High-Tech Horse Purchases

The Internet has become an everyday tool for horse owners. Not only does it allow easy and immediate communication with friends and business associates around the world, it opens the doors to purchasing just about anything we need for our horses. We can shop for something as small as a bit or as large as a farm. We can view conformation shots and electronic videos of the stallion to which we might breed our mare via semen ordered online. And we can even shop for a horse of any age, breed, or discipline that might be located anywhere in the world.

But does this modern convenience really come without a price?

A few of the disadvantages to online horse purchases are similar to those of most advertising--you cannot guarantee the validity of the information supplied. Anyone can advertise a mythical horse or pony for thousands of dollars if they so wish.  Other disadvantages to purchasing a horse sight unseen are the risk that he's not what he's purported to be, the higher risk of dealing with a shady seller, and the chance that you and the horse might not get along.

Of course, there are advantages, such as the ability to communicate frequently and cheaply with the seller via e-mail. Additionally, there are sites that offer online video facilities and the capability to post a number of pictures, which is a great asset. Horse sale sites that are country- or continent-focused with regional search engines (that search only listings in particular geographic areas) are beneficial to the average buyer who doesn't have the resources to travel significant distances.

Victoria Kind is the marketing manager for Equiworld.net, which boasts more than 500,000 pages, 20,000 links, 8,000 members, and one million hits per month. She has this to say on the subject of equestrian purchases made via the Internet: "I think that the ability to view the vast amount of information about horse sales on the Net is fantastic if you are a serious buyer who has sound equine knowledge.

"The Internet as a whole has altered the boundaries of communication to such an extent that online product location and purchasing--be it horse, tack, or the little plastic pieces used to seal the end of shoelaces--shall be the premier media that billions of people around the world shall use and abuse," says Kind.

Thus, the primary cautions for horse purchasing online are the same as for any other product--know as much as possible about the item(s) for which you're shopping, and buyer beware (be skeptical).

Getting at the Truth

Gary Contessa, a successful trainer of Thoroughbred racehorses in New York since 1984, says, "I do not believe that it is possible to purchase a horse over the Internet sight unseen because of two very obvious reasons. First of all, there are many people of dubious qualities who prey upon those who are honest. Second, there are even more people out there who believe their horses to be sound and correct and are wrong about it. There are way too many horse people out there who really never learned anything about horses before declaring themselves to be  horsemen or women. I think that anyone purchasing a horse over the Internet must include the cost of a plane ticket for themselves or their trainer or veterinarian to thoroughly go over the horse long before payment is made."

On the other side of the world from Contessa--but of the same opinion--are veteran horse traders John Madden and Lynne Meek of the Bellerive Horse & Pony Agistment in Geelong, Australia.

"We think that the Internet could be useful in the early stages of purchasing a horse," they commented. "For example, you could look at the horse's conformation and decide whether or not it's what you are looking for. However, you can't always rely on the owner's description as far as the horse's behavior goes. As we have found from 30 years' experience in the horse game, they can sometimes be a little
careless with the truth. You can only judge a horse's behavior by observing him in the flesh and having him handled by an experienced horse person. He/she can tell in minutes if the horse is a good one or not."

Researching the Prospect

Eleanor M. Holman, Equine Sales and Consulting Broker, says that the Internet is an excellent media for a prospective horse owner to investigate and research buying a horse. The concept of finding horses for sale on the Internet is extremely popular--for the past two years the number one keyword search at www.worldhorsenet. com has been "horses for sale."

You can research a registered purebred horse's pedigrees, race records, show results, etc., through the association(s) with which the horse is registered as long as you are a member of the association. "Through the association you can access forms, show records, get and produce records, pedigrees, breeders' certificates, and stallion reports online, plus register for memberships," says Holman. The associations also will have information concerning the characteristics, capabilities, and sports in which their breeds excel.

One can also research some sellers online to see if they are reputable. "This also can be done through the associations," explains Holman. "Quite a few of the breed associations have what they call Professional Horsemen Groups that are registered, and each association recognizes them as the elite of their business. Of course, you can always ask someone for references of individuals to whom they have sold horses in the past."

