Equine Marketing 101

There is a saying a picture is worth a thousand words, and no statement rings truer in the equine market. A photograph can mean the difference between grabbing a buyer’s attention and having them pass over the horse. With online equine marketing sites and social media at the forefront of selling a horse, it may be asked why so many of the online advertisements seen every day are downright terrible. There are a large number of websites, forums, and blogs dedicated to poking fun at those marketing fails. Why do so many photos fall flat in such a competitive market?

There are three parts to an ad: the photo, the description, and the details. With a little more time, grooming, and knowledge, a horse’s photo will grab the attention of a potential buyer. The photo is the first thing that a buyer will see when they search for a horse, and first impressions are everything. Having a poor photo can make it difficult to find an interested buyer.

The question is – what makes a good photo?


Don’t forget to groom!
The horse owner’s nightmare:  a muddy horse.  Inevitably, horses will show up with this kind of mud at some point. To the viewer, it can be considered laziness on the seller’s part: the horse should be spotless and sleek with white socks. If the weather is warm enough, make sure to bathe the horse and allow it to dry. A wet horse is as bad as a muddy horse, as it can look like an attempt to misrepresent a horse by making a color darker.

If it is too cold to bathe a horse, consider hot toweling instead.  Hot toweling consists of taking buckets of warm water and dipping a towel in the water, wringing out the excess, and currying the horse with the towel. It is important to change the water frequently, and depending on the temperature, use a fleece or wool cooler to keep the horse from chilling.

Clip or trim as necessary.
If your horse tolerates clipping, it is best to trim the hairs on the outside of the ears, along the jawline, and the bridle path. This can keep a horse from looking like a fuzzy yak. It is a personal decision whether to clip the muzzle or the eyelashes around the eyes – some people opt to leave those for protective reasons. In most cases in a photo those hairs will not show.




Use Proper Equipment.
Nothing speaks louder in a photo than properly fitted, good quality equipment. This is a saint of a gelding, ridden with a terrible fitting saddle and pad. The halter is huge, falling back on the neck of the horse and the mismatched colors stand out. That doesn’t mean you have to go spend $5,000 on a custom saddle: if on a budget, look for nice used tack. It is feasible to buy a quality used saddle and bridle for between $700 and $1000.

Not only is it important to have well fitting tack when the horse is under saddle or in harness, but also when taking conformation shots. Rockies are shown in a Saddleseat show halter or Arabian style halter, however a western style show halter or a clean well fitting leather halter is acceptable. Make sure the lead rope is conservatively colored and clean.



Timing is everything.

Whether in a conformation or an under saddle photo, position of the horse makes all the difference. The first picture is “off sequence”, where the hind leg is stepping forward and the front leg is beginning to lift. The horse is gaiting properly, but is at the wrong timing in his footfall. The second photo is only a few shutter clicks later, with a better pose.

Potential buyers frequently want both under saddle and conformation photos. Before the photo session, make sure the horse reliably and consistently stands either square or parked out. Spend time setting the horse up and grab some test shots to see what shows the horse off the best.

Taking a photo with one person is nearly impossible.  Unless the horse stands stock still, it is frustrating to try to keep the horse’s legs squared and ears up. The best option is to have one person holding the horse, one photographing it, and a person using some sort of noisemaker material or object to get the horse’s ears up.



Make sure the horse is on flat ground.

There is nothing more frustrating than taking shots and seeing the horse is standing in a hole, making them look downhill. It is best to find flat ground, and make sure the hooves are visible. Buyers want to see hoof and pastern angles.





Choose the right background.

The background of a sales photo is as nearly as important as the horse itself. The mare in this photo is nicely conditioned, groomed and clipped, but the background is cluttered and distracting. Compare to the second photo. The lighting is good, and the background is clean, giving a more pleasing photo.



Quality is important.

The photo above is the exact opposite of nearly every bullet above. The horse looks bored and stands against a cluttered background, standing downhill with his shoulder closer to the photographer. The photo is dark, making it difficult to discern any features on the horse.

Compare to the second photo, a professional photo of a gorgeous stallion. It illustrates the proper way to execute a 3/4 shot of the horse and is an overall better quality photo. He shines from proper grooming.








Ad Descriptions

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 provided 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.

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? Here are a few tips to help troubleshoot and ensure an ad doesn’t end up gracing the pages of those satirical websites.

 Always use spell check, but don’t always trust it.

For the spelling challenged, there is no better way to double check than the trusty red lines drawn under misspelled words. Unfortunately, autocorrect can be a source of extreme frustration, as numerous equine words do not grace the pages of the spellcheck database. Common words such as coggins, gait, filly, gelding and farrier are some of the most oft misspelled words. For instance, this phrase:

“Thirteen-month-old red roan Rocky Mountain Horse filly; very well bred with nice conformation. Has started to work on longe line training and gaits in the field. Stands for vet and farrier, up to date on shots and current coggins.”

Quickly becomes:

“Thirteen-month-old red roam Rocky Mountain Horse philly, very well bread. Has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and gates in the field. Stands for vet and Ferrier, up too date on shots and current coffins.”

This ad has removed any understanding, going from somewhat acceptable to completely incoherent. When in doubt, research the words and re-read the ad. Don’t immediately post it; instead opt to have a knowledgeable friend edit the ad and make sure it all makes sense.

 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 rocky mountain horse filly very well bred with nice conformation has started to work on longe line training and gaits in the field stands for vet and farrier up to date on shots and current coggins”

Add in the poor spelling auto-correct provided, and the ad completely fails to make sense.

