WHY PAY A COMMISSION?
Often times, when people want to buy or sell a horse they want their professional’s assistance. When they discover that the professional may want 10%-15% commission, they re-think the process. Why spend more money to buy a horse, or lose money when selling the horse? Let’s start with buying.
Why pay a commission when buying a horse? You know what you want, right? Well, you may think you know what you want, but you may not know what you are getting. The professional will make calls on your behalf, describe your abilities or your weaknesses and field out the horses that seem unsuitable. Or at least that is the goal. All sellers have the goal of ‘selling’ the horse and presenting it in a positive light. Some sellers are more honest than others, and some are just delusional. The professional has a network of checking on sellers that will assist them in determining the reliability of the seller. Private owner’s selling their horses think that their horse is nearly perfect. They won’t see the little limp that the professional will feel. Those small contracted heels have always been there and they don’t see that as a problem. Or the ring of swelling around the coronet band; “What swelling?” they would say. These, among many other things are what the professional will notice. It may not be a ‘deal breaker’, but it will be something to mention to the vet if the purchase gets that far.
Also, the professional can see into the future a bit better than most. They know that just because the horse was a World Champion XYZ in the show ring, does not mean it will be an enjoyable ride for you on the trail. As a matter of fact, quite the opposite is often true. Just because the Sire was a Grand Prix XYZ does not mean that his offspring will be. The professional knows that a lot of things go into making a Grand Prix horse of any kind; and breeding is only one of the factors. Fabulously famous horses are often the most difficult to ride. Is that suitable for the Adult Amateur who is learning to do canter/trot transitions?
The professional’s job is to find a horse that is suitable to the stated expectations of the purchaser. If you say you want a Grand Prix horse, but you only ride at a Beginning level, we will find a Grand Prix horse. Don’t be surprised if you aren’t riding it very often. If you say that you want to ride that Grand Prix horse, we will find you a totally different Grand Prix horse. So the seller must be clear about what they want and the professional has to sometimes tell them what that might involve. Unfortunately, price, age, physical conditions, commitment to training and lessons, expected use, and reality, often do not mesh. Many professionals have tried to communicate this to multitudes of buyers and it falls on deaf ears most of the time. It is important that the buyer relay honestly, what their commitment can be. Not what they want their commitment to be, but what they can actually do. Falling in love with the horse is easy; living with it is another deal all together! If the professional says that the horse will need to stay in training – they mean it. If you don’t want to have a horse that needs to stay in training, then buy a different horse. If you buy a well-trained horse, and don’t have the time commitment for several lessons a week as well as training rides, he won’t remain well-trained for long. If you can only ride a couple of times a week, say so. Then the professional can try to find a horse that will be more suited for your lifestyle.
By paying a commission to a trusted professional, you can save yourself thousands of dollars in heart ache, vet bills, and training fees. Just because you had a good ride on the horse on the day that you went to look at it, does not mean it is suitable for you on a long term basis. It may not have a talent for the particular discipline that you plan to work in; it may have a lot of re-training to be done. Often the professional will push a button or two on the horse to see how it responds to something a little less than pleasant. This gives us a feel for what the horse may do in its worst state. Even professionals don’t always nail that quite right, so it is unreasonable to assume that a novice can determine what the horse may do in an adverse situation. When you bring that horse home, anything that’s ugly will show up again. In his own environment, the horse will often be a peace.
Also, some things are quite changeable about a horse, and some things are not so easy to change. This is what the professional will be really good at. “He’s a little ugly now, but he will be beautiful”. The professional can often envision the changes that good feed, work, vet care and grooming will bring. We’ve seen it a hundred times over again. Or they will notice a stiffness that may be easily addressed through better shoeing or a little veterinarian care. With the veterinarian’s help, you may have a better horse than the one you thought you were looking at.
When selling a horse, we often think it’s silly to pay someone when you can sell it yourself. Some people are really good at selling horses, and some are not so good; but either way it can be an emotional rollercoaster. You want a good home with a ‘nice’ person who will keep your horse forever. It is impossible to guarantee these, but a noble pursuit. What does the professional do in exchange for their commission?
Generally the professionals’ job is to field calls, meet potential buyers, present the horse, and assist in placing the ads (usually at owner’s cost), arrange the vet check, and do the price negotiations. It doesn’t sound like much, but taking the calls alone can be trying. Before they even look at the horse, potential buyers want to know what their options are for this horse. “Can we try it for a week?”, “ Are they negotiable on the price?”. Plus a hundred other questions, all of which a buyer ought to ask. You spend 30 minutes to an hour on the phone, trying to be positive and honest, and then you wait to see if they want to pursue more. People often make appointments to come see the horse and either fail to show up or are quite late, or quite early. Either way, you spend 2 or more hours every time you meet a potential buyer. And on occasion the buyer has misrepresented (usually unintentionally) their skills as a rider, making an unsuitable match as well.
