BY DAPHNE THORNTON OF TWO BIT TRAINING
Buying horses on the internet has gotten interesting…for both buyer and seller. I am not unsympathetic to the plight of Sellers. People kick tires, look at horses they can’t afford, window shop, and have unreasonable expectations. So, I get it. Sellers are suspicious.
However, buyers need to be cautious and sometimes even suspicious as well. You are likely purchasing off of videos and the seller’s description—without a trial—and then having a strange DVM do the PPE for you. That is nerve-wracking at best and disastrous at worst. Here are a few things to watch out for as you are shopping.
Target Your Search
Don’t look at horses you are not going to buy. You’ll just drive yourself (and everyone else) crazy. Your trainer doesn’t want to get a video from you of a 3 y.o. 17hh 2 weeks off the track for your 8-year old-just starting crossrails child.
If you are looking for a hunter, chances are you are going to find it on a site listing hunters for sale. If you are specifically looking for an AQHA hunter, you want to look at sites specific to that search. If you are a fan of OTTBs or Warmbloods, there are sites that list only those for sale. I know there are also sites that are less specific, but you can usually search those sites using keywords to get you to horses that you might actually buy.
You should also target your budget to keep from constantly inquiring about horses you cannot afford. And, a word to sellers here, you can find a way to let people know the (approximate) price of your horse without saying “$20,000.” Get creative. “Mid fives” or “high fours” won’t usually get you tagged. Two Zero carrots can work too. There are some sites that limit the prices of the horses listed as well.
If I have to inquire about a price or ask for more information, I try to do it politely. I know sellers are getting TONS of requests and may get picky about which ones they answer. “Price and info?” won’t get you as much as, “May I please get a price and some additional information (height, age, gender, experience, etc.) on your lovely horse listed for sale on Hunter/Jumper Ponies, Honies, and Horses” is a better ask.
Don’t ask about horses you can’t/won’t purchase. If the seller says $50K and your budget is $10K, no—they are not going to accept your offer. If you need a beginner-safe honie, just ask about horses that fit that bill. You are wasting everyone’s time (yours included) with random inquiries about inappropriate (for you) horses and, if you do it frequently, people will start to remember you and not engage when you inquire about one that might actually work for you.
So, I hate to say this, but unless you know this person personally, don’t believe a word they say. Harsh? Yes. True? Also, yes. Sellers want you to buy their horse… or at least inquire about it. So they are going to be pretty kind to it in their descriptions.
The seller could be the most honest person in the world, but they could also…not be. “Athletic” might be their way of saying “difficult.” When you complain that the horse spun you off after you bought it, they will answer with “Hey, I told you it was athletic!” If they say “green”, believe it’s not really that broke. If they say “working on changes”, believe it doesn’t have one either direction.
We try to be honest, but also don’t want to say things in an ad that would keep people from contacting us about a horse for sale. So when you see “PM seller for full details”, you should absolutely do that. I’d rather tell you the not-so-perfect stuff in person or through a PM. Also, ask around about sellers. Word gets out on whom to stay away from.
Lastly, get detailed descriptive and conformation pictures if you are not going to see the horse in person. You can’t send it back after it arrives if you suddenly decide it’s too upright in its pasterns. Also, people have been known (rare!) to send a different horse after a sale. You need to be able to PROVE it’s a different horse.
I wish I could say that no one posts unflattering videos of their sale horses, but unfortunately, I have seen some. However, I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t do that. So, you are seeing a video of that horse looking its best, doing the best it can, on its best day. I only post nice videos of my horses. That doesn’t mean they are always perfect. But I do try to make them look good.
I also understand that sometimes a video will make them look better than they are. I recently posted a sale video of a green pony jumping around and swapping its leads perfectly. However, I made sure to point out to every serious inquirer that the pro riding that pony could probably get a goat to swap leads, so they should take that into consideration. Here’s an actual quote from a message I sent to a potential Buyer: “Fair warning, she can make any lead change look easy. His is not as finished as she makes it look.”
Horse show videos are the ones I trust the most. You are seeing that horse doing the thing that you are most likely wanting it to do for you.
The horse you are looking at on those videos is not as perfect as its videos make it look. That’s never a reason not to pursue a nice horse that’s in your budget…it’s just one more thing to keep in mind as you are looking.
Please use caution when deciding what claims to believe. “Never taken a bad step”, “Always been 100% sound”, and similar claims can’t be verified. Ask the Seller for the vet records on the horse. They should be willing to share them with serious buyers. If the horse is at a barn that specializes in sales, they should have the owner’s records and be willing to share.
I know sometimes a seller will say “30-day money back guarantee” or something similar…but they rarely mean it. If you hope to enforce something like that, put it in the Bill of Sale (including the conditions under which you expect the seller to take the horse back and refund) and hope they sign it. Know the laws of your state of residence, and make the Bill of Sale governed by those laws, and not the Seller’s. If you end up in a tussle, you’ll want a home-state advantage.
This is fairly minor, but “can help with shipping” or “can arrange shipping” is usually pretty meaningless as well. On the other side, I’ve had deals fall through because the buyer can’t find shipping at a cost they are willing to pay, and so decide to back out after committing to the purchase. Shipping is the buyer’s responsibility. Have options BEFORE you purchase.
“UTD on everything” can mean that you will get full vaccination and health records (with all core vaccines plus the fancy extra ones), recently floated teeth, new shoes or trim, a microchip, and a Coggins. Or it can (more commonly) mean they gave it a rhino/flu themselves 6 months ago and didn’t keep the sticker. I always have the seller send me any vet records they have (at LEAST vaccination record and Coggins) before I make a deposit or schedule a PPE. If the vaccination status is blurry, consider boosting the horse a week or so before it ships. It’s not a bad idea to get strangles titers (and this takes a few days) on the horse before it ships either. And vaccinate if they are low. If the horse is not microchipped, it wouldn’t hurt to have the PPE vet do this after you are satisfied with the exam and have decided to purchase.
Get the PPE vet to do a Health Certificate on the horse for shipping—even if the shipper you are using does not require one (they should). They won’t write it on a horse that is sick, or that is coming from premises where there are other sick horses. If the vet won’t do this, that’s a huge red flag.
Finally, the internet can be a wonderful thing when you are looking for information on a horse. You can always look up its USEF record on their website. Ditto on USHJA. If you are told the horse has a local show record, you can usually verify this. If it’s from South Florida, try the South Florida Hunter Jumper Association where you can find show records for nominated horses. If it’s from Michigan, there will be corresponding state and local association websites to search. Almost every state H/J association (and MANY local ones) have a website and records you can peruse. Do Facebook searches for the horse, the owner, and the trainer. There’s usually a wealth of information there. Even a general Google search can get you some useful information.
Just because you are asked to make a deposit, that doesn’t mean that the seller is any kind of scammer. They are most likely simply sick and tired of people’s sh…stuff and want to separate the wheat from the chaff. However, beware of any situation where the deposit is not applied to the purchase price or might not be refundable.
If you put a deposit on a horse, and then never get a PPE scheduled, or never arrange shipping, and eventually do not purchase, then I hope the seller keeps your deposit. You wasted everyone’s time and the seller may have missed out on a legitimate sale. You owe them.
If, on the other hand, you put a deposit on a horse, arrange for a timely PPE, and find out the horse has medical or soundness issues that will prevent it from doing the job you envision and so decide to pass on purchasing, you had better get that deposit back. Basically, you just paid $1,000-$1,500 of your own money to diagnose their horse for them. It shouldn’t cost you any more.
Any deposit you pay on a horse you purchase should be applied to the purchase price.
The Bottom Line
I’ve found some nice horses on Facebook, and other internet horse sales sites like Big Eq, Dreamhorse, and similar. I’ve also run into some pretty neat scams. In a (largeish) nutshell:
- Don’t look at horses that are out of your budget, out of your expertise, or out of your target.
- If the Seller has very little information on the horse, or won’t share information, pass.
- Don’t pay to look or “hold”. When it’s time to send money, I still like using the FedWire to pay for horses I find on the internet. Wire fraud is “fraud that is carried out through pictures, sounds, writings, signs, or signals that are transmitted through any form of wire, including television, radio, telephone, internet, or fax” – and it is a federal crime that is investigated by the FBI. Mentioning that is usually enough to stop the scammers.
- Only pay a REASONABLE deposit for a horse when you are ready to schedule a PPE. Know whether it will be refunded if the horse does not pass the PPE to your satisfaction. If not…I’d walk. If the deposit can be held in ESCROW, that is even better.
- Make sure your deposit will be applied to the purchase price.
- Make sure you know EXACTLY what the horse looks like, and have seen conformation photos.
- Make sure that you understand the health status of the horse (vaccinations/Coggins AT LEAST) before you purchase. If you have specific vaccination requirements, make sure they are taken care of during the PPE (at your expense, if the horse passes).
- Be confident that you have known shippers who can pick up the horse and deliver it to you. If you live in Arizona and are buying a horse in Montreal – and know no one in that area – get shipping lined up BEFORE you purchase.
- You should get a signed Bill of Sale, a health certificate, and a Coggins before the horse ships to you.
A Final Word – in defense of Sellers
Remember, after you purchase something on the internet without a trial, if you are not able to reproduce the seller’s results with the horse, that doesn’t mean they lied or scammed you. They may literally just be better than you with the whole horse training/riding thing. And also remember, you can buy any horse you want, but if you don’t know what to do with it when you get it home, that’s not the seller’s problem. It’s your job to THINK before you buy.
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