Monday, March 11, 2013

Too Good To Be True?

Years ago I used to be very on top of what was going on in the Arabian horse market.  I could view up and coming colts and make accurate predictions about the next great bloodline to flood the Arabian horse market, but as life got me in its vice grips, I let my subscription to Arabian Horse World lapse and stopped searching horse sale websites for fun.  Recently I got back into the addiction of perusing ads for horses for sale, practicing using my eye for detail and knowledge of horse conformation and horse behavior when viewing what's out there.

If I just view horses for sale in my area, it gives me a better understanding of what local people like to do with their horses.  The vast majority seem to want to ride Paint horses on the trails.  Then next biggest use seems to be reining, cutting, roping, and barrel racing.  Where I come from, it was all about showing at halter, western pleasure, hunter, or English.  Most horses were limited to the experience of being ridden in arenas with an audience.  That was mainly because arenas were the only safe place for people to ride since my county wasn't good about reserving trails for horseback riders and hikers only.

While viewing what is on the market, I look for patterns, such as if some breeds went up for sale more often than others due to vices or needing "an advanced rider".  That doesn't necessarily mean there is a problem with the breed, but possibly with too many beginners buying the breed and not knowing how to train them.  I'd find these ads in which a horse was represented as being proficient and finished in all areas of ranch work and trail riding, a super easy push button horse with no spooks that is willing to carry you anywhere.  And at the very end of the ad they say, "Needs an advanced rider."

Huh?  I have to wonder if they say that because they don't want a beginning rider to ruin the horse, or if there's something more they aren't telling us, like the horse only is as great as they say under the control of an advanced rider.

Equally confusing is a statement I've seen several times:  "Easy enough for a beginner and challenging enough for an advanced rider."

In what ways?

There is a particular website I've visited often through the years in which horses of a certain breed are trained specifically for trail riding and sold.  It's a family owned business.  They post videos of two women riding these horses across busy streets, passing trash trucks dumping garbage, being chased by ATVs and bicycles, etc. to prove to the buyers that the horse is comfortable with everything and perfectly safe.  I was really impressed when I first found the site, but then realized it was too good to be true when the turnover of horses was so fast.  Every month they had a whole new set of horses for sale, most of them were 5 to 7 years in age, and all of them sported beautiful colors.  I was under the impression that the horses had been born, raised and trained there for 5 to 7 years, but with the way those horses were selling like hotcakes, I didn't think it was possible for those two women to be working with potentially hundreds of horses regularly over that time span of 5 to 7 years.

As I watched the videos closer, I came to the realization that those horses were not at all comfortable and confident.  They were nervous wrecks being tightly controlled by a fearless rider.  I could see very slight spooks, like an explosion of muscle, and the rider immediately brings the horse back to its task.

I searched the Internet for reviews of people's experiences with these horse sellers and was shocked by what I read.  My gut instinct was right on.  People claimed that the sellers look for horses of that specific breed with nice coloring, buy them cheap, put a few months of training into them, and call them bombproof.  If you read the description of every horse on the site, you realize that the same thing is said about every horse, just in a different order, almost like a computer program spews out the sentences and pastes the horse's name in front with a toggle for him vs. her.

They groom and shine the horses up really nice for their photos and videos.  Someone across the country buys the horse, has it shipped to them, and what gets off the trailer isn't anything like what they saw on the Internet.  The horse is usually thin and gaunt, which the sellers blame on the shipping experience, which is probably true to some extent.  But some customers claimed to have spent months trying to revive the horse back to what they saw on the Internet and could never get the horse past looking like a neglected animal.  Some even questioned if it was the same horse.

Some customers complained of the bait and switch technique being used.  They saw a horse they loved, but the sellers said that horse wasn't suitable for their needs, but they had some other horse that would be perfect for them.  The horse they get isn't even close to what they needed.  People complained that they had to hire trainers because they couldn't get the horse off their property, or it bucked, reared and bolted all the way home from a trail ride despite the sellers representing the horse as being a proficient, reliable trail horse.

When people wanted to return the horse and get their money back, the sellers said that all sales were final.  Customers who got lame horses were told that all sales are final and they should have considered getting a vet check done before buying and after shipping.  Some buyers accused the sellers of drugging the horse for the video, because they can't get the horse to settle down enough to even accept a saddle.

One person reported that the sellers kept switching the price on her.  They told her she would have to pay one amount to reserve the horse for ten days, and then they billed her for a larger amount.  They also gave her one amount for the shipping, and billed her for more later.  They even raised the price on the horse itself. At the point she knew these were not honest mistakes, and she told them not to ship the horse and just give her the money back.  They refused.  No refunds under any circumstances.

