Thursday, July 30, 2015

Working with a Horse Dealer

I had to go to this training thing for my preschool job once. It was an entire day devoted to learning about "conscious discipline," the central theory of which is that you babble on endlessly at misbehaving children until they're too bored by you to continue the naughty behavior. The person leading the training had the most cultish title imaginable: "Loving Guidance Associate." I couldn't take much of what she said seriously after she introduced herself.

I know the title "horse dealer" also squicks some people out, and I get why--it kind of sounds like "used car salesman." But that's the term we've got, so when I say that I do some horse dealing on the side, I'm going to trust that you know I'm not some monster who doesn't like my animals or doesn't care where horses wind up. Okay? Okay.

Helping people find the right horse for them is something that I really enjoy doing, and I'm very good at it. I have a feeling when it's right. I don't drag people all over the state to look at horses just because I need to feel like I'm doing something. I have good connections. My rates are extremely reasonable. I can almost always find a few choices for someone. I don't push the budget.

However, the entire thing can also be an exercise in frustration, because humans are like that. Here are the top five things that drive me the most nuts when working with someone:

1. They are not honest--with themselves and/or me--about their skill level as riders.
This is probably one of the biggest hurdles to finding the right horse. I always want to watch someone ride before I find them a horse of their own so I can judge for myself (or talk to their trainer), but that doesn't mean they believe me. I worked with someone years ago who wanted something to take to big horse shows but she couldn't get my quietest school horse around an 18" course at the trot at home. She had decided somewhere along the way that she was brilliant, but she couldn't tell you how many feet were in a canter stride. She couldn't turn a horse without yanking on the inside rein. See number two.

Duchess <3

2. They are not open to input about what kind of horse would suit them.
I determined quickly that the girl above needed a very quiet schoolmaster. Her budget was limited. She did not want a very quiet schoolmaster, she wanted a flashy show horse. She ended up going behind my back and buying a 5 year old Trakehner mare who'd never jumped a stick and has landed her in the hospital a few times. I tried to help her with the mare but I really wanted to beat my head against the wall.

Lexi-loo, miss you girl

3. They focus on all the wrong things about a horse/are not realistic about what their budget means.
Sure, look, I like thoroughbreds. I've been riding them forever, in a variety of disciplines. There are TBs out there suited for everyone--though the quieter ones can also be more expensive and/or old and/or lame. So I think it's fine to tell me that you'd love to have a thoroughbred, but if what you need is a really chill trail horse, and I find six of those in your budget that meet all your specs but only one of them is a TB, you're just going to annoy me if you're all "I HAVE TO HAVE A TB" and your budget is limited. It's okay to have a small budget, but sometimes that means you can't have every single thing you want. If you're a novice rider, I want to see you on a horse that you feel safe and happy on more than I want to fulfill romantic breed-specific notions. If I can do both, Yahtzee. Same goes with things like color ("I have to have a black horse!") or a one-inch difference in size or a one-year difference in age. The bigger the budget, the easier that is to deal with. You know how you can't have it fast, good, and cheap--gotta pick two of those? Similar with horses. You can't have a young, fancy, quiet, broke horse for cheap. Prioritize according to the budget, please, and think about what actually matters.

Enjoying all the random pics from 1+ years ago?

4. They go look at horses without me.
I know. It's a free country. But the amount of work I put into finding a list of horses for someone to look at is pretty huge, and I think I need a fair shot at earning my commission. If I can't find a horse for you, then fire me and go out on your own, that's fine. Plus, all the years of knowledge and experience I've gained mean something. I sometimes help people who are more knowledgeable horsemen and who have more connections than I do and just don't have time to look, but mostly people who call me just don't know where to start, and they'll go look at whatever horse they find on Craigslist. I will go look at horses on Craigslist because I can usually size things up by talking to someone on the phone, and I can tell a lot by looking at the horse before I get on it. But for a novice rider: please do not do this. You could really get yourself killed. So that safety issue is paramount. Further considerations include: if you're buying a horse from a stranger whose reputation you don't know or who might not have a reputation at all, you could be getting yourself into trouble (this is where my connections are very useful); if we happen to call the same person, that's awkward and weird and can make sellers worry; I might know about that horse and have very good reasons for not bringing him to your attention. Also, it's rude. Just. Don't. Do. This.

