Selecting a good home for the horse you are planning to sell (or even give away) is one of the most important things you will ever do for him—his life will depend on your ability to gather quality information and use it in a way that will end in a good, solid judgment. The obligation you have for the safekeeping of your horse includes the selection of a good home if you can no longer keep him. Be very clear from the outset that your enemies are abuse, neglect and slaughter and all three usually come wrapped in sheep’s clothing. Last but certainly not least is concern that the potential owner has enough stability in his or her life that rehoming a second time is not likely to recur under stressful circumstances.
Most people trust their gut instinct when choosing a new home for their horse. While gut instinct (intuition) is important, remember that those who want to deceive are usually fairly a) practiced and b) clever. To drive this point home, think about the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy and the many ploys he used to lure attractive females to their fate. Place the face of a “kill buyer” in place of Ted’s and the picture is complete! Kill buyers are people who take in free or very inexpensive horses and sell them for slaughter for a profit. They may hide their true intentions by offering to take horses to use in therapy programs or as a horse for their beloved daughter Susy. The ploys usually involve tugging at your heart strings.
Some horse owners feel obligated to complete the sale to the person who presents the full offer first. Not even! Thinking about the obligation you have to your horse and putting it into the perspective of an adoption may help get you in the frame of mind suited for extracting good information and put you back in the driver’s seat. You share equal power in this process.
It’s important to plan the “who, what, when, where and why” of the information you will gather. Unless the person you plan on selling to is personally very well known to you, don’t plant the expectation that the horse will be exchanged at the first visit. Explain in advance the process you have for selecting a new home. While some may walk away, those people are probably not good considerations to begin with. Consider yourself blessed that they have self-screened! Most buyers worth their salt will feel more confident of a horse that is valued by its current owner—even if that owner is giving it away. If the buyers are coming from some distance, consider gathering most of the information in advance to eliminate those who don’t pass the initial test.
Screening should be an interview process. While the potential buyers will want to see all aspects of your horse and what it can do, the time spent with your horse should be reserved as your time to observe how they interact with your horse—not you. Asking questions during the look/see process should be somewhat limited to the “touchy feely “aspects of horse ownership. Consider how difficult it is to keep a train of thought or pattern of questions going when you are busy handling your