So, you’re going to sell? Selling your horse is often an emotional decision, but there’s more to it than that. REBECCA NADGE asked Lizzie Wilson-Fellows for her expert advice.
Regardless of your reason for deciding to sell, there are many things to bear in mind when finding a new home for your horse. According to FEI dressage competitor Lizzie Wilson-Fellows, who sells horses on behalf of her clients, it’s crucial to be upfront and honest. This includes disclosing behavioural issues or injuries, but also being a stickler for accuracy. “Everybody realises that the horse is not a prototype – it’s not like a motorbike where everything has to be perfect,” she explains. “I think the most important thing is that you give an honest appraisal. If you’re going to say it’s 15.2hh, have it measured. It’s just attention to detail and making sure the facts are correct.”
Lizzie notes that anyone selling horses under an Australian Business Number is governed by consumer law, and therefore the old adage ‘buyer beware’ isn’t necessarily the case. Professionals can be held liable if the horse is misrepresented and the new buyer later discovers information not disclosed at the time of sale. “You have to ensure that the product you are selling is the product they are getting,” she stresses. “That’s something a lot of people don’t seem to be aware of. You get people coming into this sport, they have a little bit of success, and suddenly they’re selling horses – but they have no sales contract and they don’t realise they’re liable.”
All horses coming to Lizzie to be sold are x-rayed at the owner’s expense. “It’s not a vet check – it’s a pre x-ray, which means you get a report telling you what’s there and what’s not.” The report is sent to potential buyers, who may then ask their vet to view it. “Nobody wants to sell horses that are unsound,” Lizzie adds. “Unfortunately things happen after people buy them, but there’re not many owners who want to knowingly offload a horse that’s unsound, unless they’re really disreputable.”
Each horse is also subject to a two-week trial period on her property before Lizzie will agree to sell them. During this time she gauges sale-ability, and also tests how well they load, if they behave after a weekend off, and whether their behaviour changes if they’re taken away from the property. “That’s totally to protect my reputation and it’s compulsory for every horse that comes in,” she tells me. “If owners don’t want that, then I don’t take their horse. Ninety per cent of people aren’t totally objective because it’s their little darling and can do no wrong. So the two weeks are for me to get a really good gauge of the horse’s character, their eating habits, and also their soundness.”
The current market plays a large part in dictating the sale price and Lizzie has a rough scale that takes this into account. The horse’s individuality is another factor. “If they’re feisty, they’re going to suit less of our market,” she explains. On the other hand, sometimes they’re too quiet for some riders. So a horse’s price can vary depending on their personality, as well as on the owner and what they want to achieve from the sale. For many owners, the main objective is for the horse to be well looked after, and be able to continue their competition career. If Lizzie can find the right person, the owner is often happy to negotiate the price. “Some people might say ‘that was a bargain’ but the owner is quite happy because they know the horse has gone to an amazing home, that the person who bought it can really ride, and that there’s not going to be any comeback because they’ve disclosed everything.”
When it comes to advertising, Lizzie has photos taken at home with a good quality camera and aims for an accurate portrayal of the horse. Videos are kept short and show walk, trot and canter and a flying change if the horse is working at a higher level. Competition results are useful but the horse’s temperament is most important in finding them a home. “Everybody wants something they can enjoy,” she says. “Seventy per cent of your market are amateurs. They want to be safe and have fun and that’s a big part of it.”
Lizzie always encourages potential buyers to come and try the horse. Even if that horse doesn’t suit them, it can give Lizzie an idea of how they ride and what they may be looking for. “Quite a lot of my horses are sold just through contacts. A horse comes in and I think, I know exactly who should buy this,” she tells me. “Your reputation can get you a lot of sales. The last five horses I’ve sold is from me ringing people that I know they will suit.”
People buying sight unseen became a big part of Lizzie’s business during COVID, which required her to be even more thorough in ensuring buyers really knew what they were purchasing. She also offered buyers the option of sending the horse back (at their expense) to be resold on their behalf if the sale did not work out, which seemed to make people more comfortable. “I didn’t have any come back so I must be doing something right!” she laughs.
Lizzie stresses the importance of doing your homework when it comes to finding a buyer. “You need to make sure they’ve got a good support network, especially when they’re buying a young horse,” she explains. “Quite often you’ll see it go wrong and it’s not really the horse’s fault or the rider’s fault. It’s just that they haven’t had the correct help.” In the past Lizzie has pulled horses from the market when she has had concerns over a potential buyer. “A couple of times I have actually had to be quite strong,” she recalls. “Sometimes the more you say it’s not the horse for them, the more they want to buy it.”
The time of year does have an impact on horse sales. Poor weather makes it harder to sell, as no one wants to buy a new horse that they then can’t ride. Sales have also slowed due to increased interest rates. And it can also be unpredictable, around Christmas time for example, when sales might be slow or really good. But in Lizzie’s opinion, the best time to sell is immediately before or after a major competition such as Dressage with the Stars.
When a buyer has decided to purchase a horse subject to a clean vet check, Lizzie takes a ten percent deposit which is only refunded if it is determined that the horse is not fit for purpose. “It’s a holding deposit and you need to make that very clear,” she says. “Usually I don’t have a problem because we know what the horse’s physical situation is.”
She urges anyone selling horses to be ethical in their dealings. “You get to hear all the horror stories and it’s quite sad when it’s professionals doing the wrong thing, because they give the industry a bad name. Every horse will have a person out there for them – and you shouldn’t push a horse on to the wrong people.”
Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call Lizzie on 0414 606 65 for more information.