The virus and the anxiety around it are real. With no solutions developed yet, we just have to create new opportunities and deal with the challenges we have because, regardless of what happens, life is going to go on. You have to put one foot in front of the other and keep trying to continue forward, and that’s a challenge.
What is the way forward? Everybody has had struggles regarding this. But if you can work in an open, honest and earnest way, then I think it will all be fine. When people start acting like they have all the answers, or that it doesn’t affect them, or it’s not a big deal, it doesn’t seem realistic.
All of us over time have had different situations arise that have affected us greatly that maybe we didn’t realize at the time. The internet came on, and everybody started using different sales sites to sell horses. And now we use social media in a way that we didn’t know was possible a decade ago. This has radically changed everything we do. The Chronicle used to have pages and pages of classifieds. I think the pandemic will create similar situations.
We’re fortunate to have farms in Aiken, South Carolina, and Nottingham, Pennsylvania, and we were able to stay in South Carolina, where there was a lesser virus spread early on. With safeguards we were able to continue seeing clients and doing business at the farm. Things are starting to relax, and we’re still able to see clients, and people are more willing to get on planes. We moved back to Pennsylvania at the end of June because the competitions have started back in Area II.
We’ve been doing a Training Tip Tuesday live Facebook video to keep connected with our clients and students, and a lot of times I’ll ride one of the sale horses. Several of my colleagues and peers thought it was an incredibly bad idea because it’s a live broadcast, and if something goes wrong with the sale horse, it’s not like you can edit, but it’s been putting it out there and saying, “Horses are horses; we have nothing to hide. This is a really nice horse, and we’re going to work today on this project and go from there.” Being really forthright and transparent is important in these days.
We’ve been sending out a lot of videos. We had a horse for sale that was a trail horse, so we made a video of him out hacking. For the horses overseas, we’ve been fortunate to find four or five matches for people, and we have others we are still looking for. Usually we would do a dressage, cross-country and show jumping video, but we had someone who wanted to see the horse being tacked up. That was important, to make sure they weren’t bad in crossties, so we did that. We’ve been making a lot more videos of specific things people want to see, and we’re happy to do so.
I do think you’re going to have more people buying horses based off a video, and if you get a really good sense of what the person is looking for and ask pointed questions, [it will work].
I’m not going to be able to tell you what’s going to happen in the next six months or three months or see where this is going to go, but I do think it’s going to change the way we do business. And for people to be successful, they’re going to have to feel like there are people standing behind their product. Horses are an investment as well as a partnership, so there are a lot of factors that way. That has always been our mindset. The horses have to sell themselves, and the people—both buyers and sellers—have to be happy. To that end we’re willing to work with people. If we need someone to ride them more like the rider that’s getting them, for example a junior or a tall person, we can try to find those people.
We really talk to people and explore what’s going on in the world and try to continue to have a connection. Our business is all about connecting good horses with good people. I don’t always have the widest range of horses, so I’m not for everybody, but having said that, it’s always important for me to find what people’s goals and ambitions are, as well as what they want in a horse. That’s only become more apparent with this pandemic because people really want to know that you care. They don’t necessarily want to know how much you know—they want to know how much you care and how much you’re going to be there. That’s always been our business practice, and we’ve always stood behind our horses and said, “Look, we will tell you everything about the horse that we know,” and that includes all of the good and the bad, as well as the vetting history that we know. We’ll stand behind that whether you want to sell the horse, or do a trade and get a different horse.
When we import a horse, we get pictures all the way through the process of importing. I get a photo when the horse gets picked up. I get a photo when the horse gets on the plane, and when the horse gets into quarantine. People are part of the process. If you’re going to do something like buying a horse off a video, you need to know there’s service after the sale, and that will be a big thing going forward.
It’s not just point of sale. What happens when the horse gets there, and it’s not at all what we expected, or I didn’t ask you what bit the horse was wearing, and it goes in a double-twisted wire?
For people who are in the business of buying and selling horses, the pandemic will increase their willingness to do different things and find different ways to help the client—to be challenged to create different opportunities.
But a lot of horses are still sold by the one person who has one horse, which negates the ability to take the horse back or offer a trade. For me, I’ll often sell horses, especially domestically, for owners who can’t or don’t want to do it themselves. I can’t trade that horse for another because I’m not the one who received the money when they bought that horse. I’ll work with them on selling the horse. But what I can do is work with clients on selling the horse to a different home. And, depending on the circumstances, I might not charge a commission, or I might do it at a reduced training board rate. You have to look for opportunities to better serve your clients.
There are challenges, but I’d rather look at the challenges as opportunities to get better at doing what we do and then having more opportunities to be forthright with people.
Quality Is Key
Regardless of the pandemic or anything else, quality sells. If there are quality horses available in the U.S. market, which there are plenty of, there will be opportunities there. And if you can get a quality horse overseas, one that you can stand behind because you have the right connections, there will be opportunities there. But people will be less willing to buy lower quality horses because the pandemic has created an anxious situation, and clients need some assurance that their horses will retain its value.
When this all started a few months ago, and we basically had to shut down, people did get quite tight and nervous with their money, which was understandable given the uncertain circumstances. What I’ve found now is that people are still willing to spend money on quality horses. Do I think prices will change? Yes. The expensive horses will stay expensive, because quality is always expensive, and the less expensive horses will become less expensive. Generally, if you’re buying a less expensive horse, you’re doing it because you have fewer dollars to spend, so if you have fewer dollars to spend, you’re going to be even pickier about all the things that factor into the decision.
A horse that might have a blip on its record or a little problem on the vetting that before wouldn’t have created a reason to negotiate prior to this year will have the price negotiated. But I don’t think the reverse is true on expensive horses. If you have a nice horse, and it’s going well in its training, and it’s starting to show what it can do, that horse will still command a premium price.
There will be fewer horses in that mid-range. There will be less expensive horses, and there will be more expensive horses, but there may be fewer $20,000-$40,000 horses.
I still think people will buy cars from Lexus and Mercedes and BMW and Audi, and they’ll still buy Fords, but that mid-range vehicle or mid-range horse will have fewer buyers until people become comfortable with the new normal, whatever that may be.
Courtney Cooper owns and operates C Square Farm in partnership with her husband Neal Camens in Nottingham, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Rice University (Texas) with a degree in psychology and managerial studies, Cooper supported her riding for many years by working in insurance at Northwestern Mutual, then transitioned to eventing full time. Cooper is known for her expertise in horse sales and enjoys making horse-and-rider partnerships. She’s competed to the five-star level on her homebred Who’s A Star and brings along young horses. She also works in partnership with Excel Star Sporthorses in Ireland to import eventers for the U.S. market.
In the Horseman’s Forum, people are invited to express their views and offer constructive criticism on any topic relevant to working with and enjoying horses. The opinions expressed by the writers are entirely their own and not necessarily those of The Chronicle of the Horse.
This article ran in the August 2020 Hunter Derby Issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.
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