How to Sell a Dressage Horse

Learn how to sell a dressage horse to the best possible home at the best possible price.
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Learn how to sell a dressage horse to the best possible home at the best possible price.

Question:I bought a 2-year-old warmblood dressage horse two years ago with the plan to begin her training and sell her if she showed talent and ability. She's got natural presence and great suspension, learns quickly, and is doing very well at the Training Level, schooling First. I'm thinking it's time to begin plans to sell her, since I believe I can get a good price for her, but I don't know where to begin. My trainer can help me with word-of-mouth advertising, but I'm wondering, with my horse's talent, if I should go for a national market. What's the thinking these days on selling a dressage prospect?

Answer: If you have a sport horse to sell, you have many more options now than you did 10 or even five years ago. To help you decide which choices will work best to sell your horse and to formulate your plan, follow this four-step process.

First, decide how much you want to spend. This decision will depend on your horse's value, your finances, and on how much you want to sell her. Start by giving yourself a range. A word of advice: Don't underprice your horse. You can always add "negotiable" or "best offer."

Next, evaluate the marketing options available, comparing each medium's advertising cost, target audience, circulation and deadlines. Take a professional approach and plan a marketing campaign, evaluating the options and deciding which combination of elements will give you the biggest bang for your buck. The goal is to reach the largest number of people in your market for the lowest cost. Your market is divided into four areas:

Local market. Think of where you would look if you were buying a horse like the one you're selling. Local market options include newspapers, local all-breed publications, your area's riding association newsletters and personal marketing: calling people you know, posting flyers at local barns, tack stores and horse shows.

Regional market. This includes the same options as for a local area, but adds regional publications such as area/region newsletters of the American Horse Shows Association, United States Dressage Federation and United States Combined Training Association. Ask tack stores which ones they carry, or visit American Horse Publications for a list of member publications.

National market. This is where your advertising options really open up. There are several categories of publications with a national reach that are targeted toward a sport-horse market. All of the national horse sport organizations have publications that are sent to members. Most of the breed registries-American Trakehner Association, International Sporthorse Registry, American Warmblood Society, etc.-have newsletters or magazines with small but focused circulations, and many offers free classifieds to members. If your horse is registered with one of these organizations, this would be the place to start your national advertising.

Don't neglect all-advertising publications. But consider that many with national circulations are all-breeds focused, and don't necessarily reach sport-horse buyers. See if they will give you a breakdown of readership by discipline.

International market. If you have a horse who truly has the ability to reach international levels of competition, you will be marketing to a select few. Word of mouth is the way many horses in this category are found and bought. It might be possible to use a direct mail announcement to riders of that caliber if you can get their names, but if you choose to go that route, you had better have a horse of obvious ability, confirmed to you by several highly credentialed trainers and judges.

Online market. Another marketing tool is the Internet. There is a large number of sport-horse related sites on the World Wide Web, and many options exist for advertising horses. The options range from a Web classified ad to a whole site just for your horse with photos and information. The cost varies from free to expensive. The Internet reaches people from around the world, and more and more horse people are involved every day.

Gather enough information about the options to decide which choices are most appropriate for your horse. From there, formulate an "ideal" plan, and then weigh your ideal against your finances. Start by calling the publications you are most interested in for information on classified or display ads. You need information on circulation costs, terms of payment and deadlines. Based on the information you receive, you can decide whether to stick to classified advertising or run a display ad, whether to stay local or go to regional or national publications, whether to put all your resources into one place or spread them over several. Your best bet is probably a combination.

Now it's time to compose your ad. The first rule of advertising is honesty. You don't have to mention every bad thing your horse has ever done, but what you do say should be true. Nothing discourages a buyer faster than feeling that a horse has been misrepresented.

The second rule is to use correct terminology and spelling. Incorrect usage reflects poorly on your overall knowledge and experience. Certain common mistakes could dismiss you in the minds of serious buyers-the spelling of "temperament," and "conformation," for example, and terminology such as "by" and "out of" when mentioning a horse's sire and dam.

Writing the text of an ad requires a combination of clear communication skills and good marketing savvy. Include all the basic information-age, breed, height, color, sex. Mention discipline and potential, and highlight exceptional traits, accomplishments or bloodlines. In a world dominated by novice riders, it is always worth mentioning an exceptional temperament. State important limitations.

Including price is optional, but I have had people tell me they just won't call if there is no price listed. You might try it both ways to see which is more effective for you, if your budget allows. List contact information (phone number or e-mail address), and you are ready to roll.

If your horse's value justifies the expense, a regular display ad with one or two photos will have much more impact than a classified ad. If you are going to make that investment, the photos should be good. Have your horse clean, and braided, if appropriate. You are selling a sport-horse athlete, and that should be clear from your photo. A standing pose for a sport horse is the traditional "open" position. Allow the neck to arch, and the head to reach forward, not up. Photos of movement should show athleticism and engagement. Under-saddle photos should be good representations of the discipline for which the horse is being sold.

You can take the photos yourself, but if you don't have the experience, hire a professional. Make sure the photographer knows that you plan to use the photos in advertising, and find out the cost and credit requirements.

A display ad also gives you more options with text. Size of type and arrangement become part of the visual impact. Here, less is usually more. A few key words, prominently displayed, will get attention better than lots of small type, and for larger sized ads, you'd be smart to hire a professional graphic artist or designer.

If your horse is a quality dressage prospect and your ad is eye-catching, honest and placed in front of the right people, someone will buy her and give her the home you'd like her to have.

Anna Goebel publishes Midwest SportHorse Journal and

The National Sport Horse Sales List. 

Are you planning to sell your horse? Go to Equine.com, the premier classifieds site of the Equine Network, and place your ad!