Last month I discussed, rather humorously, five ways I have seen of people not selling their horses. These were all common mistakes I have run into in my career as a trainer and as a buyer of horses for students of mine. As a breeder of sport horses, I have also sold many nice horse to lots of nice people. In this issue I will discuss the things I have done to help market my horsesas well as things I think you can do to help market your horses in a professional way.
Number one way to sell your horse is to advertise. This is not as easy as it sounds and requires that you have several other elements that we will discuss below. The first element is a picture. It must be a good quality picture with good contrast that gives a favorable (without being dishonest) look at what you have for sale. The second element is a good quality but brief video. The third element is easy access to you for information, via a phone, message center or fax. Finally, you need a safe place for someone to see and/or try out the horse.
The Photograph. A picture really does speak a thousand words. An excellent picture can capture a mood, a personality, speak volumes politically and socially, and even win a Pulitzer Prize. You don't need all that to sell your horse (and you may not even want that) but what you do want is good contrast with a clean, neutral background. Use a dark hedge or dark wall for a gray or light horse. A dark horse looks good in an open field or against a light, soft background. Don't use the neighbor's barbed wire fence.
If you are using a jump picture, make them nice jumps. A photo of Old Dobbin jumping the family picnic table that is glued together with Superglue© at last year's 4th-of-July picnic really doesn't show that he is willing to jump anything, it shows how careless you are to have him jump something that stupid in the first place. You don't need jumps designed by Frank Chapot for a sale photo, but be sure they are straight, have decent cups (no nails) and a clean coat of paint.
A dressage horse moving at liberty is good, but use a super fast film because motion means blur in photography. Any breed pictures of broodmares or foals need to be set up as good clean halter shots or clear action shots where both are in unison. Inspection pictures from kurings are really nice here. Please groom the poor mare. If you can't pull the mane or don't have time, be sure it is all on one side and take the picture from the opposite side. That way her neck can be seen and it looks like she could be braided. Braids are always nice, and if you have a healthy price on a horse, taking the time to braid shows you at least care about the client's first impression. Put her in a bridle, polish her feet and be sure she has some weight on. Mares in foal in their last trimester actually look really good as long as they have had reasonable care. Use a photo with her foal if we can clearly see both, so one can see what she produces. I bought a mare once based on the foal that was in her picture and not on what she looked like at all. Judging by what she produced this year for me, I haven't regretted that decision at all.
If your horse is a show horse, or is going to a show, get the show photographer to take a few pictures either in your classes or a few posed shots with a good background. These people are professionals; they take the best horse photos as they do it all the time. Don't begrudge paying them, they are professionals and give them credit. The work is theirs, it's copyrighted and it's the law. You'll have a nice souvenir of your horse and a super nice photo for an ad. Tell the photographer that you will be using the photo for an ad; they may be able to help in the developing process so the photo will screen well and be suitable for a black and white medium, which is the most cost effective. Beware of ribbon and trophy photos. They are great to give to Aunt Minnie for Christmas but they seldom show off your lovely horse in performance, they tend to show off the lovely ribbon companies wares. (Remember, you're selling the horse, not the trophy. The best place for the trophy is in the horse's bio that you send with the photo.)
I feel the best sale photo is a good show performance picture taken in competition. This shows off what your horse can do and how he looks doing it. Of course, if your horse is not a show horse (i.e. broodmare) a short session with a professional photographer won't hurt. These costs can be kept under $100 and, depending on your sale price, may actually be well worthwhile. Of course you can also spend a small fortune on photos (more than the selling price of the horse) if you are not careful.
The Ad. Now you have your nice, good contrast photo of Little Tiffany on Old Dobbin sailing over the six-foot oxer with tight knees and a radiant smile. Where do you put it? Make the photo at least 50% of your ad size. Your ad size depends on how deep your pockets are. Big ads cost big bucks, especially in big magazines. As an example a full-page color ad in Horse International costs $5,000 and comes out once! (Old Dobbin probably didn't cost that much) In this publication, a full-page black and white costs $223. Practical Horseman, Chronicle of the Horse, The Bloodhorse etc. all fall somewhere in the middle. If you contact the publishers of any magazine they will be happy to send you what is called a media package, which gives you all the information you need about costs, sizes, screening, print requirements and the all important deadline. Remember, if Old Dobbin is going to pay for Little Tiffany's law school at Yale this next year you have got to get that ad in on time!
