Multiple offers over asking price. Selling before the listing is public. Flying off the market sight unseen.
Am I talking about the house market? Nope. The horse market.
I haven’t shopped for a horse in 20 years. Back then, two-week trials seemed routine, there were lots of horses under my budget of $5,000, and I ended up with a gorgeous dapple gray retired race horse from a rescue. The rescue dropped two horses off at the farm where I board for anyone shopping to try out. After a few weeks, I made the $800 tax deductible donation to adopt my horse, LJ.
LJ has done everything I could have asked for the past 20 years. Now that he’s slowing down, and it’s easier to find child care for my toddler thanks to the COVID-19 vaccine, I am ready for my next horse. As a casual observer, I’d seen a few signs of the horse market heating up: friends buying green horses without trials, horses marked as “sold” on Facebook posts within days. Even the lesson program where I board has a surge of new students and is short on school horses.
But I never anticipated how hot the market would be when I started getting serious about shopping myself. I’m not looking for anything fancy, just a young version of my jack-of-all-trades Thoroughbred, but I get the sense the market is booming at all levels.
Here are just a few of the situations I’ve found myself in:
• Messaging about several horses fresh off the track only to find they’ve already sold sight unseen, based on videos.
• Setting up a trial for two days after a listing goes live. Horse has a sight-unseen deposit from out of state the day before the trial.
• Booking a hotel room to travel to see a horse, after confirming that the owner wouldn’t sell off video, then getting a message from said owner that—based on video—the horse had an offer for a paid trial on top of an over-the-asking-price offer.
• Trying my first horse who was fresh off the track, calling the owner two days later to say I wasn’t ready to commit, but I’d let her know once I’d tried a few more; the horse had already gotten an offer based on video alone.
• Setting up a trial for a Sunday, and the horse selling for “significantly over asking price” on Thursday.
• Setting up a trial for a Saturday and finding out on Thursday that a horse had already been “scooped up.”
• Going to a rescue to meet the one big, “sound” horse they had. He was lame.
I could only laugh at that last one. Of course, sound horses have lame days—stone bruises, abscesses, a kick in the field. Quiet horses have wild days, and vice versa.
I’ve ridden a lot of horses over the years, and I know what I like, but I’m terrified to decide about a horse who could be with me for 20 years after a 20-minute ride. Yet, these days, I now feel lucky to ride a horse for 20 minutes, rather than having to judge off a nicely edited two-minute video. What kind of magic chemistry I’d need to decide that quickly, I haven’t yet discovered.
Because I hadn’t looked for a horse in decades, at first I thought this was just what the horse market had become. But according to my trainer, veterinarian, and other folks I’ve chatted with, there is something going on specifically right now that has set the market on fire. When I casually told my vet I was horse shopping, she laughed and said she felt sorry for anyone shopping for a horse right now. Not a good omen!
So what is going on in the horse market right now?
From what I’ve pieced together from equine professionals and paying attention to the economy in the U.S. at large, here are my best guesses:
• Equine sports are relatively easy to do in a socially distanced manner and have replaced canceled team sports and indoor activities.
• Partly thanks to vaccines, horse shows are starting again, and everyone wants something to ride this summer.
• For wealthy people, the economy has been booming. (The horse world’s concept of “wealth” is so warped that my $15,000 budget is considered low.) Even people who might not consider themselves “wealthy” have money to spend on horses.
• People are working remotely, either temporarily or permanently; many of them have moved out of big cities and find it easier to get to the barn regularly.
At least the mad rush brings hope: Could there be fewer neglected and abandoned horses, at least for a while? Maybe.
If my trainer is right, the horse market is going to slow way down in the fall, when schools most likely will open in person, jobs will call their employees back to their offices, and indoor entertainment and sports options open back up. All of those horses that were fun for the summer could be looking for new jobs. When that time comes, I’ll be ready and waiting to try my next horse a few times, and maybe even take it on an off-site trial.
And in the meantime? I’m going to look for a lease.
Tracy C. Gold is a writer, freelance editor and mom living in Baltimore. She rides her ex-race horse at Tranquillity Manor Farm in Maryland. An alum of U.S. Pony Clubs and the Intercollegiate Horse Shows Association, she competes in local hunter shows and rides for pleasure now. She is the author of the picture books “Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat” from Sourcebooks, and “Everyone’s Sleepy but the Baby,” from Familius. You can learn more about Tracy at tracycgold.com.