The sellers bragged that they had an AAA accreditation rating, but one person who filed a complaint discovered that the outfit actually had an F rating and had its business license pulled years ago.  That's really scary that these people can just keep doing what they do all these years with all these complaints and no one is stopping them.

To make matters worse, I ran across a second website and business name that had the exact same horses for sale.  I guess the owners of the company couldn't get past all the complaints about them on the Internet, so they decided to just fix it by changing the company name and starting a new website.

While perusing horse sale websites, I was struck by this gorgeous Quarter Horse who, by the description, was perfect in every way.  I could clearly see that the horse was not only beautiful, but had awesome conformation for the breed and really nice feet.  The price was ridiculously low and it was being sold by someone local to my area.  I thought, "If that horse is everything he says it is, someone could buy it and turn around and sell it for five times that amount he is asking."

I clicked the link to see what else this seller had available, and was blown away by yet another amazing specimen at a cheap price.  He provided a link to his business website.  The man was in the business of buying, training and selling ranch and trail horses.  The two awesome Quarter Horses I just saw on the other site were not anywhere to be found on his business website.  All the horses on his business website were grade horses that he was trying to pass off as purebreds, they looked skinny and had very little training.

I knew the two awesome QHs were too good to be true and most likely just pictures taken off the Internet, given some fake name with fake statistics and a fake description, used as bait.  Then when a buyer calls about those QHs, the seller says, "Oh, sorry, I just sold him, but I've got other horses that might suit you..."

The website had a map to the seller's place, and my husband and I were on out way out to run errands, so we swung by the place.  The property was set up in such a way that you can't see the horse facility from the street, so I have no idea if those two awesome QHs existed or not.  But when I got home, the seller had removed one of the ads for them.  This is a website where you are supposed to just mark the horse as being sold, so I thought it was suspicious that he removed the ad all together.  Perhaps he saw a spike in the number of views for that horse and knew something was up.  He still has the other horse showing as available, even though it is not listed on his business website.  Maybe people were finding it too hard to believe that he just sold two horses that quick and hasn't had time to mark them as sold yet, so he decided to make it more believable by just baiting one trap instead of two.

This is all just my speculation, which is why I'm not offering specifics, so if someone leaves a comment asking, "Was it so-and-so?  I know him.  He's a crook...", rest assured that your comment will not be published.  Unless someone is convicted of a crime, there's no point in spreading rumors about anyone in particular, but it is good to know what kinds of tricks horse sellers use so that you don't fall victim to them the next time you are out looking to buy.

A good rule of thumb when buying a horse is to have a list of questions ready, visit the horse in person and ask the seller not to have it saddled up until you arrive.  Watch to see if the seller can catch the horse, watch to see if the horse is cinchy, watch the seller ride the horse.  If all seems safe, don a helmet and ride the horse yourself.  Then come back another day and do it all over again.  Bring something along that normally would spook a horse and see its reaction.  Get a vet check and make sure that the vet inspects the movement, teeth and hooves really well.  Bring your own saddle, if you have one, and see if it fits the horse.  If you plan on using the horse for a specific use, test it out for that use.  Ride it on a trail, arrange to cut or rope some cows on it, or jump some jumps.

The price of the horse is always the lowest amount you will pay.  It's the long term care that gets expensive, buying hay, trimming hooves, getting vaccinations, buying tack, building a barn, buying a horse trailer, mending after accidents...  You don't want to buy a horse that was drugged when you test rode it or drugged in the video you viewed from across country when you bought it over the Internet and had it shipped to you, only to find out that you can't control it or that it is lame and you can't ride it or sell it.  Horses can become a problem in a hurry if you don't do your homework.  Take your time and don't worry about it when the seller says, "I've got two other people looking at this horse, so you need to make up your mind quick."

Usually, those two other people don't exist, and even if they do, who cares?  If they buy the horse before you, then it wasn't meant to be.  Keep searching for the right one.


IanH said...

Really good advice! I have been burned on one horse with bad feet (did not know what to look for as a beginner). Wished i had seen this 9 years ago!

Cindy D. said...

Some pretty sound advice.

Katharine Swan said...

Sellers like the ones you describe (the one that has the F rating and plenty of complaints online) are often being featured on websites like Fugly Horse of the Day. They stay in business simply because so many buyers are ignorant. I think I would add to your horse buyer's guide that you should never buy a horse sight unseen, no matter what the owner says about it! If you can't afford the plane tickets to go see it or the vet's fee for him to look at it, you should be buying more locally.

