I typically buy about 35 horses a year and very rarely do I ever get to look at them in person before I buy them. The majority of the horses that I buy come from well established connections at various tracks. These are trainers that I know and trust. Some are new connections that have come recommended from people that I do highly trust. I do buy from other resellers if the price is right. I will shop on facebook trying to find the obscure horses that nobody else has seen yet but will be a great buy. I have some local breeders that I work with as well who I get several from each year. It has taken years to develop good connections and I am constantly working to find more. In the past two years, I have been getting a lot of calls from various people at the tracks or in the industry saying that they have been referred to me because I am someone who is easy to work with and does a good job placing horses. That really means a lot to me and I have always tried to do right by everyone. Being a sight unseen buyer is very risky. It often means buying horses based off a phone call or a picture. I often have bought the horse before I have ever seen it move. I am sometimes sending money to people that I don't even know! I will tell you that many times I get the call before other people do because I am willing to buy and ship a horse very quickly. In a hot market being able to make a deal quick is often how I get the really good horses. They know that I am not going to make them jump through hoops and for many track connections they simply don't have time to mess with anyone who can't make something happen very quickly. They love their horses but a slow horse is taking up a stall of something that could be earning money. When a horse needs to move it needs to move very quickly. I have many connections that I know so well that if they call I just send them the money and know I am getting something really good. It is a bit of a crazy way of doing business but it sure is fun! It is like Christmas every time a new horse comes into the farm.
I try to stick to my criteria- 3-7yr geldings, 15.3 h and up, sound with no vices and something that will really stand out among the other horses. I trying to buy something special enough that it has potential for the upper levels of the various disciplines. I know you are thinking well how can you tell that? The reality is that nobody truly can tell until a horse is actually competing at that level but I look for good conformation, good feet, pedigree, a solid race record and a horse that moves well enough to be competitive. I have been involved in the TB industry for a long time so I have gotten pretty good at identifying which bloodlines that I really like for sport and most of the time it is very accurate. I want to buy the horses that are in such good shape that they don't need extensive let down. They are physically and mentally happy which makes transition to a new job simple. If you buy from the right people this typically is the case. Most of the horses that I buy arrive in such good condition that they could hit the show ring the next day. I also am very detailed when I look at a horses race record. I never agree to take a horse until I have seen it's breeding and race record. I just want to look for anything that might stand out to tell me a horse has had a soundness issue or some other issue. Many times people can explain a gap in the record and that I am okay with but if it is an unknown I will often pass because it is important that a horse be able to pass a future PPE.
That brings up another topic of PPE's. I do not get PPE's on the horses that I buy. I don't recommend that for the majority of buyers but when you run a business sometimes it comes down to economics. I couldn't afford to PPE everything that I buy. I rely on my very educated connections to be my eyes on the horses. They have incentive to only sell me horses that will pass future PPE's. I do evaluate a horse in pictures and I can tell a lot from a picture. I won't buy horses that have osselets or anything structural that I can see on a picture. That picture may be all that I have to go on so I have to use my gut feeling. If a seller has xrays on a horse and osselets are just osselets then I will consider buying the horse if the price is right but I always find them a bit tougher to resell because buyers are visual. If I don't know the seller I will ask for a video. I can't tell you how many horses appear to be unsound in the videos that I get. I have a very educated eye for soundness and if a horse doesn't jog sound then I don't take the risk on buying it. I realize that some horses are just track sore but I can typically tell the difference between that and unsoundness. Many horses I buy without ever seeing them move. It's super risky but I am lucky enough to have good connections that typically don't steer me wrong. It is never fail proof but I accept the risk and if things go wrong then it is my responsibility (I have learned good lessons on sellers to avoid though and while buying horses sight unseen is the risk I accept I really detest people who blatantly lie about soundness).
I don't think that any person who sells horses have horses that always pass PPE's. I sometimes have a horse that has a finding upon xrays. However, the majority of them are sound and it may mean they aren't going to be an upper level horse but have a good career in the lower levels. The majority of what has been found that has caused a horse to not pass a PPE is small chips either in ankles or knees. Most of those have been found on xrays and not because a horse isn't sound or doesn't flex sound. I am lucky enough to have my own farm which allows me the flexibility to rest horses as long as needed and take my time. I have gotten horses that sellers lied about and have had injuries that I didn't feel would make them something that I would represent. I am comfortable euthanizing horses that I don't feel can have solid performance careers. I will not sell horses that I don't think will hold up and I don't try to find pasture homes for horses. I personally feel it is the responsible thing to do to only sell horses that have a very good shot at never ending up in a bad place because of soundness issues. None of us can ever prevent the actions of other people but I just feel that I don't want to risk horses being passed along because of unsoundness and have my name involved with it.
In many ways facebook has changed the horse business in my opinion. It is very easy for people to research you and find out information which can be good and bad depending on how you conduct your business. As all of us know...the horse world is a very very small world. I believe in always trying to do the right thing. None of us are perfect but being honest will keep customers coming back and sending all their friends. It works the same for those of us who buy a lot of horses. All my connections want their horses going to someone who will do whatever it takes to sell them into the right home not just any home. My favorite part of the business is seeing the sold horses excelling in their new careers and being able to pass that along to their former connections.