State of The Market: An Exciting Time in the Sport Horse Marketplace

Top Horses LLC sale horse, Golden Opportunity. Photo courtesy of Helene Jones.

Big opportunities remain for both buyers and sellers, but some market segments are outperforming others.

BY Jenna Fabino

Since the start of the pandemic, the sport horse market has seen unprecedented changes. Just as in real estate, the pandemic brought bidding wars, flash no-contingency sales, vet-checks waived, and major increases in overall prices. 

Now as we get back to “normal,” the horse sales market continues to change. Even still, it can be difficult to understand if horse prices seem to be going up, which horses are in demand, and if there’s still a chance to find a good deal.

Sport Horse Market spoke with three industry experts for a sense of the industry and where it’s going.

Hope Glynn of Hope LLC is based in Sonoma, CA, is a professional rider and trainer who focuses on selling hunters and equitation horses at the top of the sport. 

Helene Jones is President of Top Horses LLC, which primarily connects U.S. riders and trainers to horses for sale in Europe.

Ocala, Florida-based Bryce Richardson of Quintessence International focuses on finding, developing, and selling top quality young horses for hunters, jumpers, equitation, and ponies, as well as trains clients who balance demanding careers with high-level competitions.

Where are prices?

The pandemic kickstarted a hot market. After the initial lockdown, horse prices skyrocketed as people started riding or got more serious with the outdoor sport.

“Many new families got into riding during the pandemic so we have seen a surge in pony sales,” says Glynn.

With pricey vacations put on hold and stimulus checks in pockets, Americans had the most personal wealth in decades. Many people put their extra money towards a horse.

With the 2022 wave of inflation, price increases started to slow.

“I’d say [2022] was maybe not as ‘hot’ as the market was immediately after the lockdowns. People were perhaps less willing to bypass vetting issues or price tag dilemmas as they were previously,” said Richardson. 

Hope Glynn. Photo by Julia B Photography.

Horses winning on the “A” circuit always sell for top dollar, but the middle market prices may be softening as riders start to tighten their purse strings. Glynn believes that when it comes to shopping in price ranges, “people have stepped down a tier.” 

What kind of horses are in demand?

Buyers are often looking for the whole package: pretty, safe, well-trained, and with strong performance records. But more specifically, demand for certain horses depends on the purpose. Hunters love a good mover. Jumpers want good balance. Amateurs need an easy ride with a reliably good mood.

But according to Jones, buyers are increasingly asking for friendly amateur horses that have good x-rays and perform well with little maintenance—the equivalent of a turn-key home.

Richardson agrees: Almost every potential buyer she represents requests qualities like “brave,” “kind,” “forgiving,” and “little to no prep.” These types of horses tend to sell faster than even high-end horses.

Where to find quality horses?

“Europe can still provide quality horses at cheaper prices”, says Jones. “Quality is usually better in Europe. They have these enormous breeding facilities and access to top bloodlines.” 

With horse shows and relative care prices significantly reduced in parts of Europe, it’s cheaper to bring along young horses. This results in lower prices than similar horses in the United States. Many Europeans put a premium on modern sport horses that are more athletic, so slower, bigger, and quieter horses more suitable for junior and amateur riders can be easier to find in lower price ranges.

The exchange rate also helps. With the dollar and euro at their closest points in over five years, Americans buying in Europe can have more spending power.

“But consider all the costs,” says  Richardson. “Prices in Europe have gone up and the price of importing has gone up. So I recommend not restricting your hunt entirely to Europe. There’s a lot of horses here that are off the beaten path with a lot of potential.”

How much emphasis should be placed on Pre-Purchase Exams?

Even though budgets may not be as robust as 12 months ago, the demand for quality, low-prep horses with a good show record and no medical issues still greatly exceeds the supply in the states and abroad. 

One issue professionals are seeing is the disconnect between riders, trainers, and vets. Glynn believes, “vets are failing more horses than ever because they are worried if they don’t disclose everything they might get sued and so many young trainers are either not knowledgeable enough or too afraid to tell a client an older horse with some arthritic changes and a great show record is still a smart buy.” 

Bryce Richardson. Photo by Andrew Ryback Photography.

No horse is going to have perfect x-rays. Partnering with a vet that looks at the horse as a whole, including conformation, way of going, past vet records, and future performance expectations is one of the best things riders and trainers can do in the buying process. 

Where is the marketing going for the rest of 2023?

Richardson says that the market works in waves. Winter is busy, spring slows down, and things tick back in the summer. But slowdowns across the economy driven by higher interest rates and economic uncertainty may also be felt in the horse market. 

Jones sees a buying slowdown coming. With horse prices higher than many buyers can stomach, many may wait for the market to drop, which will lead to more middle-tier horses sitting unsold for longer periods. 

“Top market horses will continue to sell at top dollar”, says Glynn. “But for the rest of the market, buyers may look for ways to limit their spending, such as by leasing rather than buying.”

Even so, horses that are priced well from the start don’t last long. High-quality safe horses will continue to be in demand, as will young horses that show considerable potential. Overpriced horses tend to stay on the market longer. Our three professionals agree that safe, amateur friendly horses that are well priced are always going to sell quickly.

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