Researching the legal and payment
aspects of online horse trading before handling the logistics of a sale can save you money and headache, especially if the horse isn't quite what was promised. Professional legal help is the best source of this type of information; seek a lawyer who specializes in equine law. If there are any of these in your area, you might find them in the Yellow Pages under Attorney-Equine Law, or you might need to search for them with online search engines such as HayNet.net (using a keyword search).

Purchase "Exam"

The staff of WorldHorseNet.com has observed that although people are using the Internet to locate horses for sale, they are still following established methods of phone calls, videos, personal visits (by themselves or a trusted agent), and a veterinary exam to finalize the actual purchase of the horse. Normally, buying a horse is an individual and emotional decision. So it is to be expected that an evaluation of the horse in person is still an extremely important process of finalizing the sale.

But how do you tell if your future equine purchase is worthy of a trip out to see him in person? Jay Komarek, DC, of Chiropractic Equine Performance in Longmont, Colo., had these thoughts on what a prospective online equine buyer should consider before making the purchase. "Static visual inspection is never a good idea, especially in the type of work I do where joint motion is everything. Where there is joint restriction due to trauma, mechanical faults, stresses, etc., these are best visualized with the horse in motion.

"However, if the person purchasing the horse has the computer capability for video play, then I think this is a great idea, especially in that it can be done live," he continued. "This is obviously a huge savings and it can be requested to see the horse performing all gaits. Immediate questions could be asked. Of course, the  hands-on physical inspection and exam would still need to be performed and X rays done on an as-needed basis. The live video would go a long way in making the decision (and perhaps seeing if you even want to make a trip out to see the horse). I do recommend videotaping the physical exam as well, especially with an unknown veterinarian." Keep in mind that live video demonstration would require good download speeds--live video and question and answer would be pretty tough or impossible for a dial-up modem, or be too slow to be useful.

Holman says, "When finding a vet to evaluate the horse, you might want to consider the Get-a-DVM web site at www.YourHorsesHealth.com. The American Association of Equine Practitioners web site at www.aaep.org is also a good site that can help you find a veterinarian in the seller's area who could do a purchase exam of a horse for you. If you were talking about a horse with a million-dollar price tag, the future owner may very well pay airfare for the veterinarian and his equipment."

Seek Professional Advice

"I do in excess of 150 prepurchases per year, and I find that those horses found through the standard trainer-to-trainer contacts, where there is some reciprocal responsibility, work out the best," says Donald J. Bruno, DVM, of Equine Sports Medicine in Pompton Plains, N.J. "This is the case whether the horse is in Europe or the next town over. The worst situations that I have witnessed have been those where contact has been made over the Internet, videotapes exchanged, and subsequent purchase and shipment of an untried or minimally tested animal resulted. Three such cases are currently in court. In two of them, I reviewed the videotape and saw a noticeably unsound animal. While it's debatable whether there was intentional misrepresentation, the fact remained that the new owners were in possession of horses that they didn't want, yet had to care for until they could hire an out-of-state attorney to initiate proceedings to recover their losses."

Bruno recommends to his clients that they seek out a suitable horse through local channels whenever possible. (If investment horses are to be purchased, then more distant travels are to be expected.) In any event, if a novice is doing the buying, a reputable horse person should be advising him or her. It is important that the horse be observed and worked in an environment comparable to that at his new home, and that this be done on more than one occasion. Bruno also strongly urges that a trial period be given, and suggests balancing this out for the seller by insuring the horse and yielding somewhat on the price negotiation.

"It's just as hard to evaluate a horse over a computer screen as it is to pick the perfect mate via a 5 x 7 glossy," Bruno says. "Sometimes it can be a match made in heaven, but most times it ends up in disappointment."

The Bottom Line

A brief recap of what an equine shopper should do to ensure the soundness and suitability of their online investment is as follows:

  • Research your desired breed of horse and the online breeder selling him. Narrow your search to areas where you can realistically travel to view the horse to save time and money, and to ages/training levels of horses you prefer. The "ideal horse" that will be fun, safe, and a constant source of pleasure can be located online--if you can find a seller you can trust.
  • Know where to look for a suitable veterinarian in the seller's location, especially for overseas or across-the-country purchases. Use the Internet to research the availability and qualifications of veterinarians worldwide.
  • Develop a system to evaluate prospects. Save time by eliminating horses which are too expensive or for which the decision seems too risky (i.e.,  requirement for a quick sale, no trial period).
  • When you find the ideal horse, take precautions to ensure that you are buying a healthy animal suitable for your needs before you make your online purchase.

