BY MARTHA RUSSELL
I’m new to this pony game. Well, maybe not new. My 13-year-old daughter is on her 5th (?) pony. She’s a great rider (that’s coming from Mom, so take it with a grain of salt) and she’s now competing on her Large pony after qualifying her Small for Pony Finals and then selling her. She also qualified her Medium and is currently trying to sell her (interested buyers, please call our trainer. Seriously. Please. Call.)
Over the years, there have also been lots of “project” ponies in the mix here and there, and I love accompanying our trainer on buying trips. So maybe I’m not super new to the game, but I’m new enough. That said, I will always, with everything in life, look at things from a teachable point of view.
Our trainer and my BFF, Sayer Townsend at Edgebrook Equestrian, is definitely not new to this game. She knows what she is doing. I’ve learned so much from her and have had to learn a few hard lessons of my own in the buying and selling process that I think might benefit others. Here are five ways not to make some of the same mistakes that I’ve made.
1. Decimal Points Matter
I want to start here because social media is such a huge buying/selling platform these days, and often, a price can’t be specifically delineated. When someone says a horse is “five figures,” that can mean anywhere from $10,000 to $99,999. Count those figures—there are five. Four figures means $1,000 to $9,999. ‘Mid-five-figures’ would be $50,000. ‘Low-five-figures’ would be $10,000 to $25,000. I know some of you might be rolling your eyes, because you’re so smart, and already know all of this, but—Case Study 1—we recently had a family drive four hours one way to look at a pony that was priced in the “mid-fives”.
They loved her; she’s fabulous (she’s my kid’s Medium by the way. #forsale). They asked if we’d take $4,500 for her. They thought “five figures” meant $5,000. This is their first pony, and I don’t fault them; this whole business has a language of its own. But that is why you are reading this article, right? So you don’t waste an entire day traveling to see something that’s out of your budget.
2. Repeat After Me: “I Will Listen to My Trainer”
A few years ago, I thought I had this pony thing down. My daughter was 11 and had already had lots of success on her Small pony. She was getting a little taller, so I thought I’d “go at it on my own” and start looking at Larges. Who needs a trainer, right? Famous last words. I was following an online auction and I saw a beautiful Large pony for a low/mid four-figure price (that’s a test: he was priced at $4,000—see #1 above). Lovely breeding, lovely conformation, and a decent video of a trainer riding him. So—Case Study 2—I bought him. Then I had him shipped from New Jersey to Texas.
Turns out, said pony had a major rearing problem and was a cribber. None of these things were disclosed by the sellers, but even so, I guarantee our trainer could have looked past the pretty pictures, talked to those involved, and saved me a bunch of money and heartache. I ended up giving him to a cowboy who enjoys taking on spicy things. Lesson learned.
Your trainer knows you, knows your kid, and knows what you both need. Just give him/her a budget and let them do their job. Related: Try not to constantly send your trainer texts with links to ponies, especially at 11 p.m. She’s likely already seen this pony and knows it will not be a good fit for your kid. Why? Because she works in this industry and is good at her job, remember? Otherwise, you would not have hired her. If you have a trainer you trust (and you should), learn to trust the process.
3. The Mediums: It’s a Thing For a Reason
My kid went from a Small pony to a Medium pony. She was showing at the division level with her Small and wanted to continue to show at the division level, with the goal of taking her future pony to Pony Finals. Cautious mom here **raises hand** didn’t want her jumping to a Large and competing at that division height. But, more importantly (see #2), Trainer didn’t think she was ready for the Large height either.
Case Study 3: I so often hear about kids that move straight from the Small division into the Larges because their parents don’t want them to outgrow something too fast. But that’s a mixed bag. Larges are in high demand, which makes them more expensive and—if your kid is coming off of a Small, or coming out of the Short Stirrup division—are they really ready for the Large height? That’s a big jump. Listen to your trainer, but in my experience, the Mediums can be a great stepping stone, and shouldn’t be discarded out of hand, especially if your kiddo hasn’t yet done the division height with a Small.
4. Proper Pre-Purchase Exam Etiquette (Say That Five Times Fast)
We have a ranch with a handful of horses and lots of cows. My husband and I use a local vet that we love for all of our cattle needs. A few weeks ago, a prospective buyer (Case Study 4) in the Northwest set up a pre-purchase exam (PPE) for one of our trainer’s horses.
Usually, buyers will ask a seller for the names of a few local equine vets. Sometimes, they will just use the all-knowing Google to find someone. Guess who these buyers lined up to do their PPE? Our cattle vet! He’s the nicest guy and he is happy to pull a Coggins or give vaccines. In a pinch, he’ll even float some teeth on your ranch horse using an old-fashioned file and lots of elbow grease. But ask yourself: Do you want him to be the vet doing a full PPE on a five-figure horse?
That last question is up to you, but whatever you decide, make sure you do your research. Talk to the vet doing your PPE throughout the process and respect the seller and the vet’s time. For example, don’t ask the seller to haul the horse to a vet clinic without offering a hauling fee. Don’t ask the vet, one week later, about some other random issues that you should have written down but forgot to bring up when the vet was there examining the horse. Bottom line: be organized and be respectful to everyone helping you through this process.
5. Trials by Fire
In addition to being a horse mom, I’m also an attorney. I care about details, especially the words in a contract. I take the time to read them, and I encourage you to do the same. My honest advice is that most transactions don’t require an attorney’s input or review, they just require you to be diligent about reading the contract. All that is to say, I love a trial… if I’m the buyer.
If I’m the seller—Case Study 5—not so much. But experience has helped me narrow down a few parameters that both the buyer and the seller can probably be happy with:
a. Stick to 10 days. You’re going to know you love the horse by Day 4, but 10 days gives you time to make sure the horse will work in your setting. My daughter’s Large pony gets out of every paddock at our barn and goes to visit his neighbors. Obviously, this wouldn’t work in some places, but thankfully, our trainer extends lots of grace to him. To her, it is an annoyance, not a safety issue—but not everyone might see it that way. Habits like these are something you need to find out before you buy, and 10 days (should) give you the time to see and evaluate them for yourself.
b. Get a non-refundable, $1,000 deposit that can be credited toward the purchase price. You want to make sure the buyer is absolutely serious about your pony.
c. Transportation is on the buyer. Make sure that your contract states the buyer is responsible for the cost of shipping the pony from your barn and back to you if the trial doesn’t result in a sale. But—key point here—make sure you, as the seller, get to determine the shipper. You do not want your horse crammed into a subpar trailer for the trip home because the horse didn’t work out and the buyer doesn’t want to be out more money.
d. Insurance is mandatory. Require the buyer to purchase mortality and major medical insurance for the full value of the horse from the time it leaves your barn to the time the sale is completed or the horse returns. Make sure you are listed as the loss payee during this period. For a buyer, this is generally easy to obtain with a copy of the trial and purchase contract to substantiate value. Buyers can easily change the loss payee to themselves once the sale is completed or cancel the insurance if it doesn’t work out.
Is this everything you need to know to be a successful pony buyer or seller? No. But it’s a start. At the end of the day, you’ll get a lot further if you can find a trainer you love and that your kid loves too. Be patient, assume the best, and extend lots of grace toward those around you. And, if you do make an embarrassing mistake, by all means, share it with me so we can both have a good laugh.
Martha Russell is a mom of two (13-year-old Addison and 11-year-old Heath) and the wife of one (45-year-old Weldon). Between horse shows, baseball tournaments, and running their farm in rural Texas, she finds time to do her real job that actually pays for everything. You can follow their farm and family adventures on Instagram @whitehallfarmtexas or her daughter’s equestrian pursuits @whitehallequestrian.