Local horse publications are the best for most people. They are very cost effective and reach people in your area who will not be put off by a costly plane ride to come and see your horse. The national and international magazines do cost more and they have very large readerships but may not cover the area where you are. Magazine publishers will be happy to tell you their average circulation, as well as demographics. (The kind of people who read the magazine.) Some publications are more suited to selling. Most regional publications have good sale sections (such as this publication). Chronicle of the Horse is a widely read publication both nationally and internationally. Its rates are moderate, it is a weekly, which gives great exposure, but most people out here (in the West) forget it is really a regional magazine for the central Virginia area, much like this publication is for the Pacific Northwest. Don't be surprised if your ad in that magazine goes unanswered, you have a lot of competition, just look at how large their classified section is!
Keep your ad simple, horse's size, sex, age and the all-important price! I personally hate an ad without a price. It is all the rage now in the antiques business. It seems if you have to ask you can't afford it! Remember, you are trying to sell the horse, not show the world how stuck up you are. The price you advertise may not be what you get or what you want, but at least give the buyer a place to start! You can set up the ad yourself through a printing company and send in a camera-ready copy to the magazine publisher. You can also create some really nice looking ads with photos with your home computer and send them all pre-screened as attachments to your publisher. What ever you do, be sure the costs to you reflect what you are hoping to get for your horse.
The Web. The hills of cyberspace are alive with the sound of horse-for-sale ads. Some are free, some cost money, all sound great but I personally have never bought or sold a horse in cyberspace. Now a good, classy Web site is different. If you have access to your own personal Web site about horses (i.e. you have a farm, a breeding business, or links to a breed registry) use it! Re-read what I just wrote. Classy web site. I do not mean some backyard web site where every time Old Dobbin sneezes he is put on line. And where do people get the idea of lying down in their stall next to snoozing Dobbin and having their picture taken is a good idea? (My Pony Club Manual about good common sense and horse safety just went screaming into the sunset over this one. It's cute on the Christmas card, but not in a sale ad. The rule for selling through a web site is the same as a magazine. Good clean, clear pictures (streaming video is great, but expensive).
Check out some Web sites before you jump on the sale bandwagon and get some ideas. The Oldenburg Verband in Germany makes great use of streaming videos for their auctions. Another very good site that shows excellent sale photos and write ups is High Point Hanoverians in Maryland. These sites and other good ones for ideas can be found through Google. You don't need to spend the money these places did on the fancy design, but what you do need to see is how good, clean photos with clear graphics and readable text are pleasant and inviting to the customer. Clean design is not expensive. As a matter of fact, clutter can cost a lot.
Number two way to sell your horse is through competition. Most of us that read this publication like to compete. It's fun, great exercise, and can be profitable. It is also expensive but the trade-off here is that show horses cost a lot more than Old Dobbin in the back yard. If your horse is a good show horse and gets good dressage scores or jumps clean and high, is easy to ride, and you need to sell, a show is a good place to do it. One must pick the right show. Some shows are known for selling; the Indio Hunter/Jumper circuit is a virtual buy and sell market for that discipline. The Florida circuit for anyone, hunter/jumper and dressage, is also a great place to buy and sell. Remember, you have lots of competition at those shows for selling, the prices are great but so are the horses and many are being shown and marketed by people with Olympic medals in their pockets. They also have the same concerns and problems as you. Will it vet? Will the check bounce? And, will the horse show well today? Horses being sold through competitions need to sell fast. The show season is short and everyone loves a winner. If you don't sell it now, it may be forgotten. If you consign your horse to a trainer through a show, things will happen fast or not at all. Be prepared to bring Old Dobbin home and rethink things if six months have lapsed: the price may be wrong as may be the venue. Horse shows are really just fancy ways to advertise and be seen, so you will probably have to do lots of follow up later to keep things interesting for your client. If you choose to sell through a local market, put up flyers ahead of time that the horse can be seen at the SuperShow. Then be sure and get a video of Old Dobbin's Championship class. This will come in handy for
Number three way to sell your horse. The Video. The invention of the home video camera changed marketing for everything from horses to rock band auditions. It is a wonderful tool, but can get you in trouble if not handled properly. The video is what we send out after we get a buyer on the line from our advertising. For anything that moves, i.e. a horse, it is much better than a photo. But, it still is a type of photo and the rules are the same. Use good, clean backgrounds with clear contrast and good light to show off your horse. Don't have Old Dobbin jumping the family picnic table and then across the driveway and taking on junior's wading pool.
