View Full Version : How to tactfully ask a potential buyer questions

Jan. 13, 2010, 01:30 PM
So I am new-ish to selling horses (I've sold some before, but it has always been to someone I already knew who bought my horse), and I don't know if this is not done, or what is happening here.

So right now, I have 3-4 OTTBs that I have been retraining, all very nice, and of varying levels of greenness (is that even a word?). They are all over 16H, and 2 of them are almost at 17H. Because of the large size, I have had a few very large people (200+lbs) come to try them out, which I am not against, but had I known in advance, I would have told them they were not going to fit the 16H TB they want to come see very well (If I could find some way to do this tactfully, that is... is there a way?).

On top of that, I have also had some people tell me in their emails that they are "experienced" riders, and I stress to them that these are OTTBs and they are green, and therefore I require an experienced rider, or someone with a good trainer. They come out and one of them didn't tell me she was actually shopping for her 12 year old daughter who just started lessons, another got there and didn't even know how to pick out the horses feet, and the last one rode when she was younger (failed to mention that was 30 years ago) and was looking for something for her 7 year old grandson to pony ride.

Needless to say, I've been having some bad experiences trying to sell my guys. SO, my trainer told me I need to start asking detailed questions in my emails before people make the drive to come see them, that way I know what to expect, and I am able to let a potential buyer know if this horse is not the right one for them before they waste their time.

I tried this in 2 different emails now, and it actually seems to be making people irritated, and driving them away. I let people ask questions about the horse, and then if they say they would like to come see him, I just ask what their current experience is, what type of horse they are looking for, and what size horse would be ideal for them. My trainer told me to ask their size, but I'm too much of a chicken! I have found that they get defensive, and then end up not coming out.

Am I doing something wrong? Are buyers not allowed to ask questions too? Do I just suck it up and let anyone who emails me drive to my barn and hop on my horses without any knowledge of their experience? What do you recommend as a tactful way to ask questions in an email to the potential buyer?

I've bought horses before, and if I put myself in the potential buyers perspective, I would have no problems answering a sellers questions. Maybe these people are just tire-kicking anyway, so when you try to ask questions it just bothers them?

Thoughts? Sorry that was long. I'm terrible with explaining myself.

The Centaurian
Jan. 13, 2010, 01:42 PM
It sounds like you are just keeping the crazies/tire-kickers at bay :)

Jazzy Lady
Jan. 13, 2010, 01:43 PM
Well, for starters since you have 4 horses and all are different, you can tell them you are asking questions so you can match them up with the horses that you think would best suite their style and experience so you aren't wasting their time if they chose to see the horse. Maybe that would soften them up.

I think it is quite acceptable to ask some questions to perspective buyers because it is a liability if a 7 year old child comes and jumps on an OTTB that may be green as grass. They need to understand that. If they get upset, then their loss. They probably aren't that serious anyhow.

Jan. 13, 2010, 01:46 PM
The real buyers don't mind being asked questions. It's the crazies that get annoyed. ;)

Jan. 13, 2010, 01:51 PM
I think your questions are doing exactly what you wanted them to: saving both buyer and seller from wasting time when it is clearly not going to be a match. If your questions are letting the buyers self-access that this isn't the right horse for them, then it's actually easier than for you to have to say "no, I won't sell him to this home."

Jan. 13, 2010, 01:57 PM
Talk to all buyers over the phone before they come out. Start a conversation and say you're interested in making sure that every horse finds the right match. Ask who the horse is for, the rider's level of experience, size / temperment requirements, etc. I don't think any of that is rude at all.

As for rider height/weight, if they are interested in one of the smaller horses, I would just say "This horse really requires an experienced rider, someone who [insert criteria]. Also, due to Dobbin's size, he really isn't suitable for anyone over X height or X weight, will any of that be an issue?" I think that's about as polite as you can be about it. Be realistic about size requirements, though. I don't see any reason why a healthy 16h horse can't carry a 200 pound person, providing the person actually rides well. If the horse is particularly small-framed, you might add that as well and say "He's really a better fit for a smaller person, under X height and Y weight. He is 16h, but a lighter build and a taller or stockier person may not feel as comfortable on him."

Jan. 13, 2010, 01:58 PM
The real buyers don't mind being asked questions. It's the crazies that get annoyed. ;)

I agree with this. :yes:

When I'm horse shopping, I always tell the sellers about myself and exactly what I'm looking for. If it's possible, want to know ahead of time if we're not going to be a good match.