Often, the professional will concur on the timing of the vet check with the potential buyer. Almost every owner thinks their horse is nearly sold at this point, but that is nowhere near the case! On any given day, with any given veterinarian, the result can vary greatly. This portion of a sale is often a ‘deal breaker’, leaving the buyer and purchaser heart broken. Sometimes, it goes smooth as glass, and now you have negotiations. It is not uncommon to have some negotiations prior to the vet check. If anything comes up in the vet check, but it’s not bad enough to kill the sale, there will likely be more negotiating.
Negotiating is a task that some find enjoyable. But when we are talking about our horses, it often feels personal. The professional will be less likely to be insulted by this process. When a buyer says, “well I talked to my friend, and they said he is only worth X”, it can be insulting. This is your horse, not your car. In the world of negotiating, it is all the same. It is difficult not to take it personally, even for the professional selling your horse, but they can tune it out a little better than the owner can. Many sales have fallen through because of hurt feelings and angry purchasers or buyers. The professional can, ‘play the game’, on both ends. By discussing the consequences of not coming down on price with the owner, i.e.: another month of board, another month of training fees, may not be worth the $500 you are currently dickering over. And discussing with the purchaser why the horse is priced as it is and why the owner cannot come down that much on the price. Often times, half of the negotiations occur before the professional even involves the owner to help ease the stress on the seller.
More often than not, commissions charged are 10%-15%, but there are other variations out there. In the long run, I believe that the $500 - $2500 (+ or -) you pay in commissions is usually earned by the professional representing you or your horse. Often the more expensive the horse, the more complicated the sale is and the smaller the buying pool. The less expensive horse gets more people looking, but often a lot of ‘tire kickers’. In the whole scope of things, finding the right horse, or finding the right home for your horse will be well worth the dollars you will spend on the commission to a professional. It is a “Buyer Beware” market in the horse industry; and honestly, not much better than the Used Car Salesman, in reputation. The consequences of not having professional help are generally way more expensive than the commission would have been.
So what makes these clinics different? Well, to begin with many folks seem to be looking for ‘de-spooking’ and/or ‘de-sensitizing’ clinics. Unfortunately these terms seem to be still pretty popular and not what a horse needs. ‘Bombproofing’ is another way lots of people refer to what they think their horse would prosper from.
As with all things horse, opinion is what most of us have to offer. In my opinion, to say that somebody can either ‘de-spook’ or ‘bombproof’ a horse is simply not possible - not without breaking some portion of a horse’s spirit. It may be a little or a lot depending on the individual horse. Now, that doesn’t mean that a well ridden and well taught horse can’t become nearly ‘bombproof’, or perhaps better thought of as being unflappable. But that unflappable quality in a horse isn’t just developed in the course of a one, two, or even a few days of a clinic. In order to come close to truly ‘de-spooking’ or ‘de-sensitizing’ then you’ll end up using almost merciless repetition and/or flooding techniques. What you end up with is likely to be a horse that will put up with a lot until it doesn’t. At that point the horse’s reaction to some eventual stimulus, environment or event will be way over the top and based on nothing but pure instinct. That’s because we’ve done nothing to build in to that horse a reason to trust our control over their feet and, to the horse, its life!
That’s got to be the deal we offer our horses. If they’ll be willing to listen to us and follow our lead then we must be consistently trustworthy and caring and concerned with our horse’s needs. These needs, ultimately, deal in one way or another with the animals’ sense of self-preservation.
So, what these clinics are all about is setting up situations that bother a horse’s sense of self-preservation. Just enough to allow the handler/rider to provide quality leadership that allows the horse to learn just how trustworthy that human is when it comes to always helping the horse ’survive’ the pressures and stimuli that the environment offers. When you think about it, horses really aren’t unpredictable - the environment is.
Lastly, if a horse encounters anything that causes concern, that horse knows what it can and/or may do to survive. It has itself to rely on. Once a human enters the picture in some controlling fashion (of course this control may or may not exist) the horse has to consider if the human will be a negative, benign or positive influence on chances of survival. It’s at this point when I’d sure rather have the horse trust my influence because of a well-developed partnership rather than hoping the horse was repetitively sacked out and hazed sufficiently to have dumbed the horse down to not react instinctively to perceived danger.