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August 9, 2011

The Etiquette Of Horse Shopping: Communication Is Key

If you’ve been in the market for a horse recently, odds are you’ve taken your search online. From website classifieds to social media, Internet advertising makes horse shopping infinitely more convenient than in decades gone by; the thousands of prospects at our fingertips are often accompanied by flashy photo galleries and video clips.

But the informality of web shopping can also be misleading; it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of potentials and lose focus on important details.

In the often-confusing world of horse sales, the relationships established between buyers and sellers are key to successful transactions, so we’ve gone to the experts for tips on creating the best experience from classified to contract.

Be Specific

Before you make the leap from browsing classifieds to calling owners, put some serious thought into your specific requirements. Whether you’ve got a certain horse in mind or are hoping to try several at once, a list of “must-haves” will help sellers narrow down suitable options.

“We have 10 to 20 foals born each year, so every year we have a good selection of 3-year-olds coming onto the market. We have a Facebook page, and we have some of our sales horses posted there, as well as an extensive website with photos, videos, and information,” said Ashley Wolfe, sales manager at Iron Spring Farm, Coatesville, Pa.

“I try to be very thorough on that first phone call, gathering every piece of information I can. Clients will say, ‘I’m a timid rider, I’m an amateur, I’m going to ride with a professional trainer once a week, and I need a horse that doesn’t need to be ridden every single day,’ ” Wolfe continued. “Then I know what horses to present them. I narrow it down so that the list of horses they’re seeing when they arrive here are horses that fit their criteria and their lifestyle.”

Courtney Cooper, who sells 40-50 horses per year through her C Square Farm despite her busy eventing competition schedule, suggests thinking outside the box when it comes to your specifications. Though age, breed, height and experience are all obvious considerations, it’s also important to give some thought to your horse’s intended environment.

“[I like to know] if they keep the horse at home or at a commercial farm,” said Cooper.  “I also would like to know any special needs they have. For example, are they in Southern California with limited turnout? Are there younger children who will be around when the horse is dealt with? Are they first time horse owners?”

Planning and articulating your requirements ahead of time not only helps sellers to select potential mounts, but also gives an earnest impression of your abilities and desires.

“I get a sense of who buyers are from the questions they ask me: ‘Could I share this horse with my daughter? Am I going to need a professional to do anything specific?’ ” said Virginia-based sales agent Diane Crump, who currently has several varieties of sport horses for sale and boasts between 30-40 sales per year despite the slow economy. “My goal while I’m listening is to find the right match.”

Carefully articulating your requirements shows sellers that you’re serious; you’ve thought through your wants and needs and expect to move forward with horses suitable to your abilities.

Establish A Price Range

Though impressive photos and videos may have struck your fancy, it’s important to remain realistic about what you can afford. Devote some time to working out your finances and determining the maximum price your budget will permit, which will allow you to be straightforward with sellers from the beginning.

“Price range is always nice to know from the start,” said Wolfe. “We have horses in a wide price range, so when we’re trying to pinpoint horses that will match what buyers are looking for, it’s helpful.  It’s always appreciated, on the seller end, for buyers to be upfront about their budget."

While Crump acknowledges that listed prices are often negotiable, buyers should have a ballpark offer in mind from the start. 

“I’d say you need to be willing to spend at least 75 percent of the price they’re asking, otherwise don’t come look,” Crump said.  “If you only have $10,000 to spend, then don’t call about a horse that costs $20,000.”

Keeping a clear view of your finances is both pragmatic and courteous. If a horse isn’t priced within your range, you’ll spare heartbreak—and wasted time—by staying focused on horses that fit your budget.

Preparation Is Key

Once you’ve set the date to try a potential horse, don’t overlook the details. Prepare in advance by clarifying your plans and asking if there’s anything you can do beforehand or bring with you.

For example, if you’re planning to bring a trainer or friend along to try the horse as well, make sure to let the seller know how many of you are planning to ride.

“For our very young horses, their typical routine is about 30 minutes maximum work per day,” said Wolfe. “We like to try to not overdo that. If there’s going to be a rider and their trainer trying the horse, we like to know that in advance so that our rider will plan to only [show the horse for] a short period of time. Then the horse is not too tired before the trainer and client ride.

“In advance of the appointment, we let the clients know we require a certified helmet and proper footwear for riding and suggest breeches,” Wolfe continued.

Certified helmets are commonly required for trial rides, but Wolfe also suggests bringing your saddle and dressing appropriately in heeled boots and breeches.

If you’ve done your homework by giving as much clear information as possible, determining your finances and creating a good first impression with the seller, you’ve already set yourself up for a good experience. Setting a precedent of being upfront and honest will only benefit you as you move forward in the exciting process of buying your next horse. 

Check back next Wednesday for the next step in the Etiquette Of Horse Shopping series!

 
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