Finding the right home for the right horse
Lucy Morton the owner of Kasperrado Warmbloods, offers some expert tips on the delicate art of selling horses.
Breeding is a fickle business filled with enormous highs and devastating lows. However there is that moment when you can step back, take a deep breath and say ‘That was all worth it.’ And that moment generally comes when you’ve matched your beloved horse up with the perfect new owner.
There are a number of milestones in breeding: the first is achieving the pregnancy; second is managing to get a live, healthy foal on the ground (more of a challenge than you can imagine); the third is starting them under saddle (one of my personal favourites); and fourth is passing a vet check and sending your horse off to its new ‘forever’ home. However, if your fairy-tale ending is not quite panning out the way you had hoped, I’m happy to impart what knowledge I’ve gleaned from my 18 years of breeding horses as a Director/Owner of Australian Warmbloods Luda with David Prior, and as owner of Kasperrado Warmbloods, combined with my 25 years as a professional photographer – a handy skill to have when selling horses, although thankfully not a necessity!
Occasionally all the stars align and that perfect owner calls you up and says: “What have you got? Pick one for me.” That was the case with one lovely Kasperrado owner. I offered to show her three prospective horses, but her response was “No, just show me the one for me”. I presented her with a mare that I knew would be a perfect fit. She jumped on, walked 10 to15 paces and said: “Yes, I’ll take her,” and they lived happily ever after.
Another wonderful sale occurred by default when a certain not-to-be-named vet failed a spectacular gelding on the basis of some rather questionable ‘Reiki’ concerns. The anxious buyer could allegedly feel heat in the hind quarters whilst hovering her hand two inches above the rump. Needless to say, the sale fell through. But five minutes after the ‘unsuitable’ verdict was passed, a friend drove up the driveway and asked how the gelding had gone. When I told her that he had failed the vet check, her response, without missing a beat was: “I’ll buy him! What rubbish, there’s nothing wrong with that horse.”
That sale did go thorough, and they too lived happily ever after.
The sales process
So, you have grappled with the pros and cons of keeping your beloved horse and you have finally made the decision to sell, sell, sell. Naturally, your next step is to advertise. There are a series of steps that can be followed to maximise the impact of your advertisement, giving you and your horse the best possible opportunity for a time efficient sale to a wonderful home. First impressions count! When advertising your horse you need to put his or her very best foot forward.
It’s all in the timing
In my opinion nature’s spring makeover cannot be beaten. When spring has sprung, gone are the woolly mammoths with dull coats and in their place are shiny, healthy horses. Timing plays a big part in selling and your time is right now! In the depths of winter the majority of riders, including myself, tend to opt for the fireplace rather than their horse’s back. So you’ll find that buyers tend to come out of hibernation as spring blossoms bloom.
It is important to put as much time as you can into preparing your horse so that they look good for sale. Give them an unbiased once over. Consider their virtues and faults – be honest and be critical. Now think about what you can do to improve their overall appearance: groom them; either feed up or diet down to trim off any extra winter weight; pull and plait the mane; call out the farrier; invest in a good quality bridle or halter (or make sure your current tack is spotless); and finally, apply white leg bandages for that thousand dollar facelift!
A picture’s worth a thousand words
Once your makeover is complete it’s time to get the glamour shots. It’s best to have two helpers – one person to hold the horse, and the other to distract them.
There are a number of objects you can have nearby that are designed to get the horse’s attention: an old drink bottle half filled with stones to gently rattle, an umbrella, stick or whip for waving, and, of course, that sure-fire winner – a feed bucket. It’s very important not to show the horse any of the objects until they’re in position and you are ready to capture the shot. This way you have the element of surprise on your side. Once they habituate to the objects they will cease to react.
Stand the horse so that the sun is directly on the camera’s side with the shadow falling behind, and choose an uncluttered background – one that contrasts with the horse so they can be clearly seen. Now here comes the tricky part: manoeuvre the horse to stand so that they are almost square, yet all four legs are still visible. The foreleg should ideally be vertical rather than leaning either forward or back.
The handler should be well presented in jodhpurs and riding boots. It helps if you have taught your horse to ‘park’, so that the handler can be out of the picture. However, they should be close enough so that if the horse makes a move forward they can tap the leg gently with the crop to keep them parked.
Tricks of the trade
When you’re preparing to grab that money shot, stand as far back as you can and use a zoom or a long lens. This will compact the horse and show them at their best. Avoid using a wide angle lens or photographing from close proximity. It will distort the horse making the head seem too large and the rump too small, which is far from ideal. For a better result, line yourself up so that you’re slightly closer to the horse’s shoulder than you are the mid-way point of their body. And keep in mind that you want the horse to be full frame rather than lost amid a vast background.
When you have your horse in the right position your ‘distractor’ should stand a few meters away from you in the general direction of the horse’s head. The idea here is that when your horse looks at those ‘mystery’ objects, they’ll present a three-quarter view of their face to the camera. Ideally, you want the horse to arch forward and stretch out his neck to inspect the object – but it’s a fine balance between the perfect moment and the horse leaning forward too much, or in most cases, stepping forward. If the horse tries to walk forward to inspect the object, the handler can do small jumps on the spot to surprise the horse and stop the forward movement, or they can lean forward and gently tap them back. Of course, all of these movements should be small and quiet. Their safety and yours is always the first priority. The biggest key to success is to shoot as many frames as possible at the moment when it looks like it’s all coming together. Invariably there will be one sensational shot in amongst the awkward moments.
Once you have ‘that’ shot, photograph your horse standing square on from the front, behind and both sides to show conformation. Buyers often request these images before they are prepared to make the trek out to visit the horse.
The pros and cons of video
It is much better that the potential purchaser comes out to see your horse, but there are some buyers who are prepared to buy sight unseen and they will invariably request a video. If that’s the case, ensure your video includes all three gaits – either ridden or in hand. However, videos can put some buyers off. Many of my clients have remarked on how much better the horses are in real life, so I am in two minds as to whether or not videos are a good idea. However, if you do decide to make a video, don’t miss the opportunity to also capture some stills of your horse’s walk, trot and canter. When photographing a moving horse, use a fast shutter speed and keep your finger on that trigger! It’s much easier to capture the perfect moment when you shoot in continuous bursts.
But where to advertise?
There are many wonderful magazines that provide both digital and print advertising options. Facebook also has groups that reach prospective local and international buyers. Auctions are popular in Europe and are becoming more so here in Australia – Auction of the Stars is one such example.
And finally, be prepared to have many wonderful conversations with prospective buyers about your horse. They may share a critique of their current horse as well!
There’s many an evening that I’ve spent happily talking horses into the wee small hours. One thing’s for sure, we are all united in our love for the horse.
In addition to breeding fabulous warmbloods, Lucy Morton is a professional photographer.
Contact her through her Instagram account – lucymortonphotographer –
Australian Warmbloods Luda in conjunction with Highfield Equestrian.