Friends who are not horsepeople are always aghast when talk turns to selling a horse. "How can you sell a pet?" is the inevitable question. The answer is that it isn't easy.
We recently faced this decision when it became apparent that one of our horses was not happy with the job we wanted him to do. It's a difficult position to be in – you must either change the job or change the horse. In our case, the job was Eventing. Although he loved and excelled at show jumping in the ring, he was never comfortable jumping cross- country.
Now, if I had my way, $1 million and 50 acres, we simply would have kept him to cruise around show jumping courses and let him enjoy the good life in our lush pasture, which would be populated with other horses like him. But as my husband keeps reminding me, neither the million dollars nor the 50 acres are in the offing. Stalls aren't closets, he intones, and I can't "collect" horses like he collects golf clubs. Horses must be fed, vetted, shod and cleaned up after. And therein lies the reason we have to sell our "pets."
So, after a few emotional days, we consulted with several trainers with whom we regularly work and whose opinion we valued. Perhaps, they agreed, the horse could be "persuaded" to do cross-country. But it would take the kind of persuasion we don't like to use – as one put it, "the whips and chains."
I've always believed, and worked with trainers who expounded the theory that the horse should enjoy his job in order to do it well. Training should be a positive experience, not something that must be beaten into the animal. Training one's animals is similar to training one's children, after all – positive reinforcement works better than constant punishment. Discipline must be metered out when required, but it should not be the norm. If it is, you're trying to put a square peg into a round hole. And, no matter what you do, it never will fit correctly. Part of the "training" process is finding a job the horse does best.
The decision was made to market our horse as a show jumper, a job we knew he would do well. You'd think the hard part was over, but it was just beginning. We were eventers. Our contacts were with people in this arena, and the shows we attended were in our discipline. Where did one go to sell a show jumper?
Find Someone You Trust
My best advice to those beginning this process is to find someone you can trust involved in the discipline to which you are marketing. I was lucky enough to have a friend entrenched in the Hunter/Jumper world. She became my guru. I found that when it comes to selling, all horse sports are not alike. The tack is different; the terminology is different; even the style of riding is different. We were babes in the woods.
The first and smartest thing I did was to take the best color photograph I could find of our sale horse and construct a "flyer" on my computer, using the picture and pertinent information such as his breed, age, experience and price. My friend quickly informed me that I'd used all the wrong terms.
"You talk like an eventer," she chastised me. "Jumpers won't know what you're saying." Back to the drawing board. With my flyer finally complete and approved, I mailed it to the major show stables in the state, as well as tack shops.
I placed advertisements in publications that cater to the horsepeople I wanted to attract. This is effective, and we got many calls from all over the country. But be prepared, if you take this route: Most callers will ask to see a video of your horse. This adds to your cost because you must have a quality video made, copied and mailed to prospective buyers.
Eventually, I began to tell people that I would send them several photocopied pages of pictures of the horse in a variety of competitive situations and in hand. If they were interested after seeing the photos, I offered the video. This cut costs.
But the sale of our horse resulted, surprisingly, from my little homemade flyer posted in a tack store. And we were lucky. If we could have designed the home we wanted for him, this would have been it. We liked the family, the barn and the girl who was going to ride him. She has stayed in touch, keeping us posted on his progress, and loves him as much as we did. That makes it much easier when you stand there watching the trailer pull out of your driveway because they truly "are all our pets."