Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tracy Meisenbach: Buying a dream horse? Or getting taken for a ride?


             You’ve finally decided to buy a horse.  You might be a kid who is horse crazy and finally talked your parents into taking the plunge or you might be an adult who has always dreamed of owning a horse and now you have the time and money to make your dream come true!  In either case there are some guidelines that you need to follow to be sure you get the best possible horse for your riding enjoyment.
The first thing you need to do is assess your needs.  Are you planning on being a pleasure rider or a competitor?  Do you want to ride English, Western or both?  Will you work with a trainer or on your own?  The best advice for a beginner is to start simple and work your way up.
If you plan on pleasure riding, and this is where all riding should start, then a well-trained gelding or mare is your best bet.  Buy a horse with a several years of training on it.  A quiet horse with seasoning is going to get you on the trail sooner and safer than a green horse.  Regardless of whether you ride English or Western a calm horse is going to make the difference between a spook and run or a look and learn.  There is no substitute for actual time under saddle and a green horse simply won’t have the conditioning to deal with a new experiences and an inexperienced rider at the same time.
           If you are an inexperienced rider take some lessons.  Think you can’t afford it?  Well, can you afford the hospital or vet bills and time off from work because of an accident that could have been avoided if you’d had some instruction?  In all likelihood taking lessons will cost less and provide more than a trip to the emergency room.
Now you’re looking for the horse.  Are dreams of a fiery black stallion going through your head as you peruse the ads? Probably. Drop them and face reality. Stallions are not for beginners.  Most boarding stables won’t even allow them.  Their handling issues and stabling requirements are double an average gelding’s.  This is not to say that stallions are vicious troublemakers. Good ones aren’t; I’m rather fond of the three I have.  But a good stallion can become a bad stallion with very little mishandling. Don’t risk it and leave the stallions to the people who have breeding farms and the facilities to keep them.  A nice mare or gelding will be the best riding horse for a beginning rider.
Thinking of buying a cute fuzzy colt and growing up together?  This is another bad idea that can have catastrophic results. The money you spend, raising a colt you can’t ride for several years, is double what you will pay for the average sound trained horse. You’ll spend that amount of money before you even start to train the colt.  Baby horses are not like puppies.  A baby horse will one day be about 1000 pounds and have the ability to kill you with one kick.  Learning as you go with horses is a recipe for disaster. And if you mishandle a horse you can’t just stake him out in the back yard and ignore him, you’ve got to sell him or dispose of him, generally at a substantial financial loss.
What is your purchase plan: Private seller or auction? If you are inexperienced with horses I would avoid auctions. There are too many things that can be wrong with a horse that a beginner is not going to look for.  Some traders are unscrupulous and will sell drugged horses or horses that have a disability masked by drugs or shoeing.  At an auction there is usually no time to get a vet check in and because of the transient nature of auctions it’s hard to trace a horse that is sold as un-registered.  For your first horse it is better to buy an animal you can get a history on, or your enjoyment in your horse can be going, going, gone.
After checking internet ads and newspapers you finally find the ad that interests you, you’ve made a decision and you’re going to see the horse.  Call the owner and get the important details.  Always have a notebook and make some notes on each horse you call about.  If the horse sounds suitable make an appointment and stick to it; the owner has a life outside of selling his horse and he deserves courtesy from you. Do not waste the owner’s time by not showing up or not calling. They are putting things aside to deal with you, be courteous. And don’t be a tire kicker. It is beyond rude. If you can’t afford the horse don’t waste the seller’s time. If you’re “just looking” let them know. Horse farms are busy places and require a lot of effort, taking time out to deal with a potential buyer means other chores get put aside and have to be caught up on later.
The first impression is the strongest and most people fall in love with just one look.  Try not to.  Animals have a way of winning our hearts and big soft-eyed silky-coated geldings really have a lock on it.  When you arrive take note of the surroundings the horse is kept in.  Is it clean and safe? Are there other horses?  Are they well cared for?  Observe the horse.  Is he quiet?  Does he allow his head and feet to be handled?  Is he easy to saddle and bridle?  A major concern for me is to arrive at the seller’s and find the horse already saddled and warmed up.  Sorry, but I’ll come back and look another time or strike it off my list.  I want to see the horse’s manners when he’s fresh and un-worked.  This is how I will be dealing with him at some point every day and I want to know he’s not bad mannered or dead lame without a warm-up.
Now carefully check over the tack.  If the horse is being ridden in a hack-a-gag with a tie-down he’s probably too hot for a trail horse and not quiet enough for pleasure, he will also have major retraining issues.  If he’s in a snaffle or plain curb then it’s a good bet he’s a quiet horse.  Make sure the equipment is safe for use, I’ve seen some bridles that were held together with string and a promise, if it looks like it might break don't get on or request they supply something safer.
Ask the owner to ride the horse first.  Why?  Because you want to observe the horse in his most comfortable situation.  If he’s tossing his head and fidgeting while the owner mounts then you’ve got re-training ahead.  Is the horse quiet when mounted? Does he move off freely with no fuss and is he responsive to cues?  Are his gaits even?  Observe the horse moving at all three gaits in each direction.  Make note of anything that doesn’t look right or you feel should be addressed.  If the owner doesn’t have a suitable answer then you need to make note of that too.