So, is the highly personal art of purchasing a horse doomed to become lost in the surf of the high-tech, computer-driven world in which we live? Or will the potential horse buyer never be content with only electronic visions of their next mount?

Most would agree that electronic visions are a great starting point, but insufficient on their own. In order to make the safest horse purchases, physical examination in the flesh and a trial period are essential to the success of your new horse whether you find your prospect via electronic, word-of-mouth, or paper communication.


Following are a few web sites that feature sections with horses for sale or ways to find a veterinarian.

  • www.horsecity.com--This site contains classified ads, news, chat rooms, message boards, articles on equine law, horse health, training, and more.
  • www.usahorseclassifieds.com --This site includes over 5,000 equine classifieds.
  • www.horse.com--This site includes over 5,000 classified ads, with over 3,800 of those being horses for sale.
  • www.dreamhorse.com--This site offers a searchable database by breed, bloodline, horse, owner's name, and location.
  • www.horseindustryalliance.com--Official site of the Horse Industry Alliance, which works to unite organizations and individuals involved in all areas of the industry and create an entryway for people interested in bringing horses into their lives.
  • www.HayNet.net--This comprehensive directory of horse-related sites offers links to horses for sale, breeds and associations, stallion services, clubs and associations, and more.
  • www.aaep.org--This is the official site of the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP), whose mission is: "To improve the health and welfare of the horse, to further the professional development of its members, and to provide resources and leadership for the benefit of the equine industry."
  • www.MyHorseMatters.com--This AAEP site is designed for horse owners.
  • www.YourHorsesHealth.com--This site can help connect you with a veterinarian in your area, and it also provides health care information.--Mary C. Ross-Geertsema

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE COIN: Tips for Selling Horses Online

Selling horses online is convenient and affordable. There are many equine classified web sites to choose from, but you need to be savvy when creating your ads to get the best results on any of them.

List your ads on several high-traffic equine classified web sites. The more exposure the better! Most of these web sites list a photo ad for less than $20 and run them for three to 12 months. You will be reaching millions of viewers and only spending a fraction of what it costs to list a photo ad in equine magazines or newspapers.

Use photos for better results. Plain text ads don't draw near the attention that photo ads do. The more information you can give a viewer right away, the better the chance that you will get serious responses to your ads. If possible, send a videotape of your horse.

Title your ads with your horse's best selling points. Example: " '97 AQHA Roan Gelding/Futurity Winner/Quiet." If a subtitle is allowed, use it! This is your chance to make sure someone clicks through to your ad.

Give an honest description of your horse's abilities and character. Do not list information or pictures that are not true, current representations of your horse.

Make sure your contact information is listed correctly. Enter a current, valid e-mail address and phone number--strange as it seems, many ads have incorrect contact information. Test your ad's response form to see if your e-mail address is working; most people want to be able to e-mail a response to an ad for the first contact, so make sure that you'll get it. Don't rely on them to call you if they don't get through to you by e-mail. Most people do not take the time to bookmark your ad, and they expect you to reply to their inquiry.

Edit your ads when needed, and delete them when your horse sells. Keep your ads fresh by editing titles and subtitles, and update information (such as performance records). It is disappointing to respond to ads for horses which have sold. If you want to leave your ad online to help bring attention to other horses for sale, then edit the ad to say so.

Renew your ads. When your ad expires and you haven't sold your horse, renew the ad. Often, a renewed ad brings a successful sale. With most web site classified ad services, you can easily renew your ad with just a click from a member page.

Give your feedback to the websites you used. Many sites rely on customers' feedback to help them guide improvements.--Patricia Bores, owner of HorsesMidwest.com

About the Author

Mary Ross-Geertsema

Mary Ross-Geertsema is a free-lance writer based in Mahwah, N.J. She focuses primarily on equine and artistic topics.

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