Tuesday, November 26, 2013

How you should advertise a horse to me, and how you should not.

I'm not buying a horse.  But I've been asked by some of my riders about helping them buy a horse in the future, which means I've developed a bad habit of cruising online horse ads.  There's a lot of great stuff out there and even more frustrating stuff.  

Just in case you sell a horse someday, let me make my job a little easier by giving you this complex, specific, possibly inflammatory rant guide  (and hopefully I won't offend or insult anybody with this) on how to advertise a horse.  And how NOT TO.

-how old is he
-what breed is he, and is he registered? Is he grade?
-how tall is he
-what’s he got for training
-what is he good at
-healthy? sound? 
-temperament - laid back and mellow or full of fire? 
-life experience - where’s he been?  What’s he done?  
-bonus - tell me if he’s an easy keeper.  Tell me if he needs blanketing and four different kinds of supplements.  This could be relevant information for a buyer.  


*I don't need to know his name.  It’s okay, you can tell me, it’s just that I don’t need to know in order to make my decision about whether or not I’m interested.
(The exception would be in the case of a high dollar show horse.  If you’re including his name, it could be helpful for me if I want to do some research.  I might like to get some information on his show record.) I just get a little dubious when the only information I get is that his name is Cuddles.

*I don't need to know that he likes to be kissed on the nose or stuffed full of treats.  Well that’s nice.  I like to smooch horses.  But it’s not precisely something I’m looking for… I assume if I can handle him without being whacked in the head by his big bony head, he’s smoochable… and he'll get treats if he worked for them.  Maybe. 

-That he’s beautiful.  Well they’re all beautiful.  

*Don't ignore spelling and punctuation.  This is really nitpicky, because it’s a horse ad, not an English essay, but please just put some effort into this.  That guy who trims hooves is a farrier, not a furrier or a terrier.  I wonder if you actually know what you’re talking about.  
I'll forgive a few spelling mistakes but if you appear unable to communicate clearly, I might hesitate to talk to you about this horse. You look clueless.  Don't make me question your intelligence.  

I don’t want to see anything like this:

“Flower is a great horse she loves ppl seh will get right in your face.  She’s sort of broke would make perfect western pleasure horse alos loves to jump will be god at whatever you want to do with her.”

Because I will translate it to this:

“Flower has no manners or sense of personal space and is a bit of a pain.  We strapped a saddle on her back and put someone on and led them around and she didn’t buck so we figure she’s broke.  It was a western saddle so we assume she’d be good at western pleasure. She jumps the fence and gets loose so she’d be a good jumper too.  We don’t bother with checking our spelling or punctuation so we probably haven’t bothered to look at her hooves lately either.  We think we’re smart enough to know that she will be good at whatever you do with her even though we don’t know you.”

Call me harsh, and yes I will apologize for appearing judgmental, but I won’t apologize for being judgmental.  

*Do not tell me how well broke this horse is, how good he is and how much he’s done, how many ribbons he’s won, and then show me pictures of him…. EATING.

*Don’t name off three generation back of every high dollar big name horse on his papers, and then show me a ribsy pencil necked cow hocked horse.  And for sure don’t ask a fortune for him.

*Don’t tell me he’s a descendant of Secretariat.  It’s not that I don’t believe you.  I’m sure Secretariat shows up somewhere on his pedigree.   A lot can go wrong with a breeding program in that many generations.  So it doesn’t matter. It’s nice to know who he is and where he comes from but I’ll make up my own mind about what the result is.  

*Don’t name off all those big winning horses in his pedigree, admit that she doesn’t know a damn thing, and still ask for a show horse price.  

*Don’t write the ad from the horse’s first person point-of-view.  As in, “my name is Scooter and I’m a 5 year old gelding.”  I’m sure you think it’s unique and cute but I find it distracting.

*Don’t write the ad from the horse’s POV and then have him talk about you.  Especially if you refer to yourself as his “Mom.”   As in “Hi I’m Scooter and my Mom says I’m the cutest.”  I can’t consider buying your child.  I can’t get past that.  Sorry.  

*Don’t tell me your life story.

While it’s helpful to know why you’re selling, I don’t need to know details.  Telling me that you don’t have time for this horse is reasonable .  Telling me why you don’t have time now that your husband fell off a roof and you have to drive him to the doctor three times a week, and you have to babysit your third grandchild, and also the dog is almost 15 now and you have to carry him everywhere… Too much information.  You can tell me you’re off to university but I don’t need to know where or what you’re studying.  You can tell me this horse has been outgrown, but I don’t need to know that you gained 100 lbs because you quit smoking.  You can tell me your child outgrew the horse but I don’t need to hear that your kid is spoiled and demanded a 17hh jumper that you can’t afford, that darn brat.  I beg you, please do not tell me in your ad that you're selling the horse because you just had your fourth kid and the baby-daddy is in jail and your other baby-daddies are deadbeats and your welfare check is late or something and money's tight so the horse has to go.  