5. They don't get back to me quickly.
One of the key elements of this job is keeping lines of communication open with sellers (or sellers' agents). If I call and inquire about a horse, it all sounds good, they agree to whatever trial conditions or whatever else a buyer might have, and it looks promising, I'm going to call the buyer immediately. Good horses don't often stay on the market long, especially in the lower price brackets. I don't want to wait days for the buyer to get back to me. The horse could be gone, or out on trial, or the price could have gone up based on show results. And it annoys the sellers because it makes us look like tire kickers. And the sellers' agents have to want to work with me if we're going to do repeat business.

BONUS: Don't be crazy. Please do not be crazy.
I don't want to hear about your spiritual connection to long manes. I don't want to listen to theories about the reincarnations of the horses of the indigenous Plains nations. Please do not come at me with how you can fix all of a horse's behavior problems through a quick call to your Reiki master. And if you are going to share all of this with me, please keep it between us and don't let the seller know.

I want to help you find your dream horse, and I probably can. We can have a lot of fun together in the process, too, if we can all just be on the same page about how this should work. So if you're ever going to hire a horse dealer to help you find the perfect horse, because it's overwhelming or you're new to the area or you just don't have time, I hope this post helps you understand a little more how the process works.


  1. Having witnessed so much of this from the seller's side (via my trainer), I can sympathize with you SO much. The horse industry is SMALL, like crazy small. And the last thing you need is someone tainting your reputation because they don't actually know what they want, or they aren't ready to pull the trigger. Tire kickers waste everyone's time when there's someone else out there who could be buying/vetting said horse. Also, buying horses out of the kill pen/craigslist/ or even from an individual owner (who does not have a string of horses or a reputation) is for experts only. Period.

    I think all horse people are deep down, a little romantic with this idea that most of us grew out of... you know, finding that diamond in the rough, the horse bound for slaughter, the one with the great story...

    For the rest? Figure out your needs and abilities, be honest, set your budget and stay out the way. As a buyer, you you have every right to have "gut" feelings about a horse carefully chosen for you (as in, I don't feel comfortable getting on that one, or this one seems too excitable for me), and there are those moments where you just click with a horse and that's where the expertise of the dealer comes in!

    1. Okay, maybe not ALL horse people. But ya know what I mean!

    2. I do! The romantic ideas thing really drives me the most crazy, I think. Life is not a movie! You don't need the black stallion! I HAD a mare with a "story" (Lex). Look how that shit worked out. My coach and I both almost got killed and now I don't have her anymore. As soon as someone at a horse show or whatever is all "this horse has a story," my eyes glaze over. I've heard enough savior stories for my whole life.

  2. Do you enter into a formal agreement with your clients before shopping on their behalf? Lots of drama in horse shopping for sure.

    1. I haven't done that, historically, but I'm considering starting.

  3. I think I took one of those random, old pictures! Haha

  4. I grew up selling horses with my mother- while I'd never say we were "dealers' because we never reached that level of inventory (we were a 1 per year sort of thing), it taught me a lot of buying and selling and the many do's and don'ts of horse selling. But your perspective is interesting and something I haven't encountered- sounds like a horse match maker. How does that work? Do you earn the commission on top of the sales price? Sorry if that's nosy- just purely curious!

    1. I build the commission into the price I give the buyer, so they write one check and the seller pays the commission (this is all agreed upon in advance). I might change that. I charge 10% with a $500 minimum.

  5. i wish you were in texas! i'd hire you in a heartbeat!