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:00 PM
It is a delicate thing. I am just about to start shopping for a second horse and starting to put feelers out. I am a larger rider (unfortunately, not due to height) and I'm never quite sure how to ask if the horse would be suitable for a larger person. I know it seems like a straightforward thing to ask, but on the one hand there is so much anxiety about fat people, that some people will be motivated to say "no!" no matter what, and on the other hand there are the horsetraders who will say "yes!" no matter what.

Maybe your ad could say "Refined build, better suited to riders under 200lbs"?

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:06 PM
I always ask questions of potential buyers, but I have learned from experience that most have, ahem, a slightly higher opinion of their own riding skills than they actually possess.

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:10 PM
Maybe your ad could say "Refined build, better suited to riders under 200lbs"?

I think this is also a good idea, since 16h can be different depending on the build. My WBx, for example, is 16h, but stocky and takes up tons of leg. He can easily carry well over 200 pounds. Some are much more refined and "delicate" and not suited to carrying as much weight.

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:20 PM
Isn't selling horses fun:D I also sell ottb's typically within their first 6 months of retraining and although most of them have a bunch of mileage by the time they are advertised they are still green horses.

I always respond to the initial emails with pics/video of the horses and a bit more detailed description although my ads are always quite detailed. If the person emails back that they are interested then I ask them to call me. Normally, one of my first questions to a buyer is to ask what they are looking for. Most people tend to be pretty honest about what they are looking for so I can figure out whether my horse fits or doesn't fit the description. If they don't then I politely say I don't think this horse is what you are looking for.

Many times I take down their info in case I have something else come along that might fit but I don't like to waste my time or the buyers time if I can already tell the horse won't suit.

If the horse sounds like it might fit then I will ask them some more detailed questions- discipline, trainer, riding experience, experience with green horses and that sort of thing.

I have never run into anybody that gets offended instead people are always really thankful that I say I don't think the horse will be a match based on what they describe to me.

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:22 PM
I do "prescreen" buyers as I jsut don't have time for tire kickers or people that are totally unsuited to the horse. Typically I ask them to describe what they are lookign for. You can usually tell by the response if they know what they are taking about! I also ask if they ahve a trainer, and perhaps they would like for their trainer to call and discuss the horse with me etc. I try and make it a dialog so I can determine if it is a match. If they don't respond or seemed put of by the questions, then I probably don't want to deal with them anyways! Most of the time I sell the horse to the first or second person that looks using this approach

Jan. 13, 2010, 02:22 PM
Thanks so much for the advice everyone!

When I was horse shopping, I made a general paragraph that I would paste and email to any horse I was interested in. It just asked about the horses health, habits, experience, and attitude, and then I gave a brief description of my experience, the type of horse I wanted, my goals, and my size. It really helped to pinpoint the picture perfect horse for me, and I still have him! Now that I am on the other end of things, I really wish more people did this!

That's a good idea about the size issue. Two of them can easily handle a larger person as they are built thick, and are not bothered by weight. The other one is 16.2, but he is built very refined and leggy and would look ridiculous with a larger person, and the last horse is 16.1H but gets short strided and noticeably more uncomfortable with larger people.

Would it really be a turn off if in my add at the bottom, I included something like: "I have several TBs for sale, so please feel free to send me an email with a brief description of your size, goals, and experience, and I may be able to direct you towards the best match."

Jan. 13, 2010, 03:02 PM
I think you can and should ask questions of potential buyers in order to increase the odds of making the right match, and agree that if you need particular information from a potential buyer before you will consider showing the horse, you might as well request the information in the ad.

I'd make a few suggestions, though:

1. After you've exchanged the preliminaries, have a conversation with the potential buyer. It is easier to be diplomatic, if necessary, and to get a sense of the potential buyer's experience in a conversation than it is in an email, and the personal touch is often a good move from a marketing standpoint.

2. While there certainly isn't anything wrong with asking a potential buyer to provide information about themselves, you need to remember that this is, generally speaking, a buyers' market. If you are serious about making a sale, you need to avoid making it difficult for someone to do business with you.

3. Today's tire kickers are often tomorrow's buyers, and tire kickers often have friends who are today's serious buyers. So, take a deep breath, have patience and get a liability waiver signed each and every time a potential buyer comes to try one of your horses.

