1. Have a business plan! Sounds so simple right? I think this is one of the hardest pieces to figure out. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a seller? Will you need to work with others to make your sales happen? Where are you going to buy them? How much do you plan on spending to buy them? Are you going to get them in and sell them quickly? Do you plan on adding value with a few rides or months of rides? Are you paying for rides? Are you paying for marketing? What kind of horses are you going to buy? What will your criteria be? Add up all basic expenses- purchase, shipping, farrier, vet, chiro, dentist, riders, photography, shows, boarding, ulcer meds, extra hay and so on. What is your timeline going to be? What do you want your profit margin to be? That seems like a silly question, but I essentially look at it like what I need to make to ensure this is worth the time I am putting in. You can’t work for free! If you sell your horses quickly after buying what does the profit look like vs holding onto them for 3 months vs 6 months and so on. Run the numbers. It will be eye opening. Truly may shock you a bit. I operate the way that I do because I tried a few different methods, worked my business plan, ran the budget and came up with what is the most profitable. When you look at ISO ad’s almost all are for Tb’s in the low four figure price range. It is very difficult to understand how tough it is to do this as a business until you try to go to the track and purchase horses yourself that fit the market demands, will pass a vetting and can be sold for profit.
Let’s dig deeper into the horse part of the equation. I love all thoroughbreds. They are my passion. I probably would have a barn full of war horses and horses with issues because I love fixing them. However, that does not make for a business plan. You run a business because you aim to be profitable. You must buy what the market demands and for me that means sticking to my basic criteria of 3-6yr 15.3 and up mostly geldings that are generally injury free with no vices. I make allowances for certain injuries. I buy mares but they must be mares I am confident I can sell. If they have vices, they need to be nice enough people will overlook them. If I am going to stray from my strict criteria, I need to understand that generally means less profit. You can’t be a bleeding heart but if you are profitable enough you will financially have more ability to help when you feel you can/must. Study what types sell the best and start to train your eye. Look at those people having success selling horses. Chrome sells. Grey horses sell. Big horses sell. We can fight the system, but the reality is buyers are visual and profit is generated by selling horses that are easy to sell. I have gotten much better about buying horses that are not exactly my type but more the type I feel most people can ride. I find it is easier to sell quieter and ammy friendly types than the ones that are so amazing but maybe a bit hot or quirky. Professional riders are not your buyers (in most cases) so you have to keep that in mind when you are buying horses. Pro’s also generally buy horses they can make up and sell to their ammy clients and rarely buy the ones you might think they would buy.
2. Keeping horses alive- for real though 😊 A sales driven business is not the same as having your own personal horses at least in my experience. I have tweaked my feed routine, turnout, farrier schedule and so much more to ensure my horses look shiny, fat and healthy. People want horses that look like they can step in the show ring tomorrow. I need them to stay sound, not pull shoes and get through vettings. I have designed my turnout situation to ensure the safety of the horses. They all get turnout, but we do round pens to ensure horses stay in one piece. It isn’t for everyone, but I do think it has allowed me to sleep better at night not worrying about horses getting hurt. Transitioning horses from track to a new lifestyle is extremely complicated. It is often what makes or breaks your sales so keep that in mind. Boarding barns, group turnout, huge fields and other situations often lead to your lovely sales horses having issues that really ruin your ability to be successful in making profit on your timeline.
3. Marketing- if you aren’t good at marketing horses than I truly suggest you don’t go into resales. You can ride better than anyone and maybe you are amazing at turning out awesome horses but if you can’t find a way to get the pictures and video then your horses are not going to sell in this digital age. It is all about getting GOOD pictures and video. I don’t mean on your phone either. I spend hours and hours uploading, editing, writing ads, updating my website, posting on facebook and getting horses seen to ensure people are looking at what I have for sale.
It is all about knowing how to get the pictures that show your horses off the best. Conformation pictures on one horse can take us hours to do. Pull manes, give baths, clip them up, polish feet, polish the coat, make sure the sun is just right, get the right pose, ears up and the list goes on. The background must be just right. The time of the day matters. It is just a process that took me a long time to learn and I am far from being good at it.
Then we get to videos and what people want to see in videos. I am still working on figuring this out. They want that free video but the horses can’t seem to crazy ya know….I mean they are right off the track and turned loose often a day post-race but god forbid they buck and play. You need to do your best to show a walk, trot and canter. Everyone wants to see a horse free jumping but let me tell you that is far from as easy as it may appear. I find it takes at least two people plus me doing the video. Horses don’t naturally figure that out as quickly as buyers think. Plus, you must have an area that works well for free jumping and allowing horses to safely run loose. It is all fun and games until one decides to jump the gate out of the ring…yes that has happened a few times to us! You need to edit the video to make it short and sweet but keep in all the good parts. Know how to pull some pictures from the video to use.