Cut-N-Jump said...

I know of at least one place here in the valley with this sort of reputation. Their name is one thing, their horses are anything but...

I have had better luck going through a network of friends in the horse business. Bought one sight unseen and never had any regrets, another off a bust pic, one off of watching one lesson and another because I knew the breeder/owner.

Bottom line for anyone shopping- ALWAYS trust your gut! Don't let your emotions get in the way and don't be afraid to walk away.

lytha said...

omgosh this is the story of my life for the past 2 years! i've found dealers like you described - they always have about 10 arabs for sale, all directly imported from poland, they put teenage girls on them to get them out on the trails a bit and then they make their profit. these are the people who lied to me about having "10 prospects in my price range" when they only had 2, and one wasn't ready for a stranger to ride it yet. the ads for their horses are always the same, the photos always taken in the same spot so i know it's one of theirs right away.

"needs advanced rider" - i see this so often - it sounds great but needs an advanced rider. i think this is due to the fact that i'm only looking at arabians, and yah, most arabs do need some skills.

when you say the lowest amount you pay is the price (compared to the upkeep) well, that does not apply where i live. in germany arabians are EXPENSIVE. like, i haven't found one yet i could afford without taking out a loan. (and when i finally find a horse, at these prices, i will be buying health/accident insurance right away.)

some of the funny things that lots, and lots of ads here say:

"The horse is accustomed to both a stall and the outdoors." ok...really - this is a selling point - that your horse knows how to both be in a stall and outside?

"Beautiful forelock." Since I'm looking at Arabs, you wouldn't believe how many ppl try to market their horses' HAIR. like all buyers are 10 year old girls.

thanks for the great post that hits home for me right now. i reallkyl should blog about my horse search (lately it's been intersting) but i just can't bring myself to do it yet. soon.

Nuzzling Muzzles said...

lytha - I feel for you. A big selling point in almost every ad around here is that the horse is "sweet" or a "pocket pony", which probably means you'd have to spend a lot of time teaching the horse to stay out of your space. Also, when talking about a horse that is older than three, it better clip, tie, stand for the farrier, and all those basic things, yet so many people think that's a huge selling point.

Laughing Orca Ranch said...

My Apache mare is one of those: "Easy enough for a beginner and challenging enough for an advanced rider."

I don't know how I got so lucky. My mare is the type of horse that can sense a person’s balance and riding abilities. She will only go as fast as she thinks a person is able to stay balanced and safe. No amount of kicking, coaxing or prodding will get her out of the pace she is sure is right for that person.
And if she feels her rider lose their balance, she just stops.

But Apache is great for a more advanced rider because she also senses when a more experienced rider gets on her back and she will offer up more gears and more buttons to play with.
She is literally a horse that 'grows with you' and is perfect for a family, too. I can put my kids on her and know she will take care of them, but I can also ask her to canter or gallop through a sandy arroyo or carry me over narrow, steep mountain trails, and I know she will do it willingly, while taking care of me, too.
Apache has taught me a lot about riding and horses, that's for sure.

I used to think paying more money for a registered horse and trusting a seller was the way to go.
But I learned a painful lesson when I paid $3,500 for Baby Doll. She was registered, well-bred and was supposed to "beginner-safe" and a previous lesson horse (come to find out she was...but for BARRELS!).
I trusted the seller, and even took lessons twice a week riding Baby Doll at her place for 2 months. But she never took me out of the arena and when I asked if I could test Baby Doll out on the trails, the seller/trainer said she didn't have access to any. (And now I know better. That lady only lives 7 miles from my house, and we have tons of trails to ride around here!)

I lost a ton of money when I sold Baby Doll after I healed up from my two hospital emergency visits and the surgery and rehab. And then I posted on Craigslist looking for a beginner-safe, kid/husband-friendly, non-spooky, trail horse (Ironically, similar to the way I posted for Baby Doll. lol!)

And Apache's seller contacted me (also similar to how I found Baby Doll)
But I only spent $900 for Apache and I made sure to get a trial period with her so I could ride her on the trails before making a decision.

To me, Apache is worth her weight in gold. Truly...Apache should have been the $3,500 horse, because she would have been worth every penny and then some.


achieve1dream said...

Great post! I hadn't heard of a lot of those tricks so it was educational for me. :) Thanks for taking the time to write it!