If you’ve shopped for an off-track Thoroughbred any time in the past decade or so, there’s a decent chance you’ve come across Jessica Redman’s name. You might have seen pictures or videos of her sales horses shared on Facebook and know that she runs Benchmark Sport Horses, a sales business specializing in young Thoroughbreds coming off the track. You might not know that—despite the legions of shiny young beasts who come through her barn and find their way into your Facebook feed—selling horses isn’t her full-time job. Horses—period—are not her full-time job.
Instead, Redman is a human resources manager for the federal government. She started Benchmark as a side business in 2012, after years of volunteering for CANTER Mid Atlantic and starting CANTER’s Delaware Park branch. In Benchmark’s first year, she sold seven horses from her 11-acre farm in Camden, Delaware. Now, her business buys and sells closer to 200 horses, almost all Thoroughbreds, every year. Some sell off of videos alone as soon as she lists them; others stay with her for months while she sorts out health issues or training challenges. Redman estimates she’s sold more than 1,000 horses in her lifetime.
“I never anticipated that it would become what it has become,” she admits. “It’s crazy, but you just evolve as you go, and we really figured out a way to make a small farm work for a sales operation.”
Today, she has a barn manager, a rider and barn help who keep the thriving side-business going, while she runs the show in the downtime around her government job’s workday. Her husband Ian, a former aircraft inspector who didn’t grow up around horses, has gotten in on the act and today runs a horse shipping business and helps evaluate prospects for Jessica while on his travels.
While her sales business has grown exponentially, Jessica said she’s not tempted to give up her day job.
“I don’t ever want to do it full time,” she said. “It’s just a hard life, and there’s no back-up plan, and I just never want it to feel like that is my only source of income.
“It’s kind of two full-time jobs, because I never really thought the [sales] business would go the way that it has,” she added. “Really, what it comes down to is [that] nice horses sell themselves pretty easily. It’s not that hard when you become very efficient at the process. I’ve got a lot of contacts, a big network [to source horses], and we’ve all worked together for so long, that we all know the plan we execute it.”
And while she’s usually got a barn full of athletic, young horses, Jessica, who grew up participating in Pony Club and eventing, said she doesn’t do much riding much herself anymore.
“I’m not that much into competing because I’m too busy,” she said. “Sometimes, when the weekend comes, I don’t want to look at a horse right then.”
She does own one personal horse, though, “Rex,” registered with the Jockey Club as Added Expectations.
“He’s a good ammy horse, a $500 horse from Louisiana, because when I ride, I want to relax,” she said. “I’ve normally always owned the things I can’t sell. I’m riding the [kind of] horse that I recommend to a lot of buyers, the kind an adult ammy can go have fun on.”
So what does it take to balance a full-time job, a side gig selling 200 horses a year, the occasional pleasure ride, plus a veritable platoon of house and barn cats that haven’t even been mentioned yet?
Read on …
6:30 a.m. Wake up and cuddle with my cats for about 30 minutes while I check email and browse Facebook. Right now, I have two kittens, so they have me awake before my alarm goes off as they run, jump and use the bed as a fighting zone. My business is very dependent on horse shopping, so I am always checking to see if any interesting horses pop up.
7-8 a.m. Feed and medicate Bigglesworth, my ancient cat who has to be fed a soupy cat food mixture. I have coffee and yogurt while I check work emails and look at my calendar for the day.
I touch base with my barn manager, Amanda Halley, to discuss a general plan for the barn day. John Devin, my amazing farm help, turns horses out and starts on stalls, cleaning buckets, hay, water, etc., and Amanda arrives and starts on her list.
This morning she knocked out a clip job nice and early so we could get conformation pictures done with a snazzy clip. We really believe presentation is everything in selling horses, so we like our horses to look nice.
Stacy Willson, our barn rider, arrives a bit later and will help with barn work or whatever else needs to get done. Generally, everyone has the plan of the day, and they don’t need me at all.
8-9:30 a.m. Back to work: I focus on reviewing applicants for my vacancy announcements that closed, which is my priority for the day.
9:30 a.m. I pop out to take conformation pictures of horses while the sun is out. Amanda and I are a well-oiled machine at confo pictures, and generally we can get them done quickly if the horse cooperates.
One horse had a fat leg due to mud and getting his feet done, so we scrapped his pictures. One horse was ouchy on his feet so he didn’t want to stand nice enough for pictures. We managed to have one successful photo shoot.
While I am out there, I look at another horse who has some swelling in the jaw area, which has doubled in size overnight but is otherwise normal. I take some pictures of that and consult with my vet on our plan of action.
10 a.m. Back to work for a few hours while Stacy and Amanda ride some of the horses. We generally have a plan for which horses are getting training rides and which horses we need to video. We always want to have at least one video of each sales horse, but I don’t always have time to fit it all in. Amanda and Stacy video when I can’t help.
Noon I head out to take some pictures and video of two of our new horses. One of them believes he is dying because he had his hind shoes pulled, so we scrap the video, but we do ride him to assess his temperament.
The other one has a lovely first ride, and I take some pictures and video of him. We always show a bit of the horses’ in-the-barn personality, mounting and then some walk, trot and canter footage from their first ride post-track so buyers can assess them.
1 p.m. I head back to work while Stacy unloads two new arrivals and gets them settled in. We have frequent turnover here, so horses are always shipping in or out, which requires a lot of coordination. Feed Bigglesworth his third meal of the day. Old cats are time consuming!
3 p.m. Back to the barn to check in with Amanda for a recap of the day. She wrapped a horse with a sore foot, medicated the horse with swollen jaw area, exercised another horse in the free area and gave one of the new arrivals a bath. Blankets got changed around, and a horse that is shipping to new home tonight got a ship-out blanket, halter and paperwork ready.
We discuss the plan for tomorrow and write notes on our white board. Horses come in for the night and get dinner.
4 p.m. I usually spend time after work editing the horses’ pictures and video to get them posted to Facebook and update my website. Sales are a very social-media-driven business, so it is important to keep my website updated and do some posts about the sales horses.
I am not a professional photographer, but I have very basic editing skills and I manage to maintain a simple website myself which I update daily. Generally, once I post about a horse, I start answering a lot of messages via Facebook, which can be super intense.
5 p.m. Feed the cats and cook a Gobble meal for my husband Ian and myself. I am not big on grocery shopping, so meal delivery service makes my life run smoothly.
6-10 p.m. End the day with a mix of browsing Facebook to see if I need to buy any horses, putting in a few hours of work with my full-time job to ensure I am completely up to date, and hanging out with my cats. I like to read a book to relax, but I also have my shows that I like to watch. I’m sad that “Yellowstone” is over. Right now, I am fostering a cat for a family in a shelter situation, so I spend some time loving on her. She was a bit shell-shocked on arrival but seems to be warming up to me now.
10 p.m. Head to the barn for night check and to meet a shipper picking up the horse to go to his new home.
11 p.m. Head to bed