Ride the horse yourself (Provided he didn’t buck the owner off).  Does he respond to leg and rein cues?  The owner may tell you the horse uses different cues from what you’ve been taught, and this is ok as long as the horse listens to your efforts to interpret his normal cues. (Some trainers use their own cue system, if the horse is a candidate for purchase ask them to elaborate on it)  Does the horse feel smooth with no bobbing or hesitation?  Turn a few tight circles in each direction.  Are there any hitches in his gait?  Does he move out confidently with no lugging on the reins or head tossing?  If the horse is trained for a specific discipline put him through his paces.  Run a barrel pattern or take a few jumps.  Is he riled up afterwards and hard to control?  Or does he calm down as soon as the exercise is over and remain attentive?
After you ride then offer to unsaddle the horse and put him away.  Does he stand quietly while being un-tacked?  Is he cinchy or does he display aggressive behavior such as ear pinning or lip curling?  At this point I usually ask to see the horse load if the owner has a trailer handy.  While a bad loader can be corrected I want to know it beforehand.  Observe the horse and owner carefully and record your observations.  Watch the horse as he is returned to his stable or pasture.  Can you lead him to his pen on loose lead or does he try to drag you back to the barn?  How does he react when first turned loose?
Make notes on all you have observed and if you feel the horse is a good prospect make a second appointment to see him, this time with your trainer or another trusted horse expert.  There is a reason to take the expert only once. You need to know how you feel about the horse.  It’s your money paying for him. I’ve seen too many people that get talked into too much horse by an enthusiastic trainer.  You don’t need a horse that is going to require a lot of refitting before you can even ride it.  If it’s too much horse for you admit it and move on.  Taking the expert the second time lets you get a good outsider opinion and also lets you watch a qualified person you know handle the horse.  Observe the horse carefully again. Does he behave the same as he did the first time?  Consistency is a big factor in enjoying your horse and if the horse seems to change from day to day you’re not going to enjoy him nearly as much.
If the horse is supposed to be registered ask to see the breed association’s papers.  Vague promises about having to dig them up won’t do, make it plain that papers must be produced before money changes hands.  Once you see the papers check the description of the horse against the actual horse, hopefully it will match.  Also check to see that the listed owner is the person you are buying the horse from.  If not make sure there is a transfer giving ownership to that person and a blank transfer to sell it to you.  Trying to sort out a paper trail on a horse is a frustrating and time-consuming task.  Avoid it if possible.
            Now is the time to decide whether you want the horse or not.  Two visits may not seem like enough, but face reality and understand that others are probably looking at the horse too. After three visits most sellers are going to get pretty fed up if you don’t make a commitment.  Prior to the vet check most sellers require a deposit.  Depending on the price a few hundred dollars usually works.  Pay by check and write on it that acceptance of payment guarantees an established deposit for {description of horse}.  If cash is required get a signed receipt that also includes the description of the horse and the notation that the deposit is pending a sound vet check.
If, after all the riding and trials are through, you think the horse will suit you then set up a vet check.  Be sure the vet is not the same one the owner uses and that it is a vet you trust.  If the owner refuses to allow a vet check walk away and never look back.  However, this is unlikely, since the owner should want to know if anything is wrong with the horse and it’s your money paying for the vet check.  Most vets will give you a thorough rundown of the horse’s pluses and minuses.  Watch how the horse reacts to the vet and again look for consistency in his behavior. Request shot records and proof of a negative Coggins test. Some states now require a Coggins test every time the horse changes ownership so know your state laws regarding Equine Infectious Anemia.  If the current Coggins is over 6 months old request a new one.  While a year is standard for most states, a year is also a long time and the horse may have been in contact with a carrier in that time.  Play it safe and get a new Coggins.  Also ask about the horse’s de-worming program and any other medical care he has had.  Getting it all out in the open now can save you a great deal of heartache later.
In this day and age it is imperative you ask about genetic testing for any horse you look to purchase. The stock horse breeds carry HYPP ( from the Impressive lines) PSSM 1, HERDA, GBED and MH. Ask if the horse is tested or comes from tested parents. A reputable breeder will test and tell you the results. If the horse is positive walk away. Do not buy a positive horse. The care and upkeep they require can mount to thousands of dollars a year if they are symptomatic. Don’t let someone tell you they can be easily managed, that is only in the mildest cases, and a horse can go from asymptomatic to chronically affected overnight. Don’t think it doesn’t matter if you are buying a gelding, they can have symptoms just as bad as breeding stock. Ask to see the actual lab copies of the tests. And make those results a part of the bill of sale, so later on if the horse does have issues and you retest and find he has the defect you have grounds for fraud.
Now the horse has passed the handling, riding and vet check.  His papers are in order and his health is fine.  What next?  You need a place to keep him.  Hopefully you have a place picked out to board him or a pasture to keep him in at your place.  He needs a halter and lead, bridle and saddle, a good pad and various grooming tools.  Line up a vet and a farrier and make contact with your local feed store.  Then it’s read and listen to every tidbit you can.  Save the good and discard the bad.  Once you get the horse home acclimate him for several days before going on any long distant rides and then get him into a routine.  That’s when the fun starts.

