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Horse-Selling Strategies in a Buyer’s Market

Horse-sales specialist and rider Courtney Cooper explains how to promote your horse for sale in a buyer’s market.

With the recent economic slump, selling a horse isn't easy. It's a buyer's market, so you have to be smart about how you present your horse for sale. Courtney Cooper, an event rider who specializes in consigning sales horses and making matches between horses and riders, has some sage ­advice about how to make the selling process as pain-free and efficient as possible.

Courtney's golden rules when selling horses are realistic expectations and honesty. "Don't try to make the horse into something he's not," she says. "At the end of the day, people—buyers and sellers—don't want their time wasted. People want to be treated fairly. If you're selling a horse, treat a potential buyer as you would want to be treated if you came to look at this horse."

Which Horse Would You Buy?

An example of a bad horse sale ad photo Good Horse for Sale ad photo
Whether posing your horse for an advertisement photo or showing him to prospective buyers, he needs to look his best. This horse does not. First, the halter's throatlatch is open, and the chain lead shank is incorrectly looped through the bottom and side rings. This not only looks sloppy, but it's a safety issue. The horse could easily get a front hoof caught in the halter if he stepped forward—at best this could scare him; at worst it could cause him to break a leg. In addition, he's filthy (his tail even has hay in it), his forelock is caught in the halter and the ratty lead lying on the ground is also a safety concern. This would be a terrible photo to use in an ad for other reasons, too: The horse is standing on a downhill slope, giving the impression he's built downhill. His casual leg placement and the fact that he's grazing do not show off his conformation and physical attributes very well at all. The busy background is distracting, and the shade makes him seem even dirtier than he is. This is how a horse should look in a photo or in front of potential buyers. His clean halter is fitted properly, and the workmanlike lead shank is correctly attached to the halter's lower ring. The horse's clean white coat practically glows in the sunlight. His forelock is not caught in the halter (though for a photo, his mane could be brushed all to the right side), and look at that snowy white tail! He's standing on level ground, which shows off his conformation, as does his leg placement—for a photo, this is especially critical. The horse's raised head, looking just a little to the camera, shows off his neck and kind, alert expression. The pleasing, lush green, uncluttered background makes all of the horse's positive characteristics stand out even more.

Honestly Evaluate Your Horse
The first thing you need to do is to honestly and objectively evaluate your horse, pinpointing his strengths, weaknesses, ability level and temperament. It's hard to do if that horse is your only one and you've spent years riding him and loving him. You tend to turn a blind eye to his flaws. But to know how to price and market your horse, you need to have a very clear, unbiased idea of what he is.

If you work with a trainer regularly, ask her for a frank opinion of your horse's good and bad points and how she would describe his niche. If you don't have a regular trainer, ask a professional to ride your horse and tell you what she thinks about your horse's ability and level. "She doesn't have to price your horse for you or act as an agent but just give you an objective opinion on your horse's strengths and weaknesses," Courtney says. "It's no different than selling a house. You have a realtor come in and tell you to clean up the clutter and ­repaint these rooms."

Being bluntly honest about your horse's capabilities and limitations will allow you to market him effectively to the buying ­audience he needs. It does no one any good to advertise your horse as an über-talented, upper-level prospect if he's actually a solid citizen who's comfortable jumping around at Training level. You'll just frustrate potential buyers who come to see him with the goal of going Advanced, and the people who want and need a horse who is consistent and sane at Training level won't schedule a visit to see him.

Price Him ­Appropriately
Once you know what your horse is—what he's good at and where the upper limits of his ability are—it's time to put a price on him. It's important to eliminate any sentimental feelings in this process. He might be your best friend, but to a potential buyer, his worth is dictated by objective factors.

"I get unrealistic people on both sides of the coin—buyers and sellers," Courtney says. "But every horse is saleable if you price him correctly and he's sound in his brain and his body." Keep in mind that the recent economic slump has taken a toll on the horse industry as well.

"It's a buyer's market. Horses are usually valued 15 to 20 percent less than they were three or four years ago," Courtney says.

Two common traps sellers fall into are thinking their horses must be worth more than what they paid for them and that they need to price those horses at a figure high enough for them to be able to buy their next horses. You have to come up with a price that fits your particular horse and his abilities at that point in time.

Six main factors go into setting a price for your horse: age, height, intended job, temperament, performance record and soundness. There are always exceptions to the rule, but these are good general guidelines.

Age: "Age can work against you or for you, depending on what people are looking for," Courtney says. If you're marketing your horse as a "prospect," he's going to raise some eyebrows if he's over the age of 10. But an older horse can be very attractive to a buyer looking for a safe, ­experienced partner.

Height: It might be tempting to add a few inches to your 15.1-hand horse's vital statistics, but don't. If buyers are truly looking for a 16.1-hand horse and arrive to see your horse falling short, they're ­immediately going to be disappointed and wonder what else you were less than truthful about.

Intended job: What job your horse does well is also a major factor in his price and one that requires brutal honesty. "As much as you'd like to say a horse who jumps three-foot-six well is X price, a horse who jumps three-foot-six with style and is quiet and easy and lopes down on a soft rein and can go be a show hunter is worth a lot more than a three-foot-six horse who is tense over fences, isn't careful in show jumping but jumps cross-country like a ­lion," Courtney says. In general, horses aimed for the show ring—equitation horses, hunters and jumpers—carry a higher price tag than event horses.

Temperament: In general, the quieter and saner a horse, the higher the price. "It's a lot easier to sell something that is not so talented but is a good citizen and is going to show up to work every day, than it is for something that's world-class talent but unpredictable on the day," Courtney says.

"Usually, I divide horses into four different categories—appropriate for Juniors, Young Riders, amateurs or professionals. An amateur doesn't want any nonsense. She's lucky to ride four days a week, and she wants to be able to get on and go with a solid citizen. The Young Rider wants a talented horse and will deal with some nonsense. The Junior needs something safe that she can learn on, who's not leaping up and down. And the professional usually gets the ones who are less rideable and more talented," Courtney says.

Performance record: In the Internet age, it's easy for a potential buyer to ­access a horse's performance record online. "If you want more money, the horse has to have records, and if he has records, they have to be good ones," Courtney says. "Sellers say, ‘I don't want to spend money to show the horse just to have a show record.' That's fine, but know that the downside of that is that you're going to get less money selling him. No matter how well he's trained, if he's going to be a competition horse, people as a general rule will pay more only if he has competed."

Soundness: Courtney advises to look at soundness in relation to the job for which the horse is intended. "In some horses, you can live with certain problems because they're downgrading a level or going to a different career," she says. "Maybe an upper-level eventer is going to be a show jumper and not have as strenuous work overall. You have to think about what the new career is going to be."
Two somewhat less important factors in pricing are gender and color. Everyone is looking for the ideal of a 16.1-hand bay gelding. "If you've got a small chestnut mare, she will probably be worth less than a small bay gelding," Courtney says. "It's not right or wrong, but it's a fact."

You also have to take into consideration your location—if you're in the heart of a horsy area, your horse will probably be able to carry a slightly higher price than if he were in a remote location. Look at comparable horses in your ­area and see what prices their sellers are asking. But take that ­information as a rough guideline only. "It's hard because you see what horses are ­advertised for, but that's not necessarily what they're selling for," ­Courtney says.

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