Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Horse Sale Ups and Downs

Just to warn you ahead of time: Tonight's post will be something in the nature of a rant.

You see, after two months and more than 75 emails exchanged between me and the prospective buyer, the sale of my buckskin filly Torchsong fell through at the last minute.

We had discussed every aspect of the horse's health, temperament, and care. We had done the DNA testing to verify her color genetics. The buyer was starting to give opinions about what kind of handling and feed she'd like the filly to have while waiting to be shipped. She said, "Send me a sales contract, I'll pay you a deposit, and finish paying the rest by early May."

I emailed a sample payment schedule, to get the buyer's okay before writing up the formal contract. And then I didn't hear back for a few days.

When the buyer wrote to me again, she was very sorry and apologetic, but the fact was she had just unexpectedly lost a lot of her hours at work and could no longer afford to buy Torchsong.

Just to be clear: This lady has been extremely nice throughout all of our dealings, and I don't blame her for her sudden reversal of fortunes. She couldn't help what happened, and she did nothing wrong.

But this is the THIRD time in 7 months that a buyer has lost a job or paycheck when she was right on the brink of buying one of my horses. This is not counting the other half dozen "almost" sales during that same time where the buyer suffered a sudden health crisis, had a change of heart, or simply vanished from the face of the earth right before buying. I'm starting to think that the Fates are just waiting around to smite anyone who's thinking about buying a horse from me with a lightning bolt of bad luck!

All this is just making it more and more clear to me how much simpler, easier, more enjoyable, and more profitable it is to sell my sheep than my horses.

My sheep buyers line up months (sometimes even years!) ahead of time, asking to be put on my mailing list to get announcements when the lambs are born. They tell me what qualities are most important to them, and I tell them which sheep I have that best match those criteria. They look at a few photos, check out the bloodlines, and send in a deposit for the ones they like best. When the lambs are old enough, they pick up the ones they have purchased and take them home. They may contact me a few more times to ask for bits of information or advice, but usually, the transaction is as simple as that. And at the end of the year, the money I make from sales is enough to feed the sheep for the year plus make a bit of a profit.

With horse sales, it's a whole different ballgame. Not only is the horse market so depressed right now that you can't possibly sell a horse for the amount that it took you to feed, care for, and train the horse up to that point, but the whole sales process is vastly more complicated, time consuming, and tiresome. It's not the fault of any one or two "problem" buyers. A lot of it is just the norm of how horse sales tend to be done.

It's very common to exchange 5 to 20 emails and/or phone calls with the buyers who DON'T end up buying the horse (And when they decide not to buy, they don't usually take the time to tell you, they usually just vanish). For someone who buys (or nearly buys) a horse, the number of emails/calls is usually closer to the 20 to 50 email range.

Dozens of photos need to be shown, more recent photos and video are often requested. Buyers don't recognize that taking a 3 minute video usually requires a couple HOURS of my day, including catching, grooming, and filming the horse (which takes 2 people--one to handle the horse and one to run the camera), turning the horse back out, uploading the raw film from the camera to the computer, editing it into the proper size and format, then uploading it to YouTube or some similar site, and emailing the buyer to let them know where to look for it.

It is very common to be asked to provide detailed information about every aspect of the horse's health, training, personality, breeding, feeding schedule, and anything else the buyer can think to ask. This is time consuming, but I have no objection to it, because it's obviously an important part of the selection process. But sometimes it's obvious that the buyer is reading from a pre-written list of questions and doesn't even really understand the significance of the answers.

It's very common for buyers to schedule appointments to come out and look at a particular horse and then never show up. I had one guy contact me no less than 5 times to come look at the same horse. Each time, I told him yes he could come out that day. Not once did he ever show up. Not once did he ever contact me ahead of time to tell me he was not going to show up.

It's also common for buyers to call up and say, "I'm in the area and I'm interested in your horses. I can be there in 10 minutes (or half an hour, or two hours)." After which, sometimes they show up and sometimes they don't.

It's common for buyers to make up imaginary flaws in the horses to try to weasle you down to a lower price. I had one buyer start randomly claiming that one after another of my foals had "club feet" to try to convince me to lower my price. My foals' feet are fine, and the woman gave herself away after she criticized one foal's conformation at the beginning of the visit, looked at several other foals, and then started telling me how much she liked the first one's conformation!

It's very common for buyers to ask you to lower your price to compensate them for THEIR shipping expense. As in, "I want to buy your $3,000 horse, but it's going to cost me $1,000 to ship her here. Won't you lower your price to compensate for that?" I mean, honestly, people! If you bought, say, an expensive desk or dining table from a factory on the other side of the country, would you expect them to sell it to you for a fraction of the price just because shipping was going to cost you a lot? No! The shipping cost has nothing to do with the manufacturer's cost. You'd either buck up and pay for the shipping, or you'd shop somewhere closer to home!

As a horse seller, you are expected to show the utmost integrity, because reputation is everything. But buyers can say anything they want and have no consequence whatsoever for failing to follow through.

Just in the past several months of selling, I've found that both "I'm going to go home and think it over, and I'll call you tomorrow to make an offer," and "I'm putting the deposit check in the mail today," mean "You'll never hear from me again."

"I'm showing up next week with my trailer to look at your horse. You pay the $120+ for the vet visit to have her health papers rush-processed so she's ready to go, and I promise to reimburse you even if I decide not to buy her," means "I will decide not to buy the horse because of some detail that I already knew long before my visit. And you will never see a reimbursement check from me."

The most frustrating part of it all is, I know that my experiences are not unique. It's like this for everyone who is trying to sell horses. I regularly read an online horse forum, and all the people on there recount similar experiences. One person told of selling a horse to someone who wanted a trail horse, and TWO YEARS LATER, the person came back demanding that her money be refunded because the horse was not working out as a show jumper! Can you imagine buying a new pickup truck, driving it for two years, and then taking it back to the dealer and demanding a full refund because it wasn't a sports car?

So that's my vent about selling horses. It's bad enough that it's not even remotely profitable. It's even worse facing the heartbreak of having to sell the ones you've really bonded with. But what gets to me the most is how ridiculously, unnecessarily inefficient, messy, and illogical the whole process often becomes.

Of course, that just makes me appreciate all the more when I do find a buyer who really is a good match for the horse and really is ready to buy and really will keep me informed if plans change and really will send the payment when she promises to.

So to all of you GOOD horse shoppers out there: Believe me, the horse sellers of the world THANK YOU. You're rarer than you know!!!

I should also add that having Torchsong's sale fall through inspired me to finally get my horse web site updated and start putting out a few new horse for sale ads. I already got a brand new inquiry on Andromeda, and a nice lady who had inquired about one of my other horses back in December happened to look at my site again and now may be interested in either Callista or Torchsong.

So, like everything, the process has its ups and downs. Mostly I'm just so worn out by the whole process, I wish I could be done with it.


Andy said...

One of the guys here at work said the only time he lost money farming was when he tried raising horses. And hay was a lot cheaper back then, too. :)

I wonder how many of those people who 'suddenly' lost hours or jobs really just finally asked their spouse if they can buy this great horse, only to get denied.

Nancy Chase said...

I know that at least a few of the cases are genuine, but I would not at all be surprised if some of the others were exactly the kind of situation you mentioned!