You can tell me you just don’t like this horse.  Honestly.  It happens.  Just please don’t tell me about people you don’t like while you’re at it.  

Listen, there’s a good chance if I go look at the horse you have for sale, we could end up chatting.  That’s fine.  Just don’t start off that way.  Keep that out of the advertisement.  

*Don't use emotional blackmail
“I’m only selling her if I find the right owner who will love her forever and take good care of her.” 

Well, I’d assume you aren’t planning on selling her to a horrible person who would starve and abuse her, so… statements like this are unnecessary.

“If nobody buys her right away she’ll go to the auction and you know what kind of people buy horses at auction so if you don’t want her to go for horse meat you better buy her this weekend.”

Screw you.  You’re mean.  

*Don’t tell me what I'm allowed to do with her after I buy her.   When you are the seller, and I'm the potential buyer, you can grill me and interrogate me as to what I plan to do with her.  You can ask for references to find out if I’m a good horse owner.  You can even come to my place and inspect my barn.  If you care about her, I will cooperate with you on all of these things.  I’ll even understand if you decide you don’t want me to be her next owner.  (And I think horse buyers would do well to have this mindset.)  HOWEVER.  When you know these things and have taken my money and she’s in my ownership, not yours anymore, you don’t get to say.  If I buy your hunter-jumper and turn her into a western trail horse, that's my choice.  I get it that you want the best for her, and I might welcome you over to see her a couple times.  But don’t you start criticizing what’s going on with her.  You had your chance.  

*Never, ever, tell me I have to be a Natural Horsemanship practitioner or follower, or adhere to any other system of horse training and handling.  I won’t buy a horse that can only be handled using one specific method that will require me to watch videos and attend courses and get certificates.  

*Do not tell me you are looking for a “forever home.”  This might surprise you, because you'd think this is a good request.  Obviously this shows you're a good person who wants the best for the horse.  But think about it... You can’t control my future.  None of us know what circumstances I’ll face.  I will do everything I can to give my animals a good life but not everything is in our control.  What if I break every bone in my body and have to sell all my horses?  Are you going to find out and launch a nasty public hate campaign against me because I said I'd keep that horse forever and I turned around and sold him, which makes me a horrible lying thief?  

(The only way you can do the “forever home” demand is if you are willing to take her back if I can’t keep her.  Otherwise, this is a selfish and annoying requirement.  It makes me think you’re being unrealistic.  If you can’t let go, don’t sell.  Part board her with someone.  Understand that when the horse isn’t yours, you don’t have a part in decision making.)

*Don’t lie to me.
If he cribs, I want to know.  If he bucks, I want to know.  I’ll ask about the situations it happens in and I expect you to tell me.  If he’s colicked, tell me.  I want to know these things.  Some are a deal breaker for me and others aren’t, but I won’t tell you which.  Be honest and tell me what I need to know so I can make up my mind about what I’m willing to work with and what I’m not.  

*Don’t be an idiot.
I don’t expect you to be a professional.  There’s nothing wrong with being a backyard horse owner just for the fun of it.  But please don’t be ignorant of some basic facts.  Don’t tell me your horse is half Persian.  Persian is a cat breed.  I think you might mean Percheron.  But I would rather not guess.  You don’t need to blind me with extensive horse knowledge... just don’t talk like you know what you’re talking about, when you obviously don’t, and then pompously insist that you’re right.  


I want to know what she looks like. I don't need professional photos, but they do need to be in focus and show the horse well.  

* clean her up
Seriously even if you don’t give her a bath and trim her fetlocks, it’s fine, just please brush her.  Clean the mud off.  I need to see what she actually looks like

* stand her straight.  
If she’s got all four legs going off in every direction I can’t tell what she really looks like.  Are her legs straight?  Is she capable of standing with all four legs under her?  

*position her so I can get a good look. 
I want a profile shot from both sides.  I want a head shot.  I might like to see her from the front and back as well.  


Anything.  Show me a picture of him tacked up.  

Show me a picture of him with a rider on his back...actually being ridden.  

Show him in different gaits.

Let’s see him at a show or on the trail.

Or, harnessed and being driven.

Or, being led around happily and safely by that little kid.

