ad you want to see, such as photo — on most sites — or video. Sites including http://www.equine.com/ and http://www.equinenow.com/ allow sellers to post Quicktime videos of their horses. If you have a cable, satellite, or DSL modem with high-speed access, these can be illuminating. Some are elaborate, set to music or with flashy graphics, and others simply depict the horse in motion.

Photo Ads
Most sites have boxes for you to check if you only want to look at photo ads. Photo ads usually cost more — text ads are often free — but there are plenty of good horses lurking in those non-photo ads. The owner may be able to email you some pictures if you want, so don’t overlook a horse just because his photograph is not online. While browsing sites that charge for photo ads, we even saw some listings directing people to photos posted on a site like http://www.equinehits.com/, which does not charge for photo ads.

Photos can be misleading, anyway. A snapshot of a horse in excellent shape and full show regalia when he has been standing in a field for the past two years will not give you an idea of what you are considering. Conversely, odd angles can make a horse seem hammer-headed or unevenly conformed when he is just standing hipshot or with his head oddly canted. And one ad we visited ran a photo of the horse’s sire instead of the horse.

Many horse dealers use sale websites. Remember that a person who makes a living dealing horses may naturally not know a horse as well as a private owner simply because horses move in and out of her barn so rapidly. If a horse dealer picks up horses at an auction, for example, she may not have time to evaluate each one thoroughly before bringing him home to sell at a profit. Ask how long the seller has had or known the horse. It’s hard to believe that someone who has had a horse for three days can honestly say that animal is ”kid-broke,” for example.

Cast as wide a net as you can in terms of distance. A long drive may prove worthwhile, although you will have to take shipping fees into consideration. But with the strict constraints offered by the sites, you could miss the perfect horse if he or she is within 201 miles of your zip code, instead of 200. We like how equine.com has the options to search wider regions than states — Middle Atlantic, for example, or South.

Because sellers have to pay for ads, they may want to use that ad space even when the horse is sold. So you may see the perfect Morgan mare, click on her ad, and see a message saying, for example, ”She is sold, but I have this great Arabian gelding.”

We also found that some people don’t update their ads often. So a horse may be long sold by the time you see the ad and email the owner. Don’t get your hopes up about any horse you see online until you hear from the owner that the horse is still available. We like Dreamhorse’s ”show not sold horses only” option on a search profile, because it saves some heartache.

On the other hand, looking at sold horses can be valuable, because you can see the price ranges and availability in your area.

Pick Up The Phone
Use the phone numbers available when you find something you like. Horses for sale can move fast, and many people don’t check their email all that often. You may waste time waiting for an email message, while others are contacting the seller on the phone. You also may be responding to an ad that’s five months old, so watch the dates on the ads.

Buying and selling horses is a business transaction as well as an emotional one. Certain classified ad clich??s, such as ”sadly outgrown,” ”good home only,” or ”husband horse” may or may not be true. Look beyond the story to see if the horse is truly one you want. Trends increase prices as well. Roans are trendy right now, as buckskins were a few years back.

Many ads will say ”Minors please have parents call,” or ”Kids, ask your parents.” With kids being so Internet savvy, many sellers are inundated with requests for pictures and videos from people who just like window shopping.

Beware the word ”prospect,” which means that the owner imagines that the horse might succeed at a certain discipline. So a five-year-old Thoroughbred ”eventing prospect” may have jumped out of the paddock, or may simply remind his owner of an eventer. However, a Quarter Horse colt with speed bloodlines can fairly be called a ”barrel racing prospect” simply because he has been bred to go fast. Evaluate for yourself.

Bottom Line
The sites are more similar than different. Dreamhorse.com and Equine.com seem to be the largest sites, offering the most horses for sale in any given region. They are each easy to navigate, although Dreamhorse’s graphics make it the easiest on the eyes. And remember while you shop: Buyer beware still holds true. You’re simply using a different way to find the horses.