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A Breeder ’s Notebook:

Horse for sale By Johan Dreyer

If you want to breed horses, it follows that you will buy and as a matter of course also sell horses. It is in the interest of our beloved industry that buyers buy the right horse at a fair price and sellers make a good sale. But somehow history always repeats itself in that average horses get sold at exorbitant prices and the really exceptional ones more often than not change hands for what can only be described as a meagre amount. This anomaly can be explained in one word – marketing. To the uninformed, marketing implies introducing and promoting a product, in this case a horse, to potential buyers. That’s not the whole story. It’s a long time since a horse ceased to be an item of necessity and because of this the motivation behind purchases has changed. The usual motivation to buy a horse is that he holds the promise to fulfil a desire. Therefore to sell a horse you have to create and stimulate desire1 . Desire is need wrapped in emotion. Need is being without – whether it’s because of “have not” or “want more” is immaterial. Physical need can be quenched, desire seldom. Therefore if you take your time and plan your approach by creating and stimulating desire among potential buyers, the rewards are plentiful. As a buyer, if you walk into this one unaware you are probably going to pay more than you bargained for. It was none other than Adolph Hitler in his life work Mein Kampf (published in 1925) who perpetuated the principle of creating and stimulating desire2 . He held that you can make anyone believe anything if it is repeated often enough, however bizarre or illogical it may seem at first. History undeniably confirmed his postulate. (In fact he himself came to believe the lies he propounded). Dissected it doesn’t look like the worldchanging discovery that it was. However, if one could claim but a fraction of the global income generated daily by that principle in selling liquor, cars, cellphones, cigarettes, etc, the Bill Gates fortune would pale in comparison. In our situation, no breeder is likely to have the same access to mass media, or the same captive audience, or (hopefully not) the same desire to perpetuate lies that Adolph had, but the principle still holds true and is practised every day. 1

To create and stimulate desire is a well-studied subject and certainly encompasses much more than what can be discussed in a column, therefore in reading this keep in mind we are only scratching the surface.


Although the content of the book tends to be pompous and tedious, to say the least, the chapter on War Propaganda (Mein Kampf, p153) is a masterly exercise in psychological insight.

“If you are plodding along on an old nag, nobody is going to admire you for the excellent horseman you really are. You need a horse like this to show your full potential” In principle to create and stimulate desire when selling a horse you have to convince your audience (without being abrasive) that: wherever you are or whatever you want to be is not good enough for a special person such as you; this horse (you are selling) is what will bring you where you ought to be. Over-emphasised to bring home the idea, it will sound something like this: “If you are plodding along on an old nag, nobody is going to admire you for the excellent horseman you really are.You need a horse like this to show your full potential”. Be aware of the fact that although you are purposefully creating and stimulating desire, the buyer’s reaction – because it is clouded with emotions (desire) – is not necessarily logical. Both as a buyer and seller it is important to know that just as the truth is not a fundamental in creating desire, the quality of animal you are selling is not implied when marketing, except if stated explicitly. But you do not have to lie and deceive if you plan your approach and use the available knowledge: •

Of the market you are operating in. An excellent example of using your knowledge of the market appears in racing. Yearlings are sold at an auction where they are exhibited at a walk in a circle. Therefore yearlings are bred to be as close as possible to two years of age at auction time, but not yet two. Then they are pushed to be as big and well muscled as possible. They are practised at a walk in a circle in order to develop to be a strong, eager, energetic walker. None of which has anything to do with how well they will run once they are on a racecourse, but it’s quite significant in terms of marketing. The horse at hand. Using your knowledge of the horse at hand will prompt you to emphasise the salable qualities, showing him as such and omitting his shortcomings, both of which are evident in every horse in different degrees. For example, stretching the horse (more so if his front feet are higher than his back feet) will make his neck appear longer, his upper line shorter and his legs to be on the extreme corners of his body. But be careful as it will also make him appear shorter, so if he’s smallish do not stretch him. The potential buyers. If the horse appears to be the fulfilment of his (created) desires, he’ll take him. Contrary to popular belief, price serves only as a border value in this decision. If you don’t believe me, check the influence of our so-called “sin tax” on sales. As a rule of thumb, if you find yourself arguing about price, you should re-evaluate your approach.

There are a few rules worth adhering to when promoting your horse if you wish to be successful: t

Choose your words with circumspect and speak your truth quietly and clearly. If you are not very careful, a well-mannered horse might be conceived as dead in his tracks and a lively fellow as untameable. Be very cautious not to create misconceptions. For example, if a horse is older than 10 years of age never mention it before the buyer has actually met the horse. Your horse may be at