(Note: While helmet laws are not in effect in all states and liability issues differ from state to state, I recommend wearing a helmet whenever trying out a new horse.  Riding an unknown horse, whatever your skill level, is a dangerous undertaking, so use caution.)

Tracy Meisenbach
Copyright 1997
All rights reserved foreign and domestic
Do not share, republish or post with written permission

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Tracy Meisenbach: Smooth Selling or Making Waves?

The time has come to sell your horse.  It might be a backyard pleasure horse or it might be a World Champion.  Either of these horses needs the same basic marketing to get the best possible home and price.  There are several steps to making a smooth sale. Following them can mean the difference between an easy transaction and a big nightmare.

Evaluate your horse honestly.  What are his strong points and weak points?  Is he registered or grade?  Has he been genetically tested for defects that could affect his life or  performance? Does he have a discipline he excels at or is he just a pleasure horse? Does he have any bad stable manners or ring habits?

Anything you find wrong with him as an owner, a buyer will find twice as bad. Don’t advertise a horse has having "halter" potential unless he really does.  A halter professional will shoot him down in a second and your credibility will take a severe hit. Please don't use the word RARE in your ad. There is very little that is truly rare in the horse world and using that term immediately sends up red flags. If your horse is truly rare, why is he not being marketed at a higher level than craigslist and facebook? Black, cremello, blue eyes, Friesian, Gypsy Vanners, NONE of these are rare. In fact the market is flooded with some very poor specimens right now. Using the word FOUNDATION in your ad, to provide merit, without a show record is also a red flag. Pedigree is a good selling point, as long as conformation and ability go with it. No horse is worth $10,000  based on pedigree or color. Be honest and objective and price
your horse accordingly.

If the horse will be too spirited for a beginner rider, say so up front and don’t let a novice talk you into letting them try the horse.  They could be injured on your property and you can be found liable.  Remember it’s easier to sell your horse on what he is then on what he might be. Set ground rules for a visit. No open toed shoes, loose dogs or loose children. Have your state’s limited liability signs posted at the gates to the barn and pasture. Do everything you can to protect yourself, before you get sued.

