It's Complicated

Posted by Sharon Labels:

This past week I was contacted by a prospective buyer for one of my horses. I talked with her on the phone, answered her questions, then spent a few hours looking through my videos and posting one for her to view on YouTube. Do I think this could be a good fit for her? Yes. Will she buy? I don’t know. Is she looking at other horses? She would be foolish not to. As a matter of fact, I am looking for her. I emailed a friend about a horse she has for sale because, you see, I want this lady to be really satisfied if she buys my horse.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the whole process of selling horses. It's not as open as I would like it to be. I know many trainers do not refer prospective buyers to other trainers or other horses, but I think it’s good for the business in general. Certainly it speaks well of us all if we can, with good intentions and affable spirit, send a prospective buyer to someone else. The way I look at it is this: if that buyer comes back to me, it's because he really wants my horse!

The longer I’m in this business, the more disenchanted I am with some of the “politics” involved selling horses. As a friend of mine said many years ago, “I don’t see why it’s so hard.” (He was actually talking about relationships and marriages, but that’s a whole other topic...) Maybe why it’s hard is because there’s money involved, but it might be more about power and prestige. It’s a little like “Who has the most toys?” only it’s “Who can sell the most horses?” I have personally experienced a real reluctance to refer buyers to me and jealousy (to the point of “scooping” the sale) when a prospective buyer approaches me. Three things happen to Wildwood Reining Horses because of this: I lose a few prospective buyers when they are snatched by another trainer, I do not get many referrals and someone's missing an opportunity to own a well-bred, raised-and-trained-with-love-and-care horse!

And then there is the question of commission. If someone refers a buyer, is commission payable? I think it is – both ways! I learned this the hard way. Several years ago, I referred a buyer to a friend who I knew had a mare that might be suitable. I did not intend to charge commission since no previous arrangement had been made and she was a friend. Two weeks later my farrier told me she had sold the mare to that the person I referred to her! I had not only not been offered commission (which I would not have accepted), I didn’t even get a phone call and a “thank you” (which was all I expected)! After that experience, I have made it my policy to make it clear to everyone (no exeptions) that I expect a commission if I sell their horse. It’s fair. I have a well-established business that took a life time to build and, most of all, this is my business. Selling horses, whether mine or not, is part of my livelihood.

Another, rather sticky, issue that rears its head is how to deal with a sale that goes wrong - the horse goes unsound, the buyer does not do well with the horse or, for some reason is not satisfied. My first impulse is to buy the horse back. I don't want one of my horses with an owner that does not want him. That's the sentimental side of me talking; the business side knows I need to weigh each case individually. If the buyer has had the horse for some time, has trained, ridden and showed, then it is not my responsiblity or in my best interest, to buy back. I would not be getting the same horse back that I sold. If the horse is lame, how long after the sale did it show up? (This has never happened to me, but I have heard of plenty of cases!) I always recommend a vet check for trained reining horses - it protects both the buyer and me. Not everyone does. A vet check is an option for prospects as well, but I've never known a buyer to request one. The bottom line is this: If the buyer has had every opportunity to look at other horses, ride mine, and get an approval from a veterinarian, then I should not feel a responsibility to buy the horse back - even if I want to.

Maybe I don’t fight hard enough for business - after all, that’s the way the business world works - but, at this stage in my life, it’s highly unlikely I will change. I take great pride in the horses I raise and train and I'm as honest as I know how to be when I advertise them for sale. I feel a tremendous responsibility, especially when I sell a trained reiner and, of course, I love all my horses. It's hard to see them leave in another trailer. I want my customers to be absolutely sure before they buy.

“It’s my dream to own a Wildwood," a lady wrote to me in an email. Comments like that make selling horses a pleasure - my pleasure.