How Much is That Horsey in the Window? Solving the Mystery of Show Hunter Pricing


Here at Two Bit Training, we think that there are 8 things that mostly decide a hunter’s value WHEN IT IS  SOLD. Let’s say you are considering selling Best Horse Ever (barn name Pookie). I know that he/she is personally very valuable to you. He (or she) has stood by your side and been your loyal and constant  friend for years. And while you may not be able to put a price on that friendship and loyalty, believe me  when I tell you that everyone else will. And that price, specifically, is “not much.” So, what should you  ask for him? Or if you are the buyer, what should you offer? 

What IS worth money to your potential buyers? My 8 factors that determine hunter price are: 

  • Is it big? 
  • Is it pretty? 
  • Does it jump well? 
  • Does it move well? 
  • How old is it? 
  • Is it sound? 
  • Is it easy to be around? 
  • What’s it done so far? 

When I am horse shopping, I am never looking for a perfect horse. What I am really looking for is the  perfect horse for this client. This client may really need a smaller, very quiet, older horse. That horse  would probably not be expensive, but it will be a better fit for them than a pricey, big, pretty, young,  cracks-his-back horse – especially if the client is a 13-year-old beginner. 

In my mind, a first horse for a beginner rider should have a really great temperament. A potential Junior  Hunter needs to jump really, really well. In the overall horse world, a good jumper should get the nod  over a sweet temperament – but maybe not for a particular client. 

Educated clients should understand that really nice, fancy horses that are young and sound with great  minds and fabulous show records are going to be priced high. When (and if) they are ready for that  horse, it won’t be cheap.  

Is it big? 

You may not, personally, need a big horse – but big sells. I hear trainers all the time say,  about normal-sized 16h to 16.1h horses, “Oh, he’s too small for her!” You would expect “her” to be  6’6”. However, when “her” shows up…maybe 5’9”. When did we decide that a 5’9” rider looked too big  on a 16.1h horse? Apparently, at some point, we did. You will pay a premium for big. Even with ponies,  there’s a reason they put that “top of the line” in their ads.

Is it pretty? 

At my barn, as soon as someone mentions that a horse is pretty, all the kids’ repeat in unison, “Pretty is as pretty does.” I have trained them well. However, again, pretty sells. Everyone likes a pretty horse, including judges. So you do get to ask a bit more for your really pretty one. 

Does it jump well? 

I know everyone sometimes forgets this, but you are purchasing this horse for a jumping competition. That’s what a hunter show is. So yes, jumping form and style do matter. To me, they matter quite a bit. Others might not put it at the top of their list, but I think everyone would  agree that it needs to be pretty high up there. Judges will forgive a horse for a mistake or two if it jumps a fabulous jump. People will pay for that. 

Does it move well? 

Everyone likes those under saddle points (although, in defense of the immediately prior point, only the top four horses over fences even get their under saddle points counted towards championships) and good movers are coveted. I especially like a good canter, since horses canter between the jumps. But a good trot is eye-catching on the courtesy circle and will impress a judge. If it goes along with other good stuff (jumping style and good looks), it can really put  your horse over the top. So, expect to pay for movement. 

How old is it? 

Too young and unproven, and the price is lower. Too old and with a limited future, and the price is lower. I call this the Goldilocks Dilemma. If your porridge is too hot or too cold, no one  wants it. But when the porridge is just right? Golden ticket! So expect those 5 to 10 year olds to go for a bit of a premium. 

Is it sound? 

This one is not as easy as you might think. In order to get a really fabulous horse, many educated buyers are willing to put up with some maintenance issues. In fact, I have found over the years that it’s usually the less educated buyers that want a “perfectly” sound horse. As we all know, there is no such thing. Horses start to break down from their very first steps (as we all do). However, there is usually some reflection upward in the price for a horse that vets very well…and a sharp drop for one that vets poorly. 

Is it easy to be around? 

This is the top of the mountain when you are looking for a horse for a beginning rider. I don’t mind paying a bit extra to get a quiet, forgiving brain for my beginners. And even on a fancy top Junior or Amateur horse, a great brain adds tons of value. A horse that is easy to prep for the ring is a trainers (and riders!) dream. They stay sound longer, and you get to sleep later. But making this dream come true can be expensive. 

What’s it done so far? 

This is another biggie for me. I tell my clients that it’s easy to buy a “potential junior hunter,” or “potential regular large pony.” Really, any horse eligible to compete in a division is a “potential” something. However, if you want to buy a for-sure Junior Hunter, then you really should go buy the one that won in the Junior Hunters last week. Ditto for ponies, and A/O horses, and anything else. It has cost the owners a bundle in training and showing to remove that “potential” from the description, and you can expect to reimburse them for at least part of that. If all of the buttons are already installed on the dashboard, the price goes up.

And a few extras… 

Some horses have “holes” that affect their value that aren’t always obviously reflected in any of the 8 categories above. Maybe it doesn’t cross-tie well, or cribs, or has a difficult lead change one direction. Any “hole,” including stable vices, lowers the price. A word of caution…sometimes  sellers do not think to mention “holes” before the sale, so always ask. I’ve had people tell me after a purchase that the horse has a problem with its ears, or pulls when tied, or has a trailering or clipping issue. 

If you are a breeder, you can make a pretty good case that bloodlines should also be considered.  However, it has been my experience that people will pay for a horse that moves well and jumps well if it  has inferior bloodline, but will not pay for exceptional bloodlines on a horse that trots like an egg beater and jumps like you dropped it out of an airplane. And yes, the better the bloodlines, the less likely the egg beater/airplane scenario. 

People seem to prefer to buy geldings, so the gender can add (or subtract) from that final price. Some  people have a color preference, and in general there is still a small prejudice against multi-colored  horses (paint, pinto, appaloosa) in the hunter ring. 

What’s the bottom line? 

If you own a beautiful, 16.3h, fabulous moving, jumps-out-of-its’-skin, 100% sound, 6 year old dark bay  with chrome, numb quiet gelding who just won his first International Derby, congratulations! You hit the  jackpot! In the real world, however, most horses fall in-between. Hitting on some of the golden nuggets  

that buyers want, and missing on others. I routinely see horses with many nice qualities, just in smaller  quantities than the very top hunters. These are horses worth buying. They are usually very reasonably  priced and do their jobs well! 

If you are buying, put your list of “wants” in descending order, and concentrate on your top 2 or 3. If you  are looking for a beginner mount and you find one that is quiet and sensible, fairly sound, and priced  well – buy it. Don’t worry that it doesn’t have a big show record or that it has an average trot. You don’t  need to pay for those. 

If you are selling, a little research on Facebook sale pages and sale websites of horses in your area can  help you close in on reasonable numbers. Most of those “special” horses are going to be priced fairly  similar. Look for horses that are like your horse in the categories above. Your horse will probably sell in  the price range you see reflected in the ads. 

The old adage that “there are two sides to every story” is never truer than in horse shopping. If you  owned the wonder horse described above, would you sell him cheaply? No, you would not. And yet,  I’ve gone shopping with people, and have looked at that horse, and have had my clients get very  offended when they hear the very high price. Conversely, I’ve had clients with charming, average, useful  horses who wanted an arm, a leg, and your firstborn son for them.  

Neither view is realistic. Remember Goldilocks. Cold porridge clumps…hot porridge burns your tongue. If  you want your porridge “just right”, it’s going to cost you.