If your horse is a show horse pay the pro at the show to videotape your class. It will be money well spent. The pros have tripods and lenses and they use clean tape, so the picture is still and in focus and doesn't have segments of Home Improvement interspersed between the jumps. If you don't have a show horse or show footage, hire a pro or get someone with a tripod to do the videotape. Then edit. I can see all I need to see and decide if I want a further look at a horse in three minutes. I do not want to watch Gone With The Wind. I've seen it, it's a great movie but it takes four hours to watch and I don't have that kind of time to watch a sale tape. The best fences in a hunter round are good. Not three entire classes. That gets dull and you will put your buyer to sleep. Training level dressage! Please, not the whole class or entire weekend. Remember what the laymen say, "It is like watching paint dry." Of course, if Old Dobbin is a Grand Prix horse, then show us the best stuff. Lets see the six-foot oxer or piaffe-passage tour.
I once was sent a tape on what was being sold as a Prix St. Georges horse. He was doing training level in a double bridle. He did not have one clean change in the entire video. The PSG test requires 25 changes and two series of multiples. That horse was going to have a hard time at his next show, so I didn't buy it. Don't show on the video what the horse can not do, show what it can do well.
Start with 30 seconds of good, clear conformation shots that give some idea of what he looks like if the buyer were there looking in person. Another 30 seconds of free running in a safe, attractive setting. A clear arena, (no clutter, jumps, parked cars or water puddles) or nice paddock (no barbed wire, tricycles, wading pools). Then show a well-groomed, (braid if you really want to look nice), nicely ridden horse at all his paces.
Put an attractive and skilled rider on the horse. If you are selling a child's horse or pony, have a child on it. I will not consider a child's mount that cannot be ridden or shown by a child. This is a no-brainer!
What about background audio? If you cannot edit in nice music, cut all the sound. I hate to listen to low whisper commentary on the sale tape. You can have a very nice professional tape edited from your good stock with copyright free music (no vocals, they distract) and readable titles for about $75. The tape should run three to five minutes and can go a long way to help sell your horse. With your tape, send a short bio of the horse and any show or health history that would be helpful.
The final way to sell your horse: BE HONEST. The best way to sell anything, whether it is your Aunt Minnie's Barbie Doll collection or Old Dobbin with the chronic spavin, is to be honest. If the horse has papers, fine, but don't put fake ones on him. I bought a broodmare once that was presented to me as a Hanoverian. When she arrived and I looked at the papers they were photocopies. I got on the phone and asked were the originals were. The seller said these were the originals; see they even had a stamp on them. The stamp had been put on after they came out of the Xerox® machine. That horse went right back on the next bus and I got a stop payment on the check real fast. I have seen this person several times at shows and even had to judge her oncewhich was difficult to do fairly, because of the bad taste I had in my mouth from that deal. You have only one reputation in a lifetime even if you have only one horse to sell. Don't mess with it. It will haunt you forever if you do. Be honest about age, size and any health problems. Everything gets vetted now days, so don't try and fudge around this one. I have bought horses who had vet problems but they were presented to me honestly and in an up front manner and when it came time to do the vetting we were able to concentrate on what kind of management would work for the horse, because the horse really was perfect in every other way.
Remember, you bought the horse once and you have loved it all this time and someone else is out there who will do the same.