4. You need to avoid making subjective judgments that don't necessarily impact suitability. Whether or not (borrowing from your post here) a buyer "looks ridiculous" on a sale horse is entirely irrelevant. The relevant question is whether or not the sale horse can carry the heavier rider without injury or discomfort. If yes, then it is up to a potential buyer to decide if they look good on the horse. If no, then it is up to you as the seller to let the potential buyer know that the horse isn't suitable, in as diplomatic a way as possible.

Jan. 15, 2010, 04:09 PM
Just need to weigh in (no pun intended) as a larger rider who just bought a horse. I totally hear you about how every horse and every rider is different in how they carry weight. Some "stocky" horses are just plain overweight or unbalanced themselves, and don't work well with heavier riders. Some lighter horses work fine with additional weight, especially with a balanced rider.

However, every single call I made to check out potential horses started off with describing what I was looking for (a lower-level eventer) and asking whether my experience and size (230 lbs. at that time, now down to 210 and working hard to get down to 175 before getting back on the cross-country field!) would be suitable for the horse.

I agree that the more you can put in the ad ("suitable for riders under xx lbs"), the better you can pre-screen -- but it's also totally acceptable for you to ask, "What's your experience and how much do you weigh?" If that flusters your potential buyer, they're not the right buyer.

Jan. 15, 2010, 04:27 PM
I agree that it shouldn't offend anyone if you mention a weight cutoff in your ad. Having a phone conversation also makes it easier to discern if someone will be a good fit for your horses.

As a buyer I am more impressed by sellers who tell me a horse won't be a good match for me after speaking with me than the sellers who let me believe a horse will work for me and I drive/fly to see it only to discover it's not at all what I need. I am more likely to call a seller again after they've told me a certain horse isn't a good match because then I know that seller is looking after the horse's best interests and is probably more honest. Good luck!

Jan. 15, 2010, 04:30 PM
On the weight thing...I just bought a horse...and currently weigh more than I would like. Horse is a refined 16.2h TB...I am 5'7" and around 175 right now. Previous owner of TB was about 5'2" and maybe 110? Horse was a little sore in his back during PPE.

Turns out I fit him just fine...don't look silly on him at all and he's hasn't shown any signs of being sore in his back since I bought him. Chiro thinks he's lovely. While I would like to lose those pesky 25lbs...the horse isn't suffering.

That said, I wouldn't object to someone putting in their ad 'refined build, suitable for petite riders only' or some such. I personally think that's better than putting some type of arbitrary weight limit. Most sound 16h horses have no problem with 200lbs which is around what many fit men weigh.

Jan. 15, 2010, 04:50 PM
The weight thing is tricky, as mentioned, because a good 200lb rider is going to be much better than 150 lb riders who flops around. I have a sensitive TB who would go nuts if someone didn't have a decent seat or had grippy hands, banged him in the mouth, etc.

I feel your pain. I'm getting ready to sell a horse and I'm totally dreading it. The last OTTB I sold through the my then trainer, because I was attached and it was easier for me not to be there. I regret that now. I find out after the fact that the "experienced eventer" (??) who knew all the right stuff to say on the phone couldn't even ride the horse without constant instruction and they had to put draw reins on him because he went so hollow on her (I didn't ride him in draw reins). She was long gone (several states away) by the time I heard about it.

Or there was the guy who came to try a paint I had for sale and jumped on and went "yah" and sprinted away! OMG. He was freaking out because the horse wouldn't stop easy for him and his dad pointed out that he needed to PICK UP THE REINS. He was looking for a second horse as his dad's old (OLD) ranch horse didn't have anough zip for his roping career goals. Luckily that horse ended up with the neatest gal in the world, who I still hear from.

When you are the seller it seems like everybody lies about how good they are!

Jan. 15, 2010, 06:07 PM
I always ask questions of potential buyers, but I have learned from experience that most have, ahem, a slightly higher opinion of their own riding skills than they actually possess.

When I was doing a lot of buying and selling several years ago, I also found this to be the case. The more horses I bought & sold, the better I got at asking questions to weed out unsuitable buyers for that specific horse (not saying unsuitable = bad, just... not suited for that horse, for whatever reason). At first I'd pretty much let every Tom Dick and Harry come try out my horse, but after I realized the hours and hours of my time it was sucking up, I started asking the tougher questions up front to save everyone time. I also developed a much better "sixth sense" as to whether the person on the other end of the line was a serious shopper or a kid spending too much time on the internet dreaming or what have you.

