Getting a standout photo that shows the horse's best qualities and captures the buyer's attention is an important part of marketing a horse.
Experts share their suggestions for marketing horses and ensuring a smooth and legal transaction
In a perfect world we could keep all of our horses forever. But here in reality horses age, children outgrow their ponies, and riders advance their skills or change disciplines. Inevitably, as a horse owner, at some point you’ll find yourself as a horse seller. Here our sources share tips on marketing horses and negotiating sales.
1. Make the Horse Showroom Ready
Buying a horse is most certainly a logical decision, but it’s also an emotional one. And who can resist a pretty equine specimen? For Jennifer Schrader Williams, an equine broker and owner of Summervale Premier Dressage, in Roy, Washington, that means a glossy coat, a tidy mane and tail, new shoes, and top physical condition. That’s why all horses she consigns also go into full training. “I love making a horse ready for its new owner,” she says. What does this mean for selling your own horse? Clean him up and keep him in work, Williams recommends, so that the buyer gets to see him at his best.
2. Take Great Photos
Getting a standout photo is Williams’ top priority before marketing a horse. “You have just a split second to capture someone’s attention with a photo,” she explains. “I want to get photos that show that horse’s ‘spark.’ ” For that reason, Williams pays a professional equine photographer to capture sales images of horses she represents.
Working with her pro, Williams strives to get an attractive and expressive headshot, with the horse’s ears up and looking alert, as well as a side body conformation shot (again, with the horse looking alert). Then she rides the horse, with the photographer shooting up to 300 images of the horse at the trot and canter, Williams says. She and her photographer then select the horse’s best one or two images at each gait.
Of course, these days most of us have cameras in our pockets. However, a quick smartphone shot is likely lacking when it comes to showing a horse at his best. Even the most beautiful horses can end up looking, as Blood-Horse Publications’ visual’s director Anne Eberhardt Keogh, describes it, “distorted.” That means a horse with a lovely back could end up looking extra-long, or one with a pretty face could end up looking like a moose.
“A digital single-lens reflex camera (DSLR, or the kind with removable lenses) with an 85 mm lens is ideal,” Keogh says, for photographing a horse at its best.
If you don’t have a DSLR available and do use a camera phone, Keogh offers the following advice: “Stand about 20 feet away from the horse to try and avoid as much distortion as possible. Make sure the camera is (held horizontally, or in landscape format) parallel with the horse, not pointed up or down (or with one side closer to the horse than the other)—again, to prevent distortion. You can then edit the photo and crop the image so the horse fills the frame.”
No matter what kind of camera you’re using, Keogh recommends shooting outside with the sun behind you to illuminate the horse. “Morning or evening light are best so you avoid shadows on the legs,” she adds, cast by trees, buildings, or even the photographer.
3. Get an Equally Great Video
A photo can initially capture a potential buyer’s attention, but a video can show off the horse’s gaits and training and frequently seal the deal for requesting an in-person visit.
Just don’t make the videos too long, or you risk losing the viewer’s attention. “A video should be two or three minutes long, max—long enough to show the horse’s walk, trot, and canter,” Williams says. “Four minutes, maybe, if the horse does upper level movements.”
While Williams is specifically talking about dressage horses, her advice applies to other disciplines as well. If your horse is an excellent trail horse, show footage of him being ridden through a gate or expertly negotiating obstacles, such as logs or a water crossing. Selling a reiner? Show an example of his best slide, lead change, and spin.
To create videos, Williams purchased a high-definition (HD) camera and tripod and has her professional photographer or assistant film the horse. As with photographs, her sales horses are always braided and looking their best for the video.
Many of today’s DSLR cameras can also can film in HD. Williams purchased and learned to use professional video editing software, so her videos include music and text as well.
4. Write a Concise and Accurate Description of the Horse
A great photo is the first thing that will catch a potential buyer’s attention, Williams says, and the video takes the interest a step further. But follow that imagery with an honest (yet short) written assessment of the horse’s breeding, personality, training, show record (if any), and potential. Also make sure you have the details correct, including his year of birth, height, and, when applicable, registration information.
5. Set a Fair Price
Pricing your horse appropriately can make or break a sale. Price too high, and you risk losing time and credibility. Price too low, and you might leave money on the table. Williams bases pricing on the horse’s training, temperament, talent, breeding, and soundness. “Buyers are looking for the full package,” she says.
Setting a good price doesn’t mean getting on a horse classifieds site and looking up comparable horses for sale. Instead, you need to know what prices the horses actually brought, because a listing price and a negotiated final price aren’t necessarily the same. If you aren’t using a horse broker to set a price, Williams recommends talking to a trainer who works in your discipline or with your breed who has recently helped buy or sell horses for clients. “Pay a trainer (for) their time to evaluate your horse and suggest a price,” she recommends.
6. Target Your Market
When listing your horse on marketing and sales sites, consider who’s on that specific website and what kind of horse he or she might be searching for. For example, someone looking for a horse on Craigslist probably isn’t shopping for a Grand Prix dressage horse. In the same vein, a Quarter Horse breed-show competitor likely isn’t looking on a Warmbloods-for-sale site for his or her next Western pleasure mount. Choose the site that’s appropriate for your horse, his discipline, and price point. Also, don’t forget to promote your horse for sale via social media outlets, such as on Facebook groups targeted toward your horse’s market, Williams says.
7. Organize (or Find) All of the Horse’s Paperwork
Before buyers begin showing up to shop, Williams says to make sure you have all of your horse’s paperwork organized and in one place. This could include registration papers, DNA test results, show results, veterinary records, and production records. You might also want to include sire and dam reference photos and records, if applicable.
8. Capitalize on the Initial Listing
The first three months of marketing a horse is full of excitement and interest. After that, Williams explains, attention wanes as new prospects come along. Also, people might start wondering why the horse hasn’t sold yet. Is he overpriced? Difficult to ride? Did he not pass a vet check? That’s how rumors get started in the horse world, and those rumors could ruin a sale or scare off buyers.
Take advantage of your initial listing by promoting the horse via social media, posting flyers at appropriate venues and horse events (e.g., at reining shows for a reining horses or 4-H clinics for a kids’ horse), and spreading word about his availability through industry contacts. If you receive little or no initial interest, consider reevaluating his price, and your marketing methods. It might signal the need for a professional broker.
9. Be Responsive to Potential Buyers
Selling a horse can take a lot of time and energy, and a lot of that can be attributed to answering the many questions buyers have before they see a horse in person, says Lori Bidwell, DVM, Dipl. ACVA, CVA, an assistant professor in the Equine Lameness and Sports Medicine Service at Michigan State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a competitive hunter-jumper rider experienced in marketing and selling horses. “You have to take the time to respond to e-mails and phone calls,” she says. Missed correspondence could mean a missed sale. If you don’t have the time to actively field calls and questions from potential buyers, Bidwell recommends hiring a broker to help get the sale done.
10. Disclose any Health or Training Issues
Legally, as a seller you must share anything important you know about the horse’s behavior and physical condition, says attorney Rachel Kosmal McCart, JD, of Equine Legal Solutions, in Oregon. This could include lameness history, any maintenance required to keep the horse sound, stereotypies such as cribbing, the results of any testing for genetic diseases, if a stallion or colt has one or more undescended testicles, and any history of bucking, rearing, spooking, kicking, biting, and other dangerous behavior.
“When in doubt, disclose—and do it in writing,” says McCart.
McCart recommends encouraging every potential buyer to get a prepurchase veterinary exam on the horse from an independent veterinarian (i.e., not the seller’s vet). She also recommends sellers authorize their veterinarians to release records to the buyer. “Here’s why: Once the seller has fully disclosed what the seller knows about an issue, the onus is on the buyer to consider that in making a purchase decision,” she explains. “The seller’s disclosure will protect the seller if the buyer is dissatisfied post-purchase because the horse is unsound (even if the horse is unsound because of a pre-existing condition).”
Additionally, nondisclosure could lead a buyer to distrust a seller and walk away from a deal after a prepurchase is performed. For example, “If the horse has had colic surgery, but you don’t tell the buyer, a good veterinarian will find a colic surgery scar during an exam,” says Bidwell.
Buyers often use prepurchase exam results as leverage to lower the price during negotiations. By disclosing issues up front, Williams says, she finds buyers are less surprised by less favorable prepurchase results and more likely to pay the asking price.
11. Offer a Safe Place for Trial Rides, and Get Signed Releases
If you’re offering a trained, riding-age horse for sale, potential buyers will likely want to try your horse under saddle. To do so, you will need offer them a safe—preferably enclosed—area or arena to ride in. If you don’t have an arena where you keep your horse, consider moving him to a boarding facility while for sale, or haul him to a public arena or show grounds for the test ride.
“The seller should have everyone who comes to look at sale horses sign a release,” says McCart. “This is true even for buyers who will not be riding, as well as anyone who accompanies a prospective buyer; ground accidents are just as likely to cause injury.”
Additionally, McCart notes, most homeowners insurance policies have exceptions for “commercial” activity, which means your homeowners policy probably won’t cover any accidents involving a prospective horse buyer.
12. Get Your Sales Agreement in Writing
Finally, once you’ve negotiated the sale, get your sales agreement in writing and have a clear plan for funds transfer and horse transport, says Williams. She recommends keeping all e-mail correspondences about the sale and using a sales contract drafted by an attorney familiar with equine transactions.
Once the sale is complete, the buyer is responsible for the horse’s care.
How to Ensure Your Horse Gets a Home
As a responsible seller, you want your horse to go to an appropriate home. And, most horse people have heard heart-breaking stories about horses sold unknowingly to horse traders or feed lots. Here are the best ways to avoid that scenario:
- Advertise your horse honestly. The best way to ensure your horse gets a good home is to make sure the new owner and the horse are a match both in personality and ability. Facilitate that positive relationship by promoting a horse honestly. If you advertise the horse as a husband-safe mount and he’s not, he likely won’t stay in his new home for very long.
- Ask for a reference from the buyer’s veterinarian. Responsible horse owners have relationships with veterinarians. Ask for the name of the buyer’s veterinarian, and follow up with a phone call.
- Find out where the horse will live. If it’s a boarding facility that has a current relationship with the buyer, contact the owner or manager for a reference. If the buyer is keeping the horse at home, ask to see photos or if you can visit in person.
- Do a Google search of the buyer’s name. Often you can learn about buyers through a simple online search.
- Don’t sell for at or below slaughter prices. While horse slaughter is illegal in the United States, the harsh reality is that many American horses are sold to contractors for slaughter in Canada and Mexico. Contractors pay a price per pound, which varies by location and horse type and condition. To make sure you don’t unwittingly sell a horse to a meat buyer, check local auction yards or online auctions to find current meat prices and then price your horse above that point. Reputable equine rescues might also advise you on current per pound rates.
About the Author
Michelle Anderson serves as The Horse's digital managing editor. In her role, she produces content for our web site and hosts our live events, including Ask the Vet Live. A lifelong horse owner, Anderson competes in dressage and enjoys trail riding. She's a Washington State University graduate (Go Cougs!) and holds a bachelor's degree in communications with a minor in business administration and extensive coursework in animal sciences. She has worked in equine publishing since 1998. She currently lives with her husband on a small horse property in Central Oregon.