Deal Or No Deal?

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It’s a jungle out there: so many horses for sale, in ads and on websites, and so little time in your busy schedule. Since there’s no Match.com for riders and horses, it’s incumbent upon you to seek out reliable experts to do the very best job for you and your clients.

If you are not an expert yourself, you’ll need one. And not everyone in the business conducts deals honorably. But, you really can locate and establish long-term, mutually beneficial relationships with those who do.

Trainer to Broker

Most horse dealers or agents were, or are, also trainers, so you both speak the same language. That helps, says Irene Reed of Charleston, S. C., and Full Circle Farm, who has 20 years in the training business, and manages 10 select clients with hunters and jumpers. She acknowledges the impact of the Internet: “From that, you find different ‘brokers’ and many do advertise quality horses,” she says. She’ll tell a broker she has “a customer looking,” describe what is wanted and wait until the broker calls back with a prospect. She normally shops in the $40,000 to $70,000 range.

When asked about a favorite broker, she immediately cites Ronnie Tetterton of Camden, S. C., whom she found through another broker. “I was so pleased with the entire transaction from start to finish, I’ve bought several more and sent several to be sold,” Reed says. Tetterton specializes in buying and selling; no training and no rushing the client, either. “Ronnie won’t even show a horse until he has had it a couple of weeks; he wants to know what he’s got. And, he says, ‘If you ever have trouble with that one, send it back. We’ll fix it.’ ”

The sometimes gray area of profit on a sale is clearly spelled out by Reed, who says, “I never add on to the price of a horse for a client. My customers pay me directly.” Like others in this profession, she wearies at the suggestion, heard much too often, to “please add $2,500 for me” when a friend of a friend of a friend knows about a horse for sale and wants a cut. She is not afraid to walk away from an annoying deal, even if it means losing a sale when an undeserving individual—trainer or not—insists that he or she be compensated “for the deal to go through.”

That’s why she prefers working with dealers like Tetterton. His system works like this: Potential buyer and trainer come to his place for a trial, after he’s asked all the right questions regarding needs. If he doesn’t have what is wanted, he’ll get it shipped in. His professional rides the horse, then the trainer’s professional, then the client. He knows the horse’s history and its veterinary issues, has a pre-purchase exam completed and x-rays on CD, before he takes the horse to show. Tetterton says, “If there are issues, I ask the client: ‘Can you handle these?’” With an insurance binder in place, he may let the horse go to the trial barn for a final “get to know” session. He sells in the $50,00 to $150,000 range.

They Must Trust

In Nottingham, Pa., Courtney Cooper of C Square Farm has been a professional for 15 years, and now “locates horses for other trainers and sells some for other people, acting as both consignment and a buyer’s agent.” Moving 40 event horses a year, she says people want, above all, “someone they can trust,” and folks would prefer not to waste time “going to see a horse that’s been advertised, to find it’s lame or crazy when they get there.”

Her average price over five years has been $23,000, though she’s sold as high as $85,000. Cooper’s client base usually needs a novice or training horse, capable of preliminary. “Above that, I’ll work with professionals who have a very specific idea, and are not afraid of going overseas.”

The best advice before you buy? “Check references. It all comes down to dealing with someone who’s honest, and to realizing that sometimes horses just don’t work out.” Cooper will show her client a selection, and the outcome depends upon “how much time they can give me and how realistic they are. If they say, ‘It can’t be a mare, can’t be over the age of 10 or under 16 hands, but must be a novice/training packer,’ the options will be fairly limited: ‘And, oh, by the way, I only have this much money.’ The more general a client can be, the better off they’ll be ultimately.”

She also tells her clients she’s happy to resell if an initial pairing doesn’t work, and will talk up front about what the horse is, and isn’t. Frequently, one horse that’s a client’s nightmare ends up being another client’s treasure.

Please Call Again

Stacey Emory of Camalou Farms on the outskirts of Ocala, Fla., doesn’t consider herself a “broker,” but she has, by virtue of her training business, sold 25 horses since she began five years ago.

“Word gets around,” she says. “At the shows, people will ask, ‘Where’d you get that nice horse?’” Emory, who prefers Thoroughbreds to Warmblood breeds, is well connected to the racing industry, her local vets, and other farms in her area.

Trainers should seek brokers with passion, she says. “I love putting the right horse and rider together, and when I’m at a show and a former client tells me ‘I just love this horse!’ it is great. “Word of mouth is your best resource,” she adds. Of course, word of mouth works both ways. “It’s either going to make or break you,” Emory says. Even in Ocala, with its expansive horse community, “you can say something and it will get around the whole town. It just takes one or two times of a professional doing the wrong thing, and we all know.”

Word of caution: Beware the agent who moves around a lot, never staying in the same place too long. Even with miles behind them, the accessibility of information in this age means it only takes a phone call or e-mail to another trainer in that area who may well have the scoop.

One of the most consistently busy brokers in America is former grand-prix competitor John Endicott of Apollo Farms, Inc., in Calabasas, Calif. “I’ve been doing this since 1990, and the process of learning the art took a decade,” Endicott says, admitting he was quite hungry as he established himself in this highly competitive business. Endicott eats well now, selling 200 horses last year. He figures his is a niche business: “Most trainers specialize in training and buying, but very few specialize in selling. Trainers feel very safe with me, through many good experiences, and they suggest me to their clients and to other trainers because of my track record, honesty, good horsemanship and quick sales. The volume of clients that come through my barn looking for horses to purchase helps the process, with buyers from not only the United States, but also from Canada and Mexico.”

So there you have it. There’s no need to shop ’til you drop; with good connections, “trading” can be a breeze for you and your happy clients.