Written by: Emma Fogler Published: 25 January 2020
There are countless ways that the horse industry has evolved over the years. One of the most progressive changes that I have witnessed is the way that horses and ponies are leased and sold in this age of the internet.
A few weeks ago, I had one of my pony kids come out to the farm to make a video on a precious Children’s Hunter that we had in the barn for lease. Not only had she never ridden this horse, but having a small pony at home, she had never jumped a horse period. I took a video, and later that evening, I posted it to Facebook. I laughed, telling her mother that I was going to put her on every sale horse to video because the next day, I had well over 20 messages in my inbox from various trainers and riders across the country. Today, the video has over 3,500 views. That left me speechless.
As I began to think about how shocking this number was, I recalled a childhood memory of selling my large pony in which my trainer told me to take horse show video off my parent’s video camera and to transfer it to VHS tapes to mail out. I carefully placed each tape in a bubble wrapped envelope and using a list of trainer names and addresses she provided, I put each tape in the mail. After hours of work, this antiquated marketing strategy reached a total of no more than 10 people, which now makes me wonder, how did anyone get horses sold 15+ years ago?
Today, millions of dollars trade hands worldwide every day through the sale and leasing of horses and ponies of every color, shape, size and ability. Trainers and clients drive hours to see a horse, purchase flights both domestic and abroad, but the most eye-opening of all is how they can often purchase with the click of a button from their homes.
Every day, my news feed is flooded by horses and ponies offered for sale and lease across the country. Whether it’s a backyard pet for $50 or a top show hunter for $250,000, the internet reaches equestrians from all walks of life. As a trainer, it’s hard to not be intrigued useful looking mounts, especially at an appealing price. Many times, these horses pop up from regulars that I see on social media like Picturesque Farm and Owner/Trainer, Kristy Willwerth. I had never done business with Kristy until a few weeks ago, but had many friends who highly recommended her. I, too, fell victim to the online pony purchase. After hiring a shipper and wiring some money, an adorable medium arrived at my farm. Not only was this pony everything that Kristy said she was, but more!
When asked about her success selling horses online, Kristy said, “One of the reasons we have so much success selling horses online at Picturesque farm is because we put all of the information out there immediately. I always post the size, age, breed, price, location, phone number, website, current videos and pictures. Therefore, many of our buyers purchase horses right off those ads so you need to get their attention right away. You also have to be realistic about what you are selling and not call everything a 10 mover or 10 jumper! People have less time, shorter attention spans or so many ads out there you need to have the info ready.” Honesty is the best policy and Kristy provided me with a realistic, up-front description of every animal on her property that she described during a brief phone call. She will now certainly be one of the first professionals that I reach out to during my next search for a horse and without social media, I would have never contacted her.
The internet has immensely expanded what once used to be a small, close network of colleagues that operated within a certain mile radius of one another. Now, you have the world at your fingertips. I exchange messages on a weekly basis with trainers, riders and parents of riders nationwide who I have often never heard of or met. I have purchased from and sold horses to states that I’ve never been to. And I am certain that some of my best horses would not have ever walked into the barn without seeing them first pop up on my computer screen. But, there’s always a flip side.
If you’re a parent reading this and you want to keep your trainer happy, just take this little bit of advice and put it in your back pocket for later. With the ease of internet horse shopping, it’s easy for uneducated buyers to “go rogue.” Social media and horse sale websites have made it simple for teenagers, parents and amateur riders to seek out their dream horse without a trainer. I can totally relate… You’re lounging on the sofa after a long day at work in your comfy pajamas with a glass of wine and black beauty pops up on your screen. The description sounds like everything you’ve ever wanted and the seller responds quickly to your Facebook message. They tell you that they’ll give you a lower price if you move quickly because there are lots of others interested! Congratulations, you’re now the proud owner of a barely broke 4 year-old or worse. Trainer. Nightmare. Always consult a professional because typically, if it looks too good to be true, it is! Unlike trainers, most amateurs don’t have access to retirement homes or contacts in the industry to move one that just didn’t turn out like you thought it would. Your online shopping adventure could easily turn in to a very expensive pasture pet or even worse, a pile of medical bills.
While I can tell you the success stories like my recent purchase from Kristy, I can also tell you about the money i’ve lost by not doing my due diligence with a veterinary exam, being a little too trusting of sellers that I didn’t know and just plain bad luck. I do like to think the best of everyone, and it’s always my hope that if my clients get a wild hair to start shopping for something, they will end up inquiring through someone like Kristy who has the client’s best interest at heart. “If someone seems very young or not sure of what they are looking or asking about, for example they call in a $15,000 medium pony and also want to look at a four-year-old $2,500 track horse, I will nail them down on specifics about their needs. If they are confused, my job is to help them narrow their search. If they have just started looking, unless they are with a trainer, I suggest they go look elsewhere first and see what is really out there for the money.” With this mindset, Willwerth and Picturesque Farm leased or sold 92 horses in 2018 and are at 88 and counting so far in 2019, mostly through return customers and internet ads.
I really do believe that in order to have a successful business in this age, you have to be open to using technology and internet marketing. “Millenials,” or members of generation Y in the 18-34 range, are not picking up a newspaper or magazine. They’re googling. Whether it be for horse camp, boarding, or a division pony for their child, they want to find it online. The horse world has to be able to step up and provide answers to their quests for information in the form of Facebook Business Pages and Websites. Otherwise, even very established businesses are going to phase out. Yet, with this in mind, it is the traditional way of doing business, the hand shake and the promise to stand by what you are selling that is going to keep customers coming back. By definition, I am a millennial myself, but I like to think I can help the older generation of trainers learn to utilize what technology has to offer while learning from and continuing their methods of classic horsemanship and a hard work ethic that seem to be lacking in today’s young professionals.
Like everything else, the traditional sale of a horse through two trainers at a horse show or through colleagues that have done business for years will never go by the wayside, just as people will continue to meet their spouses in traditional ways like at school or work. But now, finding “the horse” on Facebook seems to be as common as meeting “the one” on a dating app. For people like me, more time can be spent riding and teaching while networking, shopping and narrowing down options from my computer instead of spending time in the car going to sit on horses that ultimately aren’t what I am looking for. For others, the modern age has created a nightmare of clients requesting QuickBooks invoices rather than paper bills and e-mails and texts rather than phone calls or talking in person. I am sure there is a happy medium, but I am still working to find it myself. And while I am also guilty of the “one-click purchase,” just remember, buyer beware! Utilize the internet for all the positive attributes that it has to offer when finding your next mount, but go look in person, talk to people involved, establish relationships rather than relying on internet messaging and most importantly, let your trainer lead the way.