You can show me a picture of him running free in his field.  I just want to know that he can do more than that.


*professional portraits, of you dressed up in your non-horse-show clothes, with your perfectly clean horse.  Right now you're probably thinking, "What? But that's professional.  That looks good. What is wrong with that?"  Hey, maybe this would impress some people, and it's not enough to turn me off if I am interested in that horse. But I see that and I feel like you love this horse so much I have no business separating you from the love of your life.  I don't mean that sarcastically! My kid is a photographer so I know what goes into a photo shoot! I find myself feeling sad because obviously if you forked out the dough for such a beautiful picture, which was a personal thing and not meant to be promotion for your show career,  you must be heartbroken about selling him and that just puts a weird vibe on the whole thing for me.  

*your horse out in the field grazing.  It’s ok, it’s nice, but I assume he knows how to eat so that’s not necessary.

*your kid sitting on the horse bareback while the horse has her face in the grass as you hold the end of the lead rope which is about to get stepped on.  While I assume you intend to show me that this horse is totally okay with having a child on her back, and that she’s so cool with it that you don’t mind having the lead rope slack, I don’t like it.  I wonder if the horse is grazing because she’s a real stubborn pain and it was too hard to wrestle her into standing still with her head up, so you gave up and just let her eat.  And I also wonder if the kid sitting bareback was intentional or if you couldn’t be bothered to saddle up or if you even can saddle her up.  If you want a pic of a kid sitting there bareback at least try to make the horse look like she’s in on the project, and give me the impression that the kid is actively involved in the project rather than being a precariously perched prop.

*the rider looks like a total slob. Look, I get it that sometimes you just hop on for a ride and you’re not wearing special riding clothes. I don’t care if you even own special riding clothes. I spend the winter riding in my thermal coveralls!   I’ve gotten on a horse on a hot summer day wearing shorts.  It’s dumb but I’ve done it. You're not going to see pictures of it though.  When you're taking sale ad pictures of your horse, just look yourself over and have a good think.  If your clothes are crusted in manure I feel a little skeeved out.  Possibly not enough to stop me if it's a great horse you're selling.  But wash up a little.  Maybe wear the jacket that doesn't have the ripped parts flapping.  And make sure your clothes aren't distracting me from the horse.   I want to see the horse.  Not boobs or trucker butt.  Which leads me to...  

*the rider is dressed like I'm supposed to look at the rider instead of the horse. 
Look, I'm not a prude.   But when you’re wearing a skimpy top with your ladies barely contained, I wonder...Are you trying a little too hard to make me notice this ad??? I don't care if you're a totally hot young woman who looks awesome in a bikini, please don't include the pic of you trail riding while wearing a bikini top.  I'm going to look at you instead of the horse, because guess what, everybody is.  I once saw an ad with a fantastic horse, all the pictures were very helpful, but I'm not gonna lie...I totally noticed that the rider was a handsome young man with nice biceps under that tight T shirt.  And then the last picture?  Bareback. BOTH OF THEM.  He was shirtless.  I could never go look at that horse because I'd be like, ok, I'm married but I'm not dead, how can I get this dude to take off his shirt when he shows the horse.  What horse?  

*the rider is wearing running shoes
It’s enough to make me stop right there.  That’s right, if you’re riding your horse wearing running shoes I probably don’t want to buy your horse.  I’m way over the top with this peeve but hear me out: this is an issue of legitimacy.  I’m not expecting you to be a professional horse person.  But wear boots.  They’re practical and safe.  If you ride, you better wear boots.  How hard is that?  Most of the time you don’t even have to lace them up and tie them.  If you can slip on your sneakers you can slip on your boots.  So when I see you riding in sneakers, I think you’re not even a part timer. You’re not even trying. Besides it looks dumb.  

*stupid people stunts
Okay, I know what you’re trying to do. Look how bombproof this horse is!  I can stand on his back!!!!  Here’s the deal: I’m not going to do that.  I have no reason to.  I can’t think of one instance where I would need to stand on the saddle, no matter how much I trust my horse.  He might shift one leg and I’m going down, so I’ll just go get a stepladder. When I see the people stunts meant to demonstrate how rock solid this horse is all I see is gimmicks.  I’d like to think you’ve spent so much time with him that he’s up for anything and I figure that’s what you want me to think too, but why are you showing all this impractical stuff?

Everything changes if you show me he can tolerate these shenanigans but can also do something worthwhile.  That’s the difference.  If you have photographic evidence that he can walk, jog, lope, sidepass across a rail, maybe clear a low jump, run a games course, a trail course, ride down the side of the road, pack a little kid around, and THEN show how you can hang off his neck or stand on his back, slide off his rump, wrap him in a tarp, stand on a toolbox, whatever, that’s great!  

