Find your perfect horse match
The right horse is crucial for a rider to achieve their dreams. Start the search in the right way and you’ll be on to a winner.
Buying a new horse should be an exciting time in a rider’s life. It’s a step towards achieving a long-held ambition with the right horse, whether that’s competitive or not.
Sadly, often the buying experience can be just the opposite. A rider can find themselves questioning their ability and confidence when faced with a horse or a seller who might be a little intimidating. And what they are looking at in the stable is not quite the advert they’d previously seen.
Professional dealers used to be treated with suspicion, but with the rise of the internet, businesses have become more transparent. It takes seconds to leave a bad review and bring a reputation into question. The best in the business know that above all, being honest is valued most.
Heidi (pictured) and Ian Woodhead own DHI Event Horses, which produces and sells at the top of the sport. For a visiting client they normally select three or four horses, based on a client’s pre-discussed wish list.
“This gives them the opportunity to compare different aspects and qualities of horses such as character, feel and of course, ability,” explains Heidi.
For Heidi, she says it’s helpful if people have a clear idea of their dos and don’ts. It’s a waste of time for everyone if clients don’t know what they want.
“With new clients, I take the time during a phone call to try and grasp exactly what’s required,” she says. “If I don’t think we have anything suitable, I’ll happily say so. It’s important to us that any client, whether they purchase or not, has a positive experience. It’s essential to have a thorough conversation before they get in a car to Yorkshire.”
Kerrie Fleming is a dealer in the south west who sells to clients with a more modest budget, but despite the differences in client base, her policies are similar to the Woodheads.
Kerrie shows off her horses on Facebook, allowing her to post content quickly, showing off all aspects of the horses she’s selling. And it all begins with the first phone call.
“I vet people quite strongly on the phone and if I don’t think a horse is right for someone I will say so,” Kerrie says.“I mostly have youngsters [making enquiries] and I’m careful who comes out, as I don’t want six different riders on one horse over six different days – that’s not good for the horse.
“If we get to the point on the phone when they are ready to turn up, we already have gone through the process.”
Kerrie uses WhatsApp to communicate with interested parties, so if a horse isn’t quite ready, it’s a quick way to update on their progress.
A source of sellers’ frustration is budget, as producing horses is an investment. Kerrie’s horses tend to come from Ireland and are vetted and strangles tested before they come over, then vaccinated, shod, wormed and have their teeth and backs checked.
“A horse that’s safe, sound and scopey will not be £2-3,000,” Kerrie points out. “People can have champagne tastes on a post office cider budget.”
Kerrie’s horses are relatively inexperienced when they arrive, but she remains conscious of not overworking them simply to turn them around quickly.
Each horse has a series of hurdles to pass before they’re ready to be sold, such as showing they are polite to handle and mount, able to hack in all traffic and weather, and have started jumping. The progress is then posted online for the world to see.
“Quite often when a client comes for a trial, they don’t need to jump because they know what they are getting,” Kerrie says. “These posts take five minutes to film, seconds to upload and they say so much. People love them.”
Upholding high standards is a crucial part of building a seller’s credibility, especially online.
This was one of the key challenges facing Horse Quest, an online horse-selling website similar to AutoTrader, when it first launched in 2000.
The site allows dealers and private sellers to post adverts for horses and has become a popular directory for people looking to make a purchase and now boasts 740,000 monthly users.
Initially, people needed convincing the internet was safe but once it was clear how fast and effective online selling was, the business began to thrive.
And central to that is how founder Alison Roeves and her small knowledgeable team understands the emotional stress that comes with buying and selling a horse – whether it’s a first pony or a 5* horse.
“We strive to maintain the integrity wherever possible. A member of staff reads and approves every single advert before it goes live,” says Alison.
“We encourage all buyers to spend some time doing their research prior to committing to a sale and try to ensure they understand the differences between buying from a trade or private advertiser. There are benefits to both avenues and it’s always worth exploring our dealer pages.”
The right fit
It’s one thing having a dream, but riders have to be realistic about what is within their reach. It’s not just skill level, but finding the right fit with family and work is vital to a long and happy partnership.
To avoid getting it wrong, some riders take a trainer with them when trying out a horse to avoid a mismatch. Some of the more reputable sellers, such as DHI, also offer guidance and advice to clients, an approach Heidi says that goes down well. After all, horses are not cheap and Heidi says most in the eventing community agree horses deserve the best possible future.
“Serious buyers are very aware of their own limitations and I feel it’s my job to make sure I don’t put any rider on a horse that won’t be suitable to their needs – whether they want to try it or not,” Heidi reasons.
“Ian and I have years of experience training riders from Pony Club to international level and I’d like to think that people trust our input. We’ll always say if a horse isn’t going to be suitable for a rider.”
For the Woodheads and indeed any professional dealer, a good reputation is built on honesty and good matchmaking. It makes sense that horses produced with time, energy and care should go to good homes where they will excel. This in turn promotes the business they came from.
Kerrie’s horses are mostly green four-and five-year-olds, and she establishes good habits from the start. But it wouldn’t take much for a more novice rider to come unstuck; youngsters need riders to guide them, not the other way around.
“I don’t have anything sharp,” she adds. “They are youngsters who have been lightly backed and ridden away. They haven’t been schooled so I work on that and the finer arts. They must have a good temperament – I can’t sell anything I don’t believe in.
“[Riders] want someone honest, who will tell them if they haven’t got something for them and point them in the direction of someone who might. It’s about matching the right horse to the right buyer and it has to be what I say it is.”
Honesty, quality and trust. Get those ingredients right and that dream purchase won’t be too far away.