Caveat Emptor. That's Latin for 'Buyer Beware' and it takes on deep and serious new meaning to me as I cyber-search for a new horse on the Internet. With a hole in my barn and a chunk of cash in my pocket (from the sale of an investment horse), I've joined the legions of lookers trying to find Mr. Right--well, in my case, Ms. Right--from online horse advertising. But, instead of the homozygous black and white tobiano Paint filly with proven performance bloodlines I'm searching for (OK, I admit it's a needle in a haystack) I'm finding a dizzying array of misleading, poorly presented, or just plain frustrating ads.
The Internet is so easy and inexpensive to use, it makes a great place to advertise anything. Horses are no exception. However, just because Internet advertising is cheap and easy doesn't mean that ads shouldn't be factual, attractive, and effective. Please, if you're considering marketing horses on the Internet, consider the following points before creating and placing your ad:
- Appropriateness. Should you try to sell your horse on the Internet? If he or she is a garden-variety trail riding pal, you may be better off advertising around home, at your local feed store, or in local horse newspapers. Chances are good that a buyer isn't going to fly in from another state to inspect a $2,000 pleasure horse, or an $800 unbroke yearling, then pay another $500-1,000 to have it hauled home. The Internet excels at showing the unusual to all interested parties on the planet-that's also its best use for selling horses. If your horse is blue-blooded, extra talented (with a proven performance record) or can play the piano, then the Internet is the place to advertise him. If your horse is likely to make someone happy in your hometown, then market him there.
- Location, location, location. All Internet advertising sources were not created equally. Before placing ads online, check out various sites for price, quality, and navigation. Not only should sites offer lots and lots of ads to attract lots and lots of buyers, the ads should be attractively presented and have standard templates for basic horse info. Be sure there are categories for different breeds and specialties, and that the search tools allow buyers to browse by breed, region, price range, size, age, bloodlines, etc. Clunky or slow-loading sites tick off viewers who'll go elsewhere for easier shopping.
- Designing the ad. Most equine sales Web sites encourage complete and accurate information and presentation--including one or more photos. All relevant fields on the form should be completed--honestly, please--including the pedigree section. Reveal the horse's registered name so shoppers can do their own online research. Be sure to write a short essay about your Flicka. Saying "Guaranteed winner" "Sure to be a champion" and "Most beautiful horse ever" are not very helpful statements. Statements like "elegant mover with Sponge Bob charm" or "quiet for beginner to hack, jump, and groom" tell us something useful.
- And photos . . . please include them! You don't have to be an artist with the camera, but any buyer is going to see what your horse looks like eventually, so you might as well start with a photo or two on the ad. A full side view of the horse, either haltered or under saddle, and a close up of the head are the most useful. Don't bother with the horse in a field with six of his buddies (we'll think you can't catch him) or with his head in a feeder (we want to see his eye and expression.) Ditto if he's covered with mud or standing awkwardly. It just takes a couple minutes and a digital--even a disposable--camera, along with someone to hold the horse, to get adequate pictures. If you don't have a scanner, go to Kinko's with your prints--they'll show you what to do.
- Follow up. When you get inquiries, answer them promptly and honestly. Be ready to forward more photos, copies of registration papers, and current Coggins and health certificates for out of state shoppers. If you have a farm Web site, include a link that works from the ad, and be sure the site is current. Please dump the songs, twirling cartoons, and annoying pop-ups: they look amateurish and often crash computers.
You'll need to provide a video for any horse you list for more than a few thousand dollars. Show the horse standing, walking, and jogging straight towards and away from the camera. Also show him from both sides--walking, trotting, and cantering. Then, show him under saddle (if the horse is ride-able) or on a longe or in a round pen. Jumping and other skills should be filmed. Consider showing the horse coming in from the field and being tacked up--both reveal much to a prospective buyer. It's perfectly acceptable to request a deposit--say, $50--for videos to discourage children and lookie-lu's.. You may not get every tape back, but you'll need a tape to sell a show horse or expensive breeding animal, so make several copies.
Selling a horse online isn't much different than using a magazine or newspaper ad, but you'll reach a much bigger pool of potential buyers. Therefore, it's even more important to market with integrity and accuracy: If a buyer drives hours and hours, or even flies in to see your horse and you've been dishonest, you'll have a very upset customer. Caveat Emptor . . . but please try to make it a winning situation for buyer and seller by planning well and presenting your Internet horse advertisements with integrity.
Writing or riding, Suzanne Drnec enjoys horses and their people. Drnec is president of Hobby Horse Clothing Company, a show apparel manufacturer, and also the caretaker of an assortment of lawn ornaments, currently two Paints. She hasn't found her dream mares yet, but has met a lot of nice breeders cyber shopping. Comments? E-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org.