The trials of selling a horse

I haven’t sold many horses but this looks exceedingly, distressingly familiar.

The best was when someone came to try a horse I had for sale, rode her, loved her and then asked if I would let her go as a free lease. Um, no.

I know it’s hard to find a good horse to buy, but when you are looking, remember how hard it is to sell one, too!


Straight from the horse’s mouth – buy me!

Here’s a nice change from your standard Craig’s list ad — someone with a sense of humor selling what sound like a nice horse. Just note that the language in the ad is definitely PG-13. Thanks to for bringing this one to my attention.

Konichiwa compadres. Are you looking for the most kick-ass horse that ever lived? If so, look no further. You found him. I’m a 15-year-old professional packer with experience at bad-ass barns in the United States of AMERICA. That’s right! I graduated from Penn National racetrack, and moved to NYC at the tender age of five. After deciding that New York was a ragin’ stink hole, I moved back to Pennsylvania to cultivate more professional experience on the A circuit. Why? So I can pack your *ss around the show ring and not have to post sh*t like this on Craigslist.

Anyway, so I lost my job in the recession and I have no clue where to live. Honestly, I’ve got three weeks of board left, so I don’t give a rats behind if I have to sleep in your round pen.

A bit about me: I’m respectful, quiet, clean and I won’t touch any of your crap. If you leave a bucket of oats outside my stall at night, I’m just like, “Sweet Jesus, I better not mess with this crap, because it’s not mine.”

I’m never lame. I don’t eat much. I’m always ready to work. Heck. I’ll even do ALL THE WORK for you. That’s right! My dad is an international champion and taught me everything there is to know about show jumping. I’ll memorize the course, make ridiculously tight turns, and jump at least six inches higher than the jump. I’ll make you look like a f*$&ing superstar. EVERY. SINGLE. CLASS.

Don’t want to run at jumps? That’s FANTASTIC! I’ll canter on the slowest 12’ stride you ever imagined and find the distances for you. Imagine all the ribbons you’ll win!

Do you like trail rides? I LOVE TRAIL RIDES. I can ride the sh*t out of trails. Water, ditches, gates. Whatever. You want to go there. It’s my life’s mission to take you. Or we don’t have to go on a trail ride ever. It’s completely UP TO YOU!

A lot of people ask me, “Hey, you’re a Thoroughbred. Are you batsh*t crazy?” And, the answer to that question is, no. I’m not crazy. I’m not even judgmental. I LOVE PEOPLE. I want to help human beings for no other reason than they are human regardless of race, religion, sexual preference, or personal hygiene. Pretty cool right?

I own almost nothing! Last I checked, I had a halter and lead rope with my name on it. I have one pair of shoes. You can HAVE THEM. See?! I’m the most considerate horse you’ve ever met. I’m offering to give you things already!

Am I interested in your barn? You bet my nomadic ass I am! I only require a bit of grass, four fences, water and a tree to shelter me from the elements. Anything beyond that will be considered a bonus.

I’m taking being a show horse to the next level. Email me! I’ll hook you up with Facebook links, background checks, credit reports, phone numbers, resumes, references, awards, sexual history, pictures of Pony Club trophies and a list of the top 10 things I’d like to eat before I die. If you want a next-generation horse that consistently blows your mind with awesomeness, then hit me up. I’ll give you the ride of your life.

When should you take a horse back?

Some horses just become part of the family, like Freedom.

When you sell a horse you never really know where it will end up. Maybe not next year but over time as the horse ages and its abilities or soundness decrease. To address that, some people write in a “right of first refusal” clause into their sales contact, hoping for the chance to buy back their horse and retire it so they know it has a good life.

On the other end of the spectrum are people who want to return a horse that they’ve bought after 6 months, a year, or even 2 years (according to a thread a read lately on COTH) because it didn’t work out.

What’s a horse owner to do? I guess it depends on how much emotional connection you have with the horse. Is it one you owned for a long time? Was it your first horse? Your best friend? A horse that you bred? Or are you in the business of buying prospects, training them and selling them?

Once a horse has lived with its new owner for even just a few weeks, many behavioral issues and  soundness issues are not the fault of the seller (remember, that’s why you need a PPE before buying a horse, to determine its state of soundness when you buy it). A horse isn’t a car. You can’t claim that it’s a low mileage model that you only drove to church on Sundays. Every time you handle a horse you are teaching it something. And sometimes it’s not what you wanted it to learn.

But what about your responsibility to the horse you sold. If it’s a horse of the “old friend” variety, do you trust it to be sold down the road?