I had a ton of fun at the time buying and selling, but I really can't say I miss the stress!

Jan. 16, 2010, 10:00 PM
As a seller, your state's Equine Activity Law will not cover you if you fail to determine the experience level of the potential buyer BEFORE they not only ride but actually handle the horse on the ground, or walk into your barn.

While it might offend if you ask it incorrectly, it is legally essential to find out, so you have to ask. I try to ask them what level they have shown at -- at what height they have jumped --- if they know their leads and diagonals --- what type of horse they usually ride and WHEN their last ride WAS. If they did not provide this in an email, I'll ask it when we have the phone conversation. I am VERY cautious when they say they have not been on a horse in a while. (My next question is, "how long is a 'while'?" If they say over a year, usually it's not a good match with my horses.) I make an educated guess about them based on what they are wearing, and usually will allow them to mount but keep them on a lunge line and just go for a walk with them until I am sure they know how to hold reins, put feet in stirrups properly, etc. I always ask them to halt on their own - just to see if they have an idea of how much pressure to put on the reins and how strong they are. If that doesn't go well they don't come off the lunge line, period, and I usually find a graceful way to end the session as quickly as I can without risking something.....

This is the most dangerous part of selling horses and why people pay trainers and why trainers work hard to communicate with each other about potential buyers. It is all to protect the horse, and avoid wrecks, which no one wants!

Jan. 17, 2010, 12:06 PM
I think the questions you need answered out-weigh the tact necessity.

Last month, I completed the sale of my litter of 8 yellow Labrador puppies. I HAD to make sure the puppies were all going to the right homes and so I had to ask some very pointed questions. Through the question/answer interviews and personal visits in the whelping box as the pups grew and developed their own personalities, I was able to place each pup in the exactly perfect home FOR THAT PUP. Every family has the right dog and I never could have accomplished that if I hadn't asked the hard questions. As others have said, your asking the questions thins out the tire-kickers and gets you real people who might actually match up with your horse. I also found my buyers appreciated the time and effort I put in to making the matches. Hey, its your horse, you can sell it to anyone you want-may as well have it turn out to be as good a match as possible! Be tough! :yes:

Jan. 17, 2010, 04:01 PM
Thanks for all the advice everyone! It was really helpful, and at least I don't feel so much like an oddball when I ask questions. I was beginning to think it wasn't good selling etiquette or something! Quite the opposite in my opinion.

Jan. 17, 2010, 04:06 PM
Ask for a trainer's reference. That is; ask who they train with. Pass if they don't have a trainer and call said trainer to check them out, if they have one.

Jan. 17, 2010, 06:03 PM
Don't necessarily pass on "no trainer."

I've got a few that I ride with, depending on what I'm doing. We have a private farm with no in-house trainer, I haul to one consistently a few times a year, and a few others. I have several that can give me references, though.

You can gauge experience level, horse sense and reputation through references and meeting the potential buyer - no consistent "trainer" wouldn't be a deal-breaker for me.

Beam Me Up
Jan. 17, 2010, 07:11 PM
By asking questions you are also saving the buyer time, to make sure they aren't making a trip for something unsuitable.

I also try to err on the side of caution in terms of describing the horse and the ride that it needs (when in doubt I say experienced rider only). I also never answer that one "never spooks" or "never bucks" or something--all horses can be spooked. And if it doesn't sound good, it's ok to say "this horse would not be suitable for a 13 year old" or whatever the buyer is proposing.

When calling about horses for sale I'm not upset to be asked about my experience (both in terms of eventing levels and just general riding, OTTB familiarity, etc.)

However, I'm surprised by how much weight comes into these discussions, and I guess there I would tread lightly. If your horse truly is not suitable to carry a certain amount of weight, say it. It is your opinion that a 200 lb rider would look ridiculous on your horse, but they may disagree. I've had sellers ask my height/weight and then ask why a 5'9 person would ever look at a 16h horse (which to me is not a concerning match-up).

Similarly, I'm always surprised by how many potential buyers ask if it's ok to come when they weigh 163 and are working on dropping 25. Really? While I'd hope that buyers who are really an unusual weight would ask the pertinent questions of sellers, it's not like there's going to be a swimsuit round or anything--you won't know if you're comfortable until you try.

Jan. 18, 2010, 04:20 PM
The real buyers don't mind being asked questions. It's the crazies that get annoyed. ;)

:lol: I agree.