Riding videos are make or break. I honestly think if a horse is incredible it often sells off its videos in the free area. Ideally you buy a horse so nice you can put in minimal effort. However, if you don’t have the fanciest horse on the free video you have to make your ride video show the horse off. We generally at least do the first ride post track and maybe more depending on how long we have the horse. All I am going to say is that it is an art. You must know what the general public wants to see in a video. I take video in the barn of the horse being groomed, tacked up and generally mounting video. Above everything else…and I know this sounds crazy…but seriously people won’t buy a horse that isn’t somewhat soft in the bridle. Sounds crazy right??? No, trust me on this one the reality is 99% of horse buyers have zero vision and you need to be a good enough rider to put a horse into the bridle. If you don’t have this skill you are going to struggle to sell your horses. There I said it and everyone can point fingers at me but sales are a game of appealing to the visual nature of buyers and they want a horse that looks more trained than it is. One that goes with it’s head up will be overlooked. Along with being able to ride/train horses well enough to make them look good in videos you need to have actual video that is close enough that a buyer can see. They want to see w/t/c both directions, some transitions, no music, no slow motion and short and sweet without a lot of editing. Sounds simple right 😊 Trust me when I say you are better off not posting your horses for sales until you have good video. People have very long memories and even if your subsequent videos are good, they will generally not look at the same horse twice.
If you don't get it sold off that first video then you need to get creative. Ride it out in the field. Pop some xc fences. Show it on a long rein. Show it tolerating you flopping around. You need to get creative to appeal to the masses. This is where it becomes important to know your horses and try to figure out how to market them to the people that will match the best with them.
Now comes the hardest part…the people part 😊 You need to write your ads describing them well enough that you attract the right buyers. You must weed out your buyers. I have learned that you can be honest as a seller but do not count on your buyers to be honest. Do your homework. It’s crucial in my opinion to do your cyber stalking of facebook, google, mutual friends, etc. Look at their ride videos. Talk to their trainer. Check all the things you can check. Speak upfront about vettings. In my experience, people looking for perfection means a horse that flexes perfect and has zero findings equivalent to a mythical creature that does not exist. I really try to stay away from these buyers because it never ends well and takes the horses off the market for more realistic buyers. It’s important you trust your gut feeling on finding the right fit for your horses but also for your sanity. Mental sanity is important, and no sale is worth dealing with people that make you miserable or result in bad situations. I could elaborate on that extensively but that is for another blog. Furthermore, you will always have people who you know are not a fit for the horse you have but they really want to buy it. Please don’t do this. It’s okay to say no. Either people respect your opinion or they aren’t your people. Creating a reputation for being honest is more important than selling horses any day of the week. Happy customers will always be your best marketing so trust your instincts/gut or whatever you may call it. Make a good match and everyone walks away happy.
4. Vettings- If you don’t have anxiety previously, you will when you start doing sales. You think your horse needs ulcer medicine, just do a few PPE’s a month, and let me know how much you love sales. I LOVE finding horses but to me vettings are the most stressful part of the process. Thoroughbreds that come off the track in my opinion will always have positive flexions. It is NORMAL. Flexions range from 1-5 and I would say most flex a 1 to a 2 especially on hind upper limbs in the first few weeks post racing. They do not vet like sport horses as they are not yet sport horses. I find this part of the equation challenging because finding vets that are experienced enough to look at thoroughbreds that are days post track and give an assessment on soundness is extremely challenging. Many sport horse vets are great vets but don’t have a lot of experience with the process of what a thoroughbred looks like a day, week or month post track. In my business it has become critical to find veterinarians that are comfortable talking about thoroughbreds to buyers who aren’t present for vettings as most customers are not present at the vetting. Words really do matter in whether you manage to sell your horses. The average buyer is not extremely knowledgeable about what to expect at a vetting. I think many who have gotten into sales decide it is not for them because buyers have unrealistic expectations on vettings. Vettings are intense and generally take up hours of your time. You do in barn exam, lunging, maybe free lunging, neuro exam, riding and then xrays of choice. It can sometimes take 3+ hours for one horse being vetted. The quest for perfect vettings has become a very real thing and I often just find people come to try a horse, fall in love, and end up walking away over findings on a vetting that generally will not affect future career. I realize horses are expensive and most people can not afford to keep a horse that is not sound, but soundness is always open to interpretation. Xrays are just one piece of the puzzle and findings on an xray of a sound horse don’t always mean there is an issue. Sometimes a finding is just a finding. I generally think the average buyer has become extremely risk adverse which makes getting horses through vettings near impossible. As a seller, I do try to get an idea about expectations of my customers on vettings and decide whether they will be buyers that I want to have. It is a very intense time-consuming process that takes up most of our day when we must do a PPE and I find it a huge waste of my time to hold horses off the market for people that want perfection in a horse a month post track. I don’t think it exists and it just leads to disappointment for everyone.
5. Payment and Contract- Have a good bill of sale and execute it every single time. Ensure you put in any things that could be disputed down the road such as horse has vices, horse has known vet findings, behavior or anything else that you think could come back to haunt you. Even a good contract isn’t going to prevent people from suing you, but it might be enough to convince them it isn’t smart. Layout what payment methods are accepted and be sure that the horses are paid for in full before they leave your property. Make sure any online payment has hit your bank before the horse leaves. I advise against taking personal checks unless you have adequate time to make sure they check has cleared.
I hope I have described part of what goes into being successful at resales. You really have to have the passion for the horses because that is what carries you through all the other not so fun parts of the business. I sell horses because I love the process of buying them so much that selling is necessary if I want to buy more. It will never be about the money but at the same time it is a business. There is such a stigma in the horse world that you can't care about your horses and make money at the same time. I have been called so many things by people that would probably shock you. You just have to believe in yourself and drown out the haters.