BUT.  If you give me six pictures of him standing there with pool noodles tied to his tail, a tarp over his head, you sitting on the ground between his front legs, you taking a nap on the ground under him, you jumping off his butt, and him wearing a hat, I’m not interested.  That’s cute, I guess, but can you ride him?  No? Can he pull a cart?  No?  But I can stand on his back?  Not interested.  

So, recap. Show pictures of the horse. Include pictures of the horse untacked, from different angles.  Set her up nicely so we can see her well.  Include pictures of her doing something useful. Don’t wear sneakers to ride.  (Make me happy please, and never do that.)  Don’t flash your boobs or your butt crack while in the saddle.  Show off the horse, not yourself.  Take pictures of a clean horse.  Think about what you’re presenting.  Give me the information I need to know.  Check your spelling.  Have a clue what you’re talking about. Read your ad and check it for mistakes.  If this animal is worth the price you’re asking, she’s worth the effort you’ll take to present her well.  

And of course, thank you in advance for allowing me to rant a little and potentially making my possible future horse shopping less painful and more enjoyable.  


mugwump said...

my favorite parts -
"Don’t tell me what I'm allowed to do with her after I buy her."
--At the same time, don't be mad at the seller if you bought a "not fitting in our program, good trail horse," and find the horse can't change leads, doesn't have a stop, etc.

"Never, ever, tell me I have to be a Natural Horsemanship
practitioner or follower, or adhere to any other system of horse training and handling." -- this only tells me how very green an owner you are, and how messed up the horse probably is.

*Do not tell me you are looking for a “forever home.”
-- What if I plan on fixing all the stupid training mistakes you made, teaching this horse some new things and placing him in a high quality home? The forever home deal didn't work out so well for you, now did it?
Great post.

Paul Tee said...

Hope this is a chapter in Hickchick's Guide to Horse Management and Diverse Riding Etiquette (how to be a complete rider/owner). It's too good to be anything else.

Don't tell me what I should think, tell me what you think. Too true.

jules said...

"What horse?" AHAHAHAHAHA. Love that entire paragraph. I'm not dead either but...

Paul Tee said...

Hello Heidi. I reread your blog, from a-z, and found it to be ingenious.

Now you know I'm not a horse person, so I tried to bring it into my area of experience. What if we weren't talking about a horse but say, a car? To my absolute amazement, your rant guide worked. Yes, by all means clean it up, let me see it, and don't hog the limelight, I want the car, not you...

Hey, what if I want you? It still works!!! Clean yourself up, let me see you (hopefully in focus), and don't burden me with sob stories...

So if any reader is looking for a partner, casual or committed, I highly recommend this blog. It's the perfect flowchart to help with a decision. Try it out, take the guide for a test driver, and see it work with getting a... dryer for instance (feel free to insert your wish-list).

But seriously Heidi, I really encourage you to compile a Compendium of Horse Facts and Rider Etiquette. You have the experience and wisdom to do it... and the WRITING SKILL!!!


Heidi the Hick said...

Paul that's great! (Maybe common sense works in any situation?)

As for my Compendium... It won't be ready on time for Christmas...

Heidi Willis said...

I'm not in the market for a horse, but I think this post is FANTASTIC!! I hope you get a ton of hits on it, because every person placing an ad should read it. It is both hilarious, helpful, and SO TRUE! You should really think about submitting this to a magazine somewhere. A horse magazine... I'm sure they're out there, right?

And also - just darn good advice for advertising anything at all.

And if Flower is a god at whatever I want her to do, I want her!! Then I can just ask her to produce a bare-chested hunk and *poof* there he'll be. You think she could make him clean bathrooms and rub my shoulders?

Heidi the Hick said...

Ha! Maybe Flower will god that bare-chested cowboy into existence!

Let's ask for a pool boy too. And a pool while we're at it.

(I do think I'm going to do something with this. I've got two weeks "off" so this is the time...)

Paul Tee said...

I thought you had gotten over the pool boy mania. What was his name? Pedro or Manuel?

Heidi the Hick said...


Heidi the Hick said...

Which come to think of it, would be a good horse name too. As in, "Benicio is a gorgeous 12 year old stud, probably Arabian but maybe a race horse, not broke but sires five colts a year and they're all perfect and he'd be the best horse you've ever had, if you can catch him. Asking $10,000".

All that and he still can't clean the house for you. Geez.