There are thousands of horse advertisements scattered across a vast array of equine hosting websites, making it infinitely easier for the buyer and seller to be matched up. With any luck the photo has attracted the buyer’s interest; they have clicked on the ad to see more about the horse. Now it’s time to keep the buyer’s attention. Think of a horse’s ad as a resume providing credentials on what it has accomplished – if one sent out a resume full of spelling errors and only providing minimal information on tasks accomplished chances are it would quickly be dropped into the trash bin. It’s not much different in the equine world with one difference; social media means thousands of people see the ad and can critique to their heart’s desire.
Online equine ads have become a form of entertainment with entire websites dedicated to the laughable content of misunderstood and poorly written ads. The question is this: why are these ads so bad? Why is so much information lost in translation? There are many factors; similar to what happens when a photo goes wrong. Here are a few tips to help troubleshoot and ensure an ad doesn’t end up gracing the pages of those satirical websites.
1. Always use spell check, but don’t always trust it!
For those who are spelling challenged, there is no better way to double check than the trusty red lines that draw under misspelled words. Unfortunately, spellcheck in programs like Word can also be the bane of an ad-writer’s existence. Autocorrect can be a source of extreme frustration, as quite a few equine words do not grace the pages of the typical spellcheck database. Common words such as coggins, gait, filly, and Thoroughbred are some of the most oft misspelled words. For instance, this phrase:
“Thirteen-month-old red roan Quarter Horse filly; very well bred with nice conformation. Has started to work on longe line training and has three great gaits. Stands for vet and farrier, up to date on shots and current coggins.”
“Thirteen-month-old red roam Quarter Horse philly, very well bread. Has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and has three grate gates. Stands for vet and Ferrier, up too date on shots and current coffins.”
This ad has efficiently removed any understanding and gone from somewhat acceptable to laughable and incoherent. When in doubt, look the words up and re-read the ad. Don’t write it in a hurry and immediately post it. Instead opt to have a knowledgeable friend edit the ad and make sure it all makes sense.
2. Punctuation and capitalization is your friend.
Nothing is as confusing as an ad that has no punctuation. Using the example above, even with all the words spelled correctly, the ad loses all coherence.
“thirteen month old red roan quarter horse filly very well bred with nice conformation has started to work on longe line training and has three great gaits stands for vet and farrier up to date on shots and current coggins”
Then add in the poor spelling auto-correct provided, and the ad completely fails to make sense.
“thirteen month old red roam quarter horse philly very well bread has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and has three grate gates stands for vet and ferrier up too date on shots and current coffins”
Those words begin to blur together and it is difficult to discern what the buyer is even looking for at that point. This is where a knowledgeable equine friend becomes a great resource, to look and make sure that ad makes sense and helps the buyer realize what they are looking at.
3. Provide all the details you can think of.
Buyers want to know how old the horse is, what breed, color, gender, and height. When they go looking for a horse they will generally have a shopping list of what they are looking for such as a 16.3 hand bay 5-7 year old Thoroughbred gelding. That means they need to rule out things that don’t fit that criteria and that is where ad details come into play.
Let’s start with a basic ad.
“Horse for sale, rides good.”
Doesn’t provide much information, does it? Believe it or not, ads show up online just like this. This could be a Quarter Horse, an Arabian, or a unicorn – you never know. It could use just a bit of elaboration. If the buyer is looking for that 16.3 Thoroughbred gelding, they could inquire and find out the horse for sale is a 2-year-old chestnut Tennessee Walking horse filly – not exactly what they want. It is not very time efficient to email every ad and find the plethora of different horses that are available in the world as it is a waste of time for the buyer and the seller.
Let’s try this again, adding in some of the details requested above.
“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale.”
Adds a lot more information and tells the buyer that they need to look elsewhere, as this is certainly not a Thoroughbred gelding.
4. Price the horse!
Buyers want to know if the horse is in their budget or not. There is no point in finding all the details they need to know about the horse and seeing it fits the criteria they want, only to realize the horse is $5,000 over their budget because the ad said, “inquire for price”. Some people don’t want to include price, but unless the horse is selling in the five to six digit range it is generally unnecessary to leave it as private treaty. Instead, save the buyer and the seller time and list the price.
5. Hands are measured in 4” increments.
There is no 14.5 or 15.6 hand horse. I promise. The measurement goes as such: 14.0, 14.1, 14.2, 14.3, 15.0, 15.1, etc. Time and time again people will laugh if someone lists a horse as 15.5. Along that line, please measure the horse – there are tools out there specifically for measuring them. If someone is looking for a 16.2 horse, the ad lists it as such, and they go out and see a horse that is not an inch over 13.3 they will typically be rather unhappy.
5. Be honest.
Not every horse is going to be the next Olympic hopeful, and that is okay. It is important to make sure to highlight the good but don’t over exaggerate. If selling a 23 year old long backed, behind at the knees gelding with legs that look they are going to buckle at any moment with navicular and minor arthritis, chances are it is not going to be an FEI level dressage prospect, but it might be an excellent children’s mount if it has a suitable temperament.
6. Please, be honest.
Yes, it’s there twice, but it’s an important bullet! If the horse is green broke and bucked off its three previous riders and the cowboy down the road, it’s not a kid’s horse, and chances are likely it won’t become one. Remember that if the horse is listed as something it’s not, it is more likely than not that the buyer will realize the horse is misrepresented and the seller may be legally liable. Caveat Emptor, or buyer beware, is important but doesn’t give the seller a right to pad the horse’s resume and the buyer gets hurt because they believe they are buying a finished reiner instead of the horse who has had two rides three years ago. Don’t go through the heartbreak and make sure to only list things that the horse has actually done.
7. List the things the horse has accomplished or has performed.
If the horse placed top ten at AQHA Congress, now is the time to list that. This is what is going to tell the buyer if they want to click that button to email the seller or go to the next horse. This is where the seller wants to explain exactly why the horse is priced as it is. Show results provide a very tangible list of accomplishments, providing how a third party person felt about the horse on that particular day or set of days. If it is a trail horse, include the obstacles the horse has crossed and the level the seller feels it is performing at. This part of the description is the “job duties performed” part of the resume.
Using the paint mare as the example, let’s expound on the original set of details.
“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale.”
It’s shown what the mare is, but not what she has done.
“7-year-old 15 hand palomino overo Paint mare for sale. Shown lightly as a four year old before she became a broodmare. Recently put back under saddle, where she walks, jogs and lopes on a drape rein and has a good halt. Would be suitable to show on the APHA circuit in Western Pleasure and Horsemanship with a little more work, as she has a nice, flat-kneed jog and lope. Went on her first trail ride two weeks ago and rode alongside traffic, crossed several creeks, and flushed ten wild turkeys without batting an ear. Is quiet, but best for an intermediate rider or above.”
This provides a lot more information for the buyer, who can then decide if he or she wants to take on the horse.
8. Understand when to list quirks and lameness issues.
There is nothing more controversial than when to tell the buyer what is wrong with the horse. Some opt to tell everything straight out, and others are deceptively vague.
There is no such thing as a perfect horse, sad but true. But ask 10 people when to tell the buyer about any issues about the horse and one will receive 12 different answers in return. “Issues” can be defined as anything negative about the horse. This is as diverse as the opinions of what to say about those issues. If a horse cribs, requires joint injections for maintenance, or has navicular – it is important for the buyer to know before they write that check.
Soundness issues are one of the biggest concerns as a buyer. Nothing hurts more than buying a new partner only to realize that horse that was touted as a 1D barrel horse is crippled and can’t even complete the pattern at a lope without limping back out of the arena. When is the best time to tell the buyer? The general consensus is before that buyer ever goes to look at the horse, whether that is in the ad or if the buyer emails or calls depending on the severity of the quirk or lameness. For instance, telling the buyer on the phone the horse cribs is much different than telling them the horse is only pasture sound after they come out to test ride a horse who is supposed to be a dressage schoolmaster. Use discretion and understand that sometimes people can’t deal with a particular issue.
After the photo, the description is the most important part to garner interest and sell a horse. Consider the description as the horse’s resume and remember not to pad it with false accomplishments. Honesty is the best policy and will generally help protect the seller if something goes wrong. Remember to use spell check, but don’t blindly trust it – this is where a knowledgeable equine friend is the best way to make sure a horse has a coggins instead of a coffins. There is no horse that stands 14.5 hands high, and punctuation is a seller’s best friend. Don’t forget to add a price, and provide details on what the horse has accomplished in the show pen or on the trail. And finally, no horse is perfect but it is important to disclose quirks and lameness issues, generally before the buyer comes out to test ride the horse.
Now, on to the finishing touches and adding the polish to the ad!