For those of us who are in the business of selling horses for ourselves or our clients, one of the ways to get your horse seen--and sold--is to have that horse at shows. While there are sales and online venues that are successful, many owners and managers today are using horse shows to get their animals seen and sold.
Let's use some examples from the hunter/jumper and Arabian worlds and take advantage of the following tips from experienced horse sellers.
By the numbers: The U.S. Hunter Jumper Association has 135,000 registered horses and the U.S. Equestrian Federation (USEF) licensed 1,325 hunter/jumper shows in 2012. In 2011, 22,800 jumpers competed in USEF shows. The Scottsdale Arabian Show in Arizona attracts 2,400 horses. And over 11 days, 250,000 spectators attend the show.
Hot Shows for Horse Sales
Show circuits are ideal sales venues. With a new show season, buyers are looking for horses to show through the year and qualify for championships in summer and fall. And horse show venues tend to put all horses on equal footing with no home advantage, thereby offering potential buyers an honest look at the horses.
Deb McGuire of Performance Plus Arabians, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, said, “Usually someone is looking for a specific horse at a show. They know what they’re looking for and haven’t been able to find it.”
“This is the place to buy and sell horses,” said Sarah Invicta Williams of Invicta Farms, Santa Fe, New Mexico, about the Horse Shows in the Sun (HITS) Thermal show in California.
And while the horses do most of the talking, good sellers understand the importance of developing open and honest relationships.
“It’s word of mouth, where you get to know people,” said Williams. “We rely on networking and referrals.”
Williams will refer buyers to other trainers she trusts. “I tend to know what’s for sale, and if I don’t happen to have the right horse, I send people to others. It’s a pay-it-forward situation.”
Preparation is Key
Bringing horses to the show ready to sell requires a fair amount of work in advance. Besides the obvious training, turn-out (how they look) is key. Dennis Wigren, manager/trainer at R.O. Lervick Arabians, Stanwood, Washington, said, “The horse is all turned out, body clipped, so they look their very best. At the show, people expect them to look ready to show.”
Wigren has sold hundreds of horses at major Arabian shows, including 11 at the 2012 Scottsdale Show. He recommends a marketing campaign.
“The biggest thing is if you take your horse to sell at a show, you’ve got to let people know you have horses for sale at the show," he said. "For example, the major shows have the Arabian Horse Results daily paper. I put an ad for one horse in there, and say we have numerous more for sale.
“Be sure to let people know where you’re stabled," he added. "Make it easy for them to hunt you down.” And when they get there, “It’s important to have a flyer on each individual horse.”
Also, before you leave for a show, alert potential customers about the horses they can see at the venue. “It’s important to have a website, so people have a way of finding your horse and knowing it’s for sale,” said Wigren. On your website sales listing, note the show schedule for sale horses.
Besides a flyer, prepare an information kit for each horse: additional pages for pedigree, show records, and photos of sire and dam with their show records. Hand out kits to fellow trainers who might not have time to view horses on your website.
Meeting Buyers at the Show
Welcome potential buyers by presenting yourself professionally. “The best thing is to have a good reputation and to sell good horses,” said Williams. “Treat people right the first time and they will come back for the next horse.”
Presentation sets the tone for sales. Arrange a seating area near your show stalls, where you can meet clients. Set up a popup canopy against the barn wall for shade and cover dirt with a patio rug. Plan to “wine and dine,” with comfortable chairs and a fridge for drinks and snacks. Set up a table where you can show video and photos, running from a PC to a large screen monitor.
“We get a lot of walk-ins,” said Wigren, “or they saw our horses showing and come to ask, ‘What do you have?’”
Post sales flyers with your barn number and stall numbers. Those flyers do work. Wigren said, “I sold a horse to a woman who told me, ‘I never thought I would buy a $40,000 horse that I saw in the bathroom!’ That flyer is how she came around to see the horse.”
And make yourself available—be ready to take calls or texts at the show so you can set up appointments.
McGuire said, “I do get calls on the flyers, and I let the caller know what classes I’m showing in.”
Buyers want to try out horses at the show. “Typically the trainer will watch the horse go, then decide to sit on it,” said Williams. “If the trainer likes it, then the amateur or junior will ride it. You will know right away if the horse will work.”
Unfamiliar riders can upset some horses, so decide if you’ll limit tryouts. “Wait until the horse is done showing,” advised McGuire. “You don’t want a strange person on a horse if you’re showing it.”
From the buyer’s side, Williams added, “Be professional and gracious. Make sure the horse is done showing, and try a horse within the trainer’s time limits.”
Sealing the Deal
Now that you havebsomeone interested, what's next? Generally you can have the horse vetted at the show. “Usually we use a local vet in Scottsdale who will come out to the show and do the prepurchase exam,” said Wigren. The HITS Thermal show has an onsite clinic, and Williams has used that resource for three sales. “They do a full-on veterinary report. You can send that to your vet at home to look at the digital images.”
After vetting, you can complete all paperwork at the show. “They wire the funds and we do a bill of sale and let the horse go right from the show,” said Wigren. “Ninety percent of the time there’s an agent involved. We keep the papers until the check clears. The insurance companies are there and can bond the horse before it gets on the trailer.”
Be ready to sell, with files of registration papers and breed association transfer forms. And realize that any horse in your barn could interest a buyer. McGuire commented, “People see a trainer show a horse and follow him back to the stall to ask if the horse is for sale.”
Williams says, “Anywhere there’s a horse show, there’s horse trading going on!”
Selling a Horse That’s Not “In” the Show
Trying to sell a hot prospect that may not be show ready? Here are a few tips:
First, note that at major shows, every horse on the grounds usually must be entered in the show. Smaller and local shows usually won’t have this requirement, but you’ll probably pay a non-showing horse fee to bring a sale horse onto the show grounds.
However, you can still use your trailer or stall area to promote horses at home. Wigren has sold mares and prospects at the Scottsdale Show. “Buyers came to our stalls, after they looked at video online on our website," he said. "We met at our stalls, and I showed them some new videos.” Sold!
Take advantage of this gathering of prospective buyers at shows by having some flyers ready that let people know about all the horses you have for sale. If they like what they see on the grounds, they’ll certainly be interested in what you have at home. Also, if you are a breeder, recognize that show are also a great place to promote your stallions!