Prepare your horse for sale.  This doesn’t mean spraying Thunder down and putting an ad in the local paper.  If you take short cuts you’re going to get a lot of time-wasting lookers who will never see past the dirt and shaggy mane.  Make an effort to actually sell your horse.  You wouldn’t show up at an important job interview in a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts would you?  Every person who looks at your horse is interviewing it as a potential investment.  This means you need to make your horse appear at his best.  Clip him enough to be tidy, wash him if he’s dirty. Feed him up or slim him down as he needs it.  He needs to look well cared for and loved.  Work on his ground manners and barn manners.  Get him to the best he can be and a buyer will notice.

Advertising is a key point.  If you are going to do photo advertising then take good shots.  Don’t stand your horse in a hole or take a cute picture of him rolling.  This makes your horse look unbalanced and makes you look unprofessional.  Stand him on level ground and point your camera right at the midpoint of his barrel while you are in a crouch position.  This prevents his head from looking huge or his hips and withers from looking uneven.  Don’t take pictures with a fence as a background. This "cuts" your horse in half and can make him look uneven against the straight edge of the fence. If you are going to shoot a video than take one of the horse un-tacked first and then being saddled and ridden.  Again go for level ground and bland backgrounds.  You want the horse to stand out, not the fact you have a nice board fence. Do NOT use
photos of you standing in the saddle to market your horse. You look like an idiot
and completely unprofessional. It’s a redneck trick and just points out the level of seller you are.

Setting up your ad can require a lot more thought than you might have considered. If your horse is a young stallion and you advertise him as a stallion prospect, you are in essence saying he will have all the necessary equipment to reproduce another horse when bred to a mare. This includes a working penis, two testicles and a sperm count in the upper digits. What? Two testicles? But your horse is only six months old, how the heck can you assure that?  The answer is; you can’t! Advertising a yearling or weanling as a future breeding prospect is foolish and leaves you open for a lawsuit.  You have no idea what the colt is going to look like as an adult.  If you stipulate in print that your horse is a breeding prospect then you are giving the buyer reasonable expectation that the colt will meet breed and show ring requirements.  Should the colt fail to reach these standards you might find yourself sued for misrepresenting your horse.  The same goes for selling a filly.  You had better have some concrete proof she can reproduce or her broodmare potential is in question.  The best bet is to sell a foal based on their bloodlines, conformation and disposition.  Give the buyer something they can see and touch and don’t speculate on the future.

Once the horse is ready and your ad outlined, then place it where you’ll get the most exposure.  Put it in the local paper, horse trader magazines, and national breed magazines or on the Internet at one of the popular horse sites.  If you have a certain time of day it is easier to reach you then list that in your ad.

Examine the prices of comparable horses and stay in that range.  Also know the area you’re in and understand its market base.  A $1000.00 horse in Montana might bring $4000.00 in Los Angeles, but unless you want to haul your horse to California to sell it then plan on getting a $1000.00 if you advertise locally.  If you advertise on the Internet be prepared for sending videos and photos.  I typically charge a ten-dollar deposit on videos, that way I know the person is interested and that I’m going to get the video back if they aren’t.  For photos there is no charge, but I do ask that they be returned if the person doesn’t like the horse.

Keep notes on all calls.  This is important because it tells you who is looking and why.  It also gives you a list of people who have horse interests in your area.  If you set up an appointment always get a return phone number.  That way you can call them if they are late or a no-show and find out what happened.  Sometimes you want to reschedule and sometimes it’s better to simply tell them not to come.  If your horse is registered it’s a good idea to have a copy of your horse’s papers and his vet records by the phone so you can answer questions about his health and background.  If you’re selling a mare or stallion have their produce record or show records.

Showing the horse.  A buyer finally arrives to look at the horse.  What are the best ways to show him off? First don’t saddle and warm up the horse prior to someone getting there.  It looks fishy and makes them think you’re hiding something. (If you are hiding something then you need to stop and be up front about it; because with the laws now protecting a consumer you could be sued for fraud or misrepresentation) When the person arrives introduce them to the horse and let them watch you groom and tack it up. Make sure your equipment fits and is in good safe condition.  Take the horse to an enclosed area and warm it up.  Show the horse at all of its gaits going both directions. If the horse is being sold as a specific discipline horse then work it with that in mind.