About 12 years ago, I sold a horse named Bogie. He was the first horse I’d ever owned (after many years of leasing). I had a lot of fun with him but after about four years, my trainer explained that he’d given me everything that he could. I could either stay at the level where I was currently competing or find a new horse. I leased him to a girl at my barn for about six months and then, since it seemed to be working out. I sold him to her. Shortly after that, I moved to a different state.

Because I kept in touch with the barn manager I learned that Bogie was lame. His owners tried injecting his hocks but it didn’t help. They were frustrated. I was worried about him. He was 17 or 18 and not sound. I offered to take him back and they gladly returned him (they did not ask for a refund).

I asked my trainer to go pick him up and bring him to a facility where she could evaluate him. She was in Ohio so I was able to keep him for a lot less than I was paying for my stall in Boston. I conferred with the vet that had treated him. We put him into a rehab program with lots of walking and some lateral work to lubricate his joints and put him on an oral joint supplement. Within a couple of weeks he was sound! I found a trail riding home for him on a permanent free lease and he had a happy ending.

But there are other horses that I might not have gone the extra mile for. I had a lovely TB mare that I bought as a project horse about six years ago. She was a very nice horse but didn’t really suit me because she was never going to be a horse that was safe to jump xc. I just didn’t like how she hung her knees. I was very up front about her limitations when I sold her. I wanted her to be happy and I wanted her new owner to enjoy her.  I got a few updates from the new owner over the first year that sounded good but I didn’t want to hover. I also didn’t have the resources to take her back. I didn’t have an extra stall and couldn’t afford to have three horses. Luckily, from what I’ve heard through the grape vine, she is still much loved by her owner and thriving.

I suppose that if there had really been a problem, I would have done my best to help both the owner and the horse. But I didn’t feel the same level of responsibility that I felt toward Bogie . . . or that I felt toward Kroni (whom I would have kept forever) and now for Freedom. At some point those horses crossed over a line and became more like pets.

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.

Should You Send Your Horse out on Trial?

In an ideal world, you find a horse that you think you’d like to buy. The seller lets you take the horse on trial for a week or two, you buy the horse, and everyone goes home happy.

In real life, it often seems to be more complicated than that. There have been several stories discussed on the Internet that have certainly put the fear of God into me: Horses that are neither returned nor paid for; horses that come back lame or underweight; horses that come back with behavioral problems; and horses that are held “hostage” by trainers or agents who demand boarding or training fees before they will return a horse.

Some of these folks sent their horses off with a handshake and a prayer; others had seemingly iron-clad contracts. Horse traders apparently live up to their bad reputations.

In the past I have taken a horse on trial and have sent one on trial. In the first case, I insured the horse, signed a contract, and would have bought him if the PPE had not turned up a problem that I didn’t want to deal with. In the second case, my horse went on trial for a week. The lady insured her, signed a contract and at the end of the trial, bought her. It’s unfortunate that these straightforward arrangements are overshadowed by the actions of potential buyers (and their agents) who do not treat a horse on trial with respect.

While I don’t know anyone who has had their horse literally disappear, I have several friends who have had less than positive experiences with trials. One woman I know sent her horse on a two week trial to a barn/trainer that came highly recommended. The horse came back underweight and lame. Apparently, they had jumped the crap out of this horse. It took several months of TLC before the horse could be put back on the market.

Another person found out that her horse had been used as a school horse by the resident trainer. As a result, she found that her horse now rushed fences and was head shy.

While I used to support the idea of trial periods, now I’m not so sure. However, in today’s tough economy, sellers may find that it’s difficult to sell a horse without a trial period, so what is a seller to do? There are several ways that you can protect yourself and your horse, maybe not from the truly dishonest but certainly from the tire kickers and the careless.

  • Ask the buyer to pay for the horse in full, but offer a return policy within a given period of time if the horse proves to be unsuitable (think 7-10 days, not weeks or months).
  • Have the buyer insure the horse for mortality and loss of use during the trial period. Many insurance agents offer a two-week policy (or a cancellation option) that is suitable for trial periods.
  • Insist on a PPE before the horse leaves your barn. Then, there is no debate about the horse’s soundness when it leaves your property. A video of the horse before it leaves can also be helpful.
  • Have the buyer sign a contract that specifies exactly what they can/cannot do with the horse during the trial period. Be very specific — for example, how often can the horse be jumped and how high, what type of turnout is acceptable, does the horse need to wear boots, can the horse be taken off property, etc.
  • Provide your own feed for the horse.
  • Trailer the horse yourself, if possible.
  • Make at least one unannounced visit to where your horse is stabled to check on its welfare.
  • Pick up your horse at the end of the trial period. Many trials seem to go bad when they are extended and the terms become more nebulous.

But if possible, have the potential buyer try the horse at your barn under the supervision of yourself or your trainer. The old saying, “possession is nine-tenths of the law,” is good to remember.