Q: I have to go to school full time next semester and won’t have the time or money to keep my horse, so I need to sell her. Here’s the really sad part—after years of struggling with her, I’ve finally got her to where she’s fully trained, and great fun to ride. Now she’s the perfect horse and I’ve got to let her go! Everyone says the ‘market stinks’ right now, so I know I won’t get a good price for her, especially since she’s not papered. I’m heartsick about this. What advice do you have?
A: First of all, it feels awful to be in your position, having to choose between furthering your education and keeping your animal; you have my sympathy indeed. No doubt, the feelings you’re having are intensified by those wonderful memories of overcoming your mare’s problems and shaping her into the good equine buddy that she is today. That said, things might not be as grim as they seem. We just need to think “outside the box” for a bit. Every situation has hidden benefits and happy solutions, even in a down-turned economy.
So, what are your options? First let’s look at the most dreaded—selling your horse outright. Having spent much time over the years, researching the market for suitable mounts for my students, and myself I’ll share some dos and don’ts for marketing equine.
First, be sure you’re committed in your heart and mind to selling her. Nothing is more frustrating for a buyer and self-sabotaging for an owner to be waffling about selling their horse.
Before placing a sales ad, I suggest you get opinions from knowledgeable horse people—preferably those with no financial interest in your mare—on pricing and range of rider suitability. These are the two things that a horse owner can have trouble staying objective about. The former is due to all the money you’ve put into your horse over the years, including her initial purchase price. A lot of this expense is the cost of enjoying your hobby and can’t be recouped in her sales price—unless she’s a champion and at the top of her game. The latter blind spot happens because of propinquity: Your horse is calmest, most comfortable, most obedient, and most responsive to you as her rider. How she will perform for someone who comes to try her out, or in a new setting may be an entirely different and eye-opening experience. Have savvy people rider her first and give you their opinion.
Do some research on Internet sites like Dreamhorse.com, Craigslist.org, as well as any classifieds or websites of local horse papers in your area. Look at several horses that have your animal’s credentials and qualities, and you’ll soon start to see a “ballpark figure” they all have in common. You’ll also notice the hopelessly overpriced or suspiciously under-priced. You may start to notice certain stock phrases that mask flaws and failings, for instance, “loves to go!” (but can he stop?) “dead broke” (or just half dead?) or “bomb proof” (wait, let me get my detonator). Avoid using those in your ad. (One of my favorite lines is “Anyone can ride–best suited for endurance.” Endurance is a racing event requiring a horse with a lot of athletic drive. If that is what the horse is best suited for, it may not be a good mount for just “anyone.”)
Be prepared with photos, preferably in the initial ad, but at least to send to those who inquire about the horse. Using a digital camera, do take good quality conformation shots, both with and without a saddle (in both English and Western tack if she does both). Does she ride bareback, and would you trust a neighborhood kid on her back? Take a shot. You’re your farrier say she has awesome feet? Take a shot. Avoid “artsy” shots in favor of accurate depictions of your horse. I recently saw a photo ad for a rope horse, taken by moonlight, showing only his head and shoulders, with an asking price of $5000. Do take action shots of her under saddle; better yet, borrow a video camera and upload a short video to Youtube.com. Successful horse marketing is mostly electronic these days and you stand a better chance of successfully “re-homing” your beloved equine if you become knowledgeable about the medium.
What about leasing? Is there a possibility of finding your horse a temporary home while still maintaining ownership (and control) over her? Yes, but do so carefully. What is called a full or half feed lease can be a blessing or disaster, depending on how attentive you are to the details.
In today’s economy, there are still many people wanting to get into horses without a large startup expense. These people are often pre-teenagers, who are horse-smitten and willing to do a lot of work to provide for a horse. Leases can relieve a financially strapped horse owner from financial burden, either temporarily or permanently, depending on how the match works out.
If you board your horse at a commercial stable that gives riding lessons, see if the instructor will refer you to some of their students’ parents. Leasing a horse (for the price of the monthly upkeep) where their child already spends much of his or her waking hours can be a good introduction to horse ownership for parents. The benefit is that you can visit and make sure the horse is being cared for up to your standards. Do make up a lease agreement. It is extremely important for you and the potential lessee to have a signed and notarized document spelling out conditions of lease and legal responsibilities for the horse.