Preparing a Sale Horse

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You’ve got a client coming in a few hours to take a look at a horse you’ve got for sale. Should you get the horse out of its stall, groom and clip the heck out of it, and then work the horse for an hour before the client arrives? Or should you present a less-than-clean creature running at liberty in its pasture, where the client can see how it really moves?

The way you prepare and show a horse for sale can make or break the deal; most sale barns are in complete agreement on this topic. However, the best way to prepare a sale horse varies not only according to the type of horse you are selling, but also according to your philosophies on business and the age-old profession of horse trading.

For most sale barns, preparation before a sale starts long before a potential buyer actually sets foot on the property. A lot goes into making a horse sellable and the methods sellers use focus on how they wish to position the horse on the market.

“When a horse arrives to be sold or when a foal is weaned and able to be offered for sale, we usually allow for a two-week adjustment period,” says Barbra Freeman, owner of Bad Farm Arabians in Burlington, Wis., an Arabian breeding operation. “It’s important that the horse is comfortable with its surroundings and handlers. During this time the horse learns what manners are expected of it and also begins a conditioning program. At the end of the two weeks, we have a good idea of the horse’s temperament and ability. This helps us match the horse with an owner.”

Bar Eleven Livestock, a western performance barn in Sheridan, Wyo., spends considerable time training and conditioning sale prospects before advertising them. “A feeding program is the first place to start on getting the horses ready,” says Owner Diana Volk. “A horse must feel good to perform well, and thin horses are a no-no when selling. We also like to take a horse that is nicely started and train it for barrels, poles and/or team roping.”

At Flenniken Quarter Horses, an operation in Sister, Ore., that primarily sells broodmares, preparation is minimal before a horse is put up for sale. “We do nothing really,” says Owner Susie Flenniken. “These are horses we bought for their bloodlines mainly. So with a broodmare, once we decide to sell her, we basically just confirm that she is breedable and healthy.”

When it comes to preparing a horse immediately before a client arrives to see the animal, a variety of methods is used by sale barns.

“Before a client comes, the horse’s muzzle, jaw, ears and fetlocks are trimmed,” says Leila Hertzberg, president of Greystoke Farm, LLC, in Gaithersburg, Md., sellers of hunter ponies, hunter/jumper horses and dressage horses. “Weather permitting, we bathe the horse and we thoroughly groom it. We also make sure the barn and barnyard are clean and neat.”

“When a client comes, they should see the horse in the raw with no fancy clip job, braiding or spit shine.”

On the other end of the spectrum, Cheri Moats, owner of Kismet Farm, specializing in Appaloosa sporthorses and American Warmbloods in Hanover, Pa., prefers to keep preparation of young horses to a minimum. “I run a brush over them to clean off the worst of the mud, but not much more,” she says.

“When a client comes, they should see the horse in the raw with no fancy clip job, braiding or spit shine. It’s also beneficial to the client to see the youngster’s natural way of going, which is not exaggerated by new surroundings and separation anxiety from pasture mates.

“The best thing is to have the client look at the horse in its regular surroundings, have the client observe movement while the horse is with its pasture mates; then, when the interest is piqued, bring the horse out for handling and a good lengthy view in a paddock alone.”

Barns also differ on how they prefer to show horses to buyers once the client is with the horse. While some sellers prefer to present a horse themselves, others allow the buyer to work with the horse. (Of course, whenever a potential buyer is allowed to work the horse, he or she should be asked to sign a release of liability.)

“When a customer arrives, a few moments are taken to get to know the person before he or she even sees the horses,” says Freeman. “We then visit with the available horses in their stalls. After doing this, we narrow the prospects down to a few that we think would be a good match. The selected horses are then presented individually either at halter or under saddle depending on the horse and its usual use. We then turn the horse out to be viewed at liberty. We encourage the client to notice all aspects of the horse’s behavior, from stall manners to being saddled and/or caught after turnout.”

“...we bathe the horse and thoroughly groom it. We also make sure the barn and barnyard are clean and neat.”

At Flying C Bar Ranch in Depew, Okla., a barn specializing in selling cutting horses and team penners, buyers are invited to handle the horse throughout the presentation process. “When buyers comes to see a horse, we have them go into the stall, halter the horse, saddle it and do everything themselves,” says Denise Colclasure, owner. “We don’t give the horse any exercise beforehand. Since we guarantee every sale, we have to make absolutely sure that the horse the client sees is the same horse we sold. Otherwise, we’ll get the horse back.”

Once the potential buyer is interested, a common question is about trial periods where buyers can take the horse for a period of time, whether a few days or a month. While it may be standard policy for many individual sellers, sale barns rarely allow this practice. “In my experience, trials are a bad idea,” says Hertzberg. “I have had horses and ponies come back to me from a trial in bad shape, and in one case, even requiring months of rehabilitation.”

Volk agrees that trial periods are not in the seller’s best interest.”We don't usually let horses leave without being sold to the person,” she says.

“We are more than willing to work with the person and the horse, and we have taken back horses that did not work. However, trials lead to too many problems. We have had people that had no intention of buying a horse try to take a horse just to ride it.”