When Horse Trading Lives up to its Reputation

Every day or two since July 31st I’ve logged onto the Chronicle of the Horse Forums to find out if a woman who posted there has had her horse returned. It has turned into an epic saga: the woman in question is selling her horse to pay her son’s medical bills. Horse goes to a trainer who shows it to a client. Owner turns down an offer. Horse is shipped to owner’s agent (against her instructions) and has not been returned.

While there are many things that are unknown about this particular situation, it has brought to light a problem that has plagued the horse industry since almost the beginning of time — today, “horse trading” refers to any negotiation that is difficult and which involves a lot of compromise.

Many people have chimed in with heartbreakingly similar stories. Two have been documented and validated through the court system. Both are worth reading as they give valuable perspectives on two of the most problematic issues: what is a fair commission and, how much did the horse sell for?

When selling horses, it is customary for the trainer and/or agent involved to take a commission based on the sales price. This is similar to the real estate industry without the laws that define the exact amount involved. Of course, the final commission is based on the sales price. Here, the waters often are murkier still; unlike the sale of a house, where the buyer pays the seller, often in the presence of an attorney, equestrians blithely pay the agent or trainer, who then passes the payment along to the seller. This is something I truly do not understand. Whenever I’ve sold a horse I’ve had the buyer pay me, and I’ve paid the commission. It does seem to eliminate some of the, uh, misunderstandings that can occur.

In this first case, a woman wanted to sell her daughter’s pony. This article details the events. Sadly, it took several years for this case to be resolved, and only then because of the resolve and perseverance of the seller.

In the second case, a woman decided to own a prospect horse in partnership with a trainer, planning to share the proceeds of the planned sale. This article discusses the situation and the resulting trial.

What is unusual about the two situations above is that they actually were resolved; in many cases of horse fraud (and theft) the police are reluctant to become involved, stating that they are civil cases. It can be difficult to prove ownership of your horse (keep records!) and it can be time consuming and expensive to prosecute the perpetrators. That is not to say that all trainers and agents are dishonest. Far from it! The problem is that there is little protection against the ones that are perpetrating fraud.

Certainly, situations like these underscore the need for laws that regulate the sales of horses. In the meantime, it’s important to document all aspects of a sale, lease or trial period. The days of the hand shake deal are long gone.

***UPDATE*** Breaking news this morning: Supernatural, the horse, is supposed to be on a trailer on his way back to his owner. Thank Goodness.

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