I’ve been a part of the process of buying horses for most of my life. Whether that’s test riding, bidding at an auction, making initial phone calls, or whatever- I feel fairly confident that I know what to look out for and how to read between the lines when it comes to equine marketing.
Because of this, I have developed some personal opinions about what constitutes a red flag.
The first and foremost red flag to me tends to happen at the start of the test ride/visiting process. That is, having the horse already waiting and tacked up. Now, I get it if you’re a busy professional and you told me you would do that (though I still very much wish you wouldn’t). But if you already made it clear that we had all the time in the world, and yet you went ahead with this… No. Red flag. Why? Because catching a horse and tacking it up is something that I’m going to do with my future horse almost every time I see him, and I want to know if he has any bad habits. How easy is he to get from the paddock? Does he turn around to bite you when you tighten the girth? Will he throw all of his weight into each leg as you attempt to pick out his hooves, or turn into a giraffe when you go to bridle him? What’s hiding underneath those polos? It’s easy to hide all these and more in the name of convenience and helpfulness.
Another red flag that pertains to jumping horses is the owner/trainer/whatever representing the horse (who I normally ask to ride the horse first) who won’t jump the horse themselves. Why? Are you afraid to jump it? Do you know it will land bucking? Take off with you? Turn the poles into matchsticks with the elephant you’re hiding under there?
A more subtle red flag to me happens before I even get to inquire about the horse. The dreaded Private Treaty price tag. Now this one is a much more personal one, as it relates to budget. But to me, I can’t fathom why someone would not list any hint of what they are asking for their horse. This is beyond the ranges I typically see in hunter/jumper ads (you know, those “priced in the lower-mid 10 figure” descriptions). Private treaty to me reads one of a few things.
- “I have put such an unrealistic price tag on my horse that I’m embarrassed to say.”
- “I don’t really want to sell this horse unless you prove to me that you are actually sent from Heaven and have the Good Lord as a your barn reference, with Peter and John as your farrier and vet.”
- “You can’t afford this.”
I understand that there are exceptions, and lots of well-meaning sellers out there (post on that coming)… but in horse selling, clarity is everything. We all [hopefully] want the horse to end up with the right person, and to do that each party needs to have a full understanding of the horse, the expectations of the sale, and a little bit of common sense. When one of these fails… ware the red flag!