Next allow the buyer to try out the horse. (I recommend requiring them to wear a helmet. I keep an old one on hand just for this purpose.) Observe how they are with the horse.  Are they nervous or jerky?  Does the horse seem uncomfortable?  Are they confident and caring? Does the horse respond smoothly?  After the ride un-tack the horse and demonstrate any other training you feel would show the horse off.  I like to load and unload the horse from a trailer and then hose him off to show docility.  Too many people have bought the "perfect" riding horse only to find out it’s a battle to get it in the trailer or give it a bath.

If the buyer is interested in your horse now is a good time to go over the horse’s paperwork.  Make sure the Coggins, ownership transfers and health records are all in order and easy to read. Having current photos of foals produced is a good selling point for a mare or stallion.  Allow the buyer time to think about their purchase.  I've heard the “ Someone is coming back at 5:00 with a check” line so many times I usually just walk away and go look at another horse.  If someone really is coming back at 5:00 make it plain, but don’t try to force a decision.  Allow the buyer to make another appointment that fits into your schedule.  Often they want to bring a trainer or friend to see the horse.
This isn’t unusual and is no reflection on their trusting the seller.  They simply want verification of their opinion of the horse.

Two visits, possibly three, are the limit I set.  The week-long try outs while bringing every member of the family out to see it tells me the person isn't committed to buying a horse and he needs some other horse besides mine to be the guinea pig. While the objective of selling the horse seems to be to get the money in your hand that’s not really the case.  By offering this animal for sale you are advertising your business, integrity and professional ethics to the world.  One bad sale put out by word of mouth can ruin a horseman.

If the buyer has determined they want the horse then let them set up a vet check. The buyer should also make a deposit on the horse.  State laws concerning deposits vary, but the general rule is that if the vet turns up something wrong with the horse you refund the deposit. If you already know something is wrong with the horse, such as cribbing and tell the buyer the horse has this problem and the buyer still pays a deposit then the vet determining cribbing as a flaw is not grounds for return of the deposit.  But as I said, check your state laws and also have a bill of sale handy for just this purpose.  If the horse passes the vet check then make payment and transportation arrangements.  Typically if the horse is within 25 miles I’ll deliver it free, anything over that and I charge by the mile. If they are picking the horse up then be sure you have a set time to meet them and call that morning and confirm it’s still on.  Last minute details can add up and make for a long wait.

Selling a horse is often a heart wrenching experience, so make sure you have the best possible home for your horse and get the best possible price.  Look at all the necessary components of making a good sale and then try to stick to them.  This will make your sale go as smoothly as possible and provide a safe secure home for your horse.

I've been asked several times to allow a horse to go on try out.  I don’t
recommend it for a few reasons.  The horse can be injured while at a new place and can come in contact with communicable diseases, which will end up back at your barn if the horse returns.  If you do allow a try out then have a contract drawn up stipulating all requirements and have the full purchase price of the horse held by an escrow company. If the horse is injured, he’s considered sold and the escrow company will release the money to you, whereas a disgruntled buyer can stop payment on a check or return the horse. It is also a good idea to require insurance be carried on the horse while he is on try-out. Make sure you are the beneficiary since you will be sustaining the loss if the horse has to be put down.
Craigslist has spawned a level of scammers that didn't exist when I started in this business. Don't EVER accept a cashier's check or money order for your horse. They are too easy to forge. No one is going to pay top price, add a little extra and buy your horse sight unseen, while having a friend pick it up. It just doesn’t happen, so do not buy into that line of scamming. If someone wants to pay with anything other than cash, require a personal check and make a copy
of their photo ID. That way you can take them to court for theft by check. Paypal is really not safe because the person can dispute the sale after they take your animal and sometimes get a refund. Do NOT let your horse leave the property until payment is secured and verified. If you do then don't be surprised if you get scammed.

Good luck and smooth selling

Tracy Meisenbach
Copyright 1997

All rights reserved foreign and domestic
Do not share, republish or post with written permission