“thirteen month old red roam rocky mountain horse horse philly very well bread has nice confirmation and has started two work on lounge line training and gates in the field stands for vet and ferrier up too date on shots and current coffins”

Those words all begin to blur together.

 Provide all the details you can think of.
Buyers want to know how age, breed, color, gender, and height.  When they shop for a horse they generally have a shopping list of what they are looking for: a 14.3 hand, 5-7 year old chocolate gelding. That means they need to rule out what doesn’t fit that criteria. 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 frequently show up online exactly like this. This could be a Quarter Horse, an Arabian, or a unicorn – you never know. It could use a bit of elaboration.  If the buyer is looking for that 14.3 Rocky gelding, they could inquire and find out the horse is a 2-year-old chestnut Quarter 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 – a waste of time for both buyer and seller.

Let’s try this again, adding in some of the details requested above.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino RMH mare for sale.”

Adds a lot more information and tells the buyer that they need to look elsewhere, as this is certainly not a chocolate gelding.

 Price the horse!
Buyers want to know if the horse is in their budget or not. There is no point in finding a horse that 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.

 Hands are measured in 4” increments.
There is no 14.5 or 15.6 hand horse. Time and time again people will laugh if someone lists a horse as 15.5. Along that line, please actrually measure the horse. If someone is looking for a 15.2 horse and they go out and see a horse listed at 15.2 that is not an inch over 13.3 they will be rather unhappy.

 Be honest.
Not every horse is going to be the next International Champion, and that is okay. It is important to highlight the good but don’t over exaggerate.  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. Remember if the horse is listed as something it’s not, the seller may be legally liable for misrepresentation, especially if the buyer gets hurt. “Buyer beware” is very real, but doesn’t give the seller a right convince a buyer they are buying a finished show horse instead of the horse who 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.

 List the things the horse has accomplished or has performed.
If the horse placed top ten at the Rocky Mountain Horse International, now is the time to list that. Show results provide a tangible list of accomplishments. If it is a trail horse, include the obstacles the horse has crossed and how much trail time it has. Using the palomino mare as the example, let’s expound on the original set of details.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino Rocky Mountain mare for sale.”

It has shown what the mare is, but not what she has done.

“7-year-old 15 hand palomino Rocky Mountain mare for sale. Shown lightly as a four year old before she became a broodmare. Recently put back under saddle, where she walks and gaits on a loose rein. Would be suitable to show on the RMHA circuit in Trail Pleasure, Western Pleasure and Trail obstacle with a little more work. She has a nice gait and moves well off of leg pressure. 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 they want to inquire further.

 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. Ask 10 people when to tell the buyer about any issues about the horse and one will receive 12 different answers. “Issues” can be defined as anything negative about the horse, 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 Show Pleasure competitor is crippled and can’t complete a lap in gait around the ring 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. 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. Now, it’s time to finish and put it all together. Here are few tips to add a bit of extra polish.

Use a professional photographer.

An amateur photographer with a point and shoot camera or an iPhone took the vast majority of photos in this article. They capture the basics but lack the sharpness and quality of a professional photographer. Good professional photographers have an eye for angles and create a higher quality image to use. This is especially helpful with action shots.




Take your horse to a show to get photos.
The best way to prove your horse is prepared to show is take them to one. There are several different options depending on how well the horse is prepared. If a schooling show, opt to either go fully turned out for the show ring, or wear a nice shirt or polo and pants that fit the discipline shown.

If transportation or budget issues prevent the horse being shown, the next best thing is to create a mock show environment. Find a ring to ride in, dress in show clothes, and groom the horse to a spit shine. It can be easier to do a photo session this way since there are no other riders to interfere or cover up the horse and rider pair as the photo is taken.


 Show off those skills!

If the horse isn’t a show horse or isn’t being marketed it as one, show what it can do. Show it crossing water or navigating a trail. Make sure the rider’s dress is appropriate and withhold any adult beverages from the photograph.

 Videos are a great asset… If done correctly.
Most buyers will want to see the horse under saddle in gait. Follow grooming protocol and make sure the horse is clean, the equipment fits properly, and get help from others. Keep the camera steady or use a tripod to prevent viewers from getting motion sickness. Videos are especially useful if the buyer is coming from out of state, so they can rule out horses without racking up frequent flyer miles.

 Be prepared for questions, and lots of them.
Remember, people may still ask for more photos or information no matter what you do. If you provide only under saddle photos, they may want conformation photos and vice versa. They may want specific video, or current photos, especially with young horses.  Smile and get the images requested unless the request is unreasonable.

 Be prepared for people to lowball the price listed, and for tire kickers.
It’s a part of life, and it will never end. People are willing to take a chance and ask, because one will never know unless they try. One of the worst things a seller can do is go on a tirade or rant about people wasting time – it is a huge turnoff for buyers and the equine world is very small. Being professional in responses  helps, and people will remember.

 In Conclusion
In the end, selling a horse can be frustrating, or it can be rewarding. Remember that photos are the first thing people see and can either intrigue a buyer, or turn them off to the horse. There is no one perfect way to make sure the horse catches the buyer’s attention in a thumbnail in a list of horses on an equine marketing website, but the tips above will help even the playing field. Ads need to be descriptive (but not too lengthy), spell checked (while still remembering that spell check isn’t always right), and price is important to list. Following the guidelines listed in these articles will help ensure an ad will not end up gracing the pages of satire blogs across the internet. After that, it’s up to the seller.