t t t


the prime of his career, but to the uninformed it might sound as if he is ready for the glue factory. By certifying him as healthy and sound you will remove doubt in the buyer’s mind, thereby making it easier for him to perceive the horse as the answer to his desires. If you want to sell a horse: he is available, and you regretfully have to let him go – nobody desires a horse you do not want any more. Because of the intimate nature of horse and human connections, if at all possible do not quote a price until the buyer has seen the horse. Because every picture tells a story, consider the photos you use in printed matter and websites. The photograph should convince viewers that the horse is desirable. If it doesn’t, do not use it, you are better off without it. Consider the photo: o The horse should move into the book, a person with the horse makes it more remarkable and if the person is looking at you it’s easier to remember. o The area surrounding the horse as well as the people in the photograph should contribute to highlighting the horse. Put Charlize Theron next to a horse and you might sell photographs and be very lucky if someone remembers the horse in the photograph. o If the rider on the horse is hanging on to the reins for dear life, everyone will know that the horse has a sour disposition and a terrible mouth. Equally, if the horse’s chest is full of white specks from a tongue that beats the saliva to a lather or if the horse is doing a forced flex, it will be well known that the horse has a bad attitude, is tensed up and is heading for disaster. o If the horse is carrying a stack of pads or overlong hooves, the message is clear that he has a created action. A horse that has successfully competed in a chosen field is more promotable than one that hasn’t yet competed as he is at best only a probability. Calling a race horse that hasn’t yet raced a racing prospect is risking your credibility, which is bad for business. Not every horse can win a National, neither is it the sole criterion for a good price. Establish a workable programme to develop the horse’s abilities and his career and stick to it. It is no use trying to follow trends which imply forcing a horse to be something he doesn’t have the credentials or aptitude for.

The logical way to get started would be to make it known the horse is available and let it be seen. There are numerous ways to achieve this although their effectiveness varies, and not necessarily according to price. Possibilities include word of mouth (friends, trainers, farriers and your veterinarian), SMS, internet, tack shops, magazines and at horse shows. The more selective you are in your approach, the more effective your input (time and cost) will be. Every medium has a different audience profile – the more that profile is fitted to your potential market, the greater the effect your efforts will have. For instance, if the audience is already into horse shows you don’t have to take the time and effort to introduce them to horse riding. Thus horse shows, dedicated horse and show horse magazines and websites are targeted mediums for the stimulation of desire. The more your repeat the message, the better. In terms of cost, frequency and audience reached it would therefore be wise to choose a multimedia approach: that is internet, magazines and horse shows.

Because every picture tells a story, consider the photos you use in printed matter and websites. The photograph should convince viewers that the horse is desirable.

Let’s assume you have attracted attention and the buyer is on his way. You have to be one hundred percent prepared as the unpredictable is bound to happen. Do everything you can to make sure your horse is in the best possible condition – show sheen can’t make up for poor nutrition or worms in his belly. Take care of his feet. A record of vaccinations and dewormings plus a veterinarian’s certificate, from a known horse vet, declaring him sound, as well as a known farrier certifying his legs and hooves will give you the head start in alleviating any of the buyer’s doubts. It will be worth the cost when you realise that a healthy, well cared for animal will bring in much more when sold. There are three important parts to this equation: firstly the buyer, then the horse and lastly their interaction: t



Take control of the situation, be positive and talk about the sale as a sure thing. Answer direct questions truthfully, never answer comments. Volunteer nothing. Once you are with the horse, never leave for anything, stay with the buyer. Listen very carefully to everything the buyer is saying and make mental notes about the important stuff (write it down later). The buyer is the most critical judge you will ever encounter and this whole endeavour is about his desire. To confirm your horse as the perfect choice, means selling your horse. Access the direction and source of his enthusiasm and if it’s a fit, confirm your horse as the answer to his dreams. Have the horse bathed and groomed and in a stall with a clean sheet over him, leave a well cared for halter (polished and oiled show halter) hanging on the door. Show the horse to the best advantage: the stall is usually a bad choice, rather find a setting that enhances your horse. Every horse has good points – concentrate on them. Get the buyer involved (for instance let him hold the horse while you saddle it). Get on and ride with confidence and joy, your exuberance should be contagious. By doing this he can see what the horse looks like and if inexperienced won’t get on to a fresh horse. Have him handle the horse and complement him, build on his enthusiasm and make him confident.

I once sold a horse that had been with me for many a year. Everybody knew of our attachment, but external factors left me with no choice; this is always a bad place to be. My mother’s remark, “If you can sell that horse you’re capable of selling me”, added insult to injury. Selling a horse you’re attached to is an emotional process that can leave you feeling vulnerable and uncertain. Although it’s perfectly understandable and quite normal, it is not good for the business you are conducting – a buyer does not want to weep with you. You have to appear confident and enthusiastic or you are not only going to miss his company, but also continue to wonder why you sold him for such a meagre amount. Therefore you have to get a grip on your emotions and follow the guidelines, even though your heart may be weeping on the inside. Always quote the price with authority. Say the entire figure in words, not just a part of it. Ask for a sale pertinently. As soon as the buyer leaves, sit down and write him a thank-you note. After a sale, keep in contact with the buyer and enquire about the horse’s progress – it’s both good manners and good business as well as an excellent way to learn more about your product and your market. It will never be easy, but in time you get used to it.

Reference: Hitler: A study in tyranny – Alan Bullock (Johan can be reached at:

A Breeder's Notebook: Horse for Sale. Show Horse September 2010  

A Breeder's Notebook is a regular featured article in the Show Horse Magazine. Johan Dreyer discusses the marketing strategy of a Saddlebred...

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