Five tips on how to be successful at selling horses

Photo by AJ Dyer (aka-Visionaire)

Eventing Connect is thrilled that AJ Dyer aka Visionaire, a founding writer of Eventing Nation has joined our team. During her time at Eventing Nation, she published in excess of 1,500 articles. She has been working with us a couple of weeks now and you can expect many more great Eventing stories and insights from this popular writer and pillar of the Eventing Community.

 

Ok, I’m no big-time horse dealer.  Heck, I’ve only sold a handful of horses in my life, but that number is increasing.  I’m starting to develop some confidence in my eye: to successfully pick out a nice, raw young horse, develop it a little into what I envision, and then send it on for someone else to enjoy.  There are times I wish I could keep them all…but part of being a grown up is knowing when to say goodbye, even if you don’t want to.

Speedy sales:
In my handful of horses sold, I have been fortunate to have several of them sell like flaming hotcakes.  We’re talking a dozen serious emails within hours of listing, and loading the horse on a trailer and leaving home within a week.

Case one: An oversize pinto pony was sold sight-unseen from pictures and video. It was paid by wire-transfer and shipped out on a professional van within six days.  Crazy?  Well yes, but consider that I had multiple other buyers actively bidding against each other, trying to undercut (“They’re coming on Sunday?  I can be there Saturday, with trailer and cash!!”) and basically falling over themselves to get that pony.  I did the honest thing. I sold him to the first serious buyer for my asking price, despite the other offers.  The owner is thrilled to death with him, and he lives a life of luxury.  Could I have made more money? Yeah maybe, but I got what I wanted (and so did she!).

Photo courtesy of Ivegotyourpicture.com

Photo courtesy of Ivegotyourpicture.com

Case two: A talented young TB mare I’d had for a year.  I would have loved to have kept this one but I made the correct financial decision to sell her. My inbox flooded with emails and I had three people lined up to see her that week.  The second person that tried her, fell in love (it was hard not to!) and bought her without a vetting at full asking price. Yes, she wanted her THAT much.  Good thing she acted quickly, because there were others frothing at the mouth waiting in line.

Most recently: I listed another green TB gelding for sale.  This one, I’d only had for six weeks. Again, I’d love to develop him more myself but bills gotta get paid.  I listed him at lunchtime and by evening I had four serious emails and one person ready to arrange a vetting by the weekend.

When sales take time… a long time:
After reading about some of my quicker sales you might be thinking, ‘Man, is selling horses really this easy?!’ No, it isn’t.  I didn’t mention the OTHER horses I had to sell…

Case one: TB gelding, athletic as all get out, but a challenging ride.  It took two years to get him sold (and barely broke even, kinda).  After having him for a year, I thought I had him sold on a lease-to-buy but the deal fell through.  A year later, the right person finally came along. Someone willing to overlook his quirks and appreciate his inner talent but not able to afford the asking price.  At some point, ya gotta just let them go.  Of course there were minor bumps along the way. Just as I felt this horse was marketable, he’d hurt himself doing something silly then requirie two weeks off and miss a horse show, or whatever.  He was the type of horse saying, ‘Please don’t sell me, I like it here!’  When you have that horse, and a buyer comes along with a little less money than you like, TAKE IT. (That horse and his new owner are doing fabulously, btw.)

Case two: Another pony.  A cheap pony, but not a bad one.  Unknown breeding and Supposedly QH, but who knows? I picked him up from a sketchy situation just to be a pasture mate for my yearling.  Yearling grew up, and it was time for Pony to find a new home to be useful.  Meanwhile, I’d started riding him and got him jumping a little. He was easy. This thing was loping two-foot courses with flying changes by his third jumping session.  He was hunter-style cute, with snappy knees and point-and-shoot ability.  But he was still green and I’m not a pony hunter saleswoman.  So I had him for sale, CHEAP.  First buyer liked him but said he was too green (if you read, I said that in the ad).  Multiple other buyers contacted me but never showed up.  Finally, someone else came to try him and agreed to buy him only if he measured under 14.2.  He did.  It took three months to get him gone…not a huge long time but for a decent quality cute pony offered at three figures?

Most recently: I acted as an agent selling a neighbour’s horse who wanted a quick easy sale.  Buckskin, half-Andalusian mare, very pretty but mid-aged and relatively green (or at least rusty).  I rode her enough to get her in shape and polished some buttons, but she could be sensitive and forward.  Not hot or crazy but when you put your leg on, she WENT.  Dozens of emails on her (a lot of My Little Pony Syndrome sufferers) but it took two months for buyers to finally come try her.  Two people were awful matches…one I actually shouldn’t even have let ride her, it was so bad.  One guy clicked with her very well, but I never heard back.  Then finally, nearly four months after listing, the right buyer came along.  Love at first sight, a week’s trial, standard vetting, horse sold.

So, what’s the key to selling horses successfully?
Not every horse will be sold in less than a week. However, you do have the ability to sell horses with more ease if you follow these simple guidelines.

1. Start with quality horses, even though this may seem so obvious. Quality always sells. If the horse is fancy, sound, and shows potential to do its advertised job, it will be in high demand.  Don’t take on a sale prospect just because it’s cheap and in your price range. Find something desirable, whether it’s looks, temperament, or talent (ideally at least two of those three).  Soundness goes without saying.  Lame horses lose money!

2.  Show off that quality horse.  Don’t expect to sell a high-dollar animal off of awkward iPhone pictures and video.  Your fancy upper level prospect is no better than a Craigslist gaited horse if your photo is blurry, has bad lighting, or shows the horse in an unflattering, disproportionate stance.  Whether the horse is $1,000 or $50,000, take an hour to bathe and braid it, trim its bridlepath and fuzzies.  Put a bridle on and get a helper to hold it still. Find a good level place with mild background and take a quality photo to show off that quality horse.  Have him stood up correctly to appear balanced and attractive (ears!).  First impressions DO matter!  Likewise, with video, show him doing what you advertise under saddle.  Free-range videos of prancy, snorty, flag-tailed, Arab-like boinking around the pasture is not a good marketing tool…you can’t judge gaits from that!

A conformation photo should always be included in your ad, but make sure your headline or thumbnail photo is eye-catching to get the most clicks. Photo courtesy of Ivegotyourpicture.com

A conformation photo should always be included in your ad, but make sure your headline or thumbnail photo is eye-catching to get the most clicks.
Photo courtesy of Ivegotyourpicture.com

3.  Price appropriately.  Don’t gouge your customers.  If you’re really motivated to sell, ask a fair price for what the horse is currently worth today, not 30 days from now.  (If you ‘don’t’ really need to sell, then ask yourself, ‘What would it take to make you OK if he left in someone’s trailer?’  Don’t complain if he sits in your barn forever.)  Take into consideration your location, the horse’s age, level of training, temperament, size, and soundness.  Buyers are picky and want a good deal (don’t you?!). They aren’t going to waste their time looking at horses they can’t afford or that are priced unreasonably.  However, don’t sell your horse short. Sometimes a too-cheap of a price sends off alarm bells (“This horse should be twice that much!  It must be lame or crazy!”).  If you are willing to negotiate, say so.

4.  Be honest and realistic.  Horse sellers are the original used car salesmen of the world…not the greatest reputation.  Communicate with buyers to find out what type of horse they want/need and evaluate your horse’s ability to fill those needs.  If you think it’s a bad fit, say so. Don’t waste anyone’s time or get hopes up trying to match a spicy 4 y/o green OTTB with a 12 year old girl learning to post the trot.  Measure your horse’s height with a real stick and don’t fudge it based on where the wither hits your shoulder/boob/nose/whatever.  If your horse has soundness concerns, admit that.  Many buyers are reasonable and (if priced right) will accept a few imperfections, especially if you are upfront about sharing the horse’s history.

5. Always be polite and courteous.  You will often get a lot of tire-kicking emails, depending on what listing sites you use.  I always try to respond to every request promptly within 24 hours. I often have a “template” email made up with relevant introductory information about the horse (including video links) that I copy/paste and send.  Sometimes buyers will ask specific questions not answered in the template email. I am always happy to answer them directly. In fact, I prefer those specific questions rather than a generic “Can you tell me more, can I see more pics?”  I try to honor the first serious buyer who follows through, rather than sell the horse to the first person who shows up with cash.  I keep all prospective buyers “in the loop” about the horse’s status (still for sale, out on trial, sale pending, etc).  If I get updated photos or video, I send them out to interested parties.  Above all, thank each buyer for their inquiry and wish them the best in their horse search.  Even if they decide your horse isn’t right for them, they may send other buyers your way.  Similarly, I will forward on information on other sale horses that are not mine if I think it may suit the buyer.  It’s about matching horses and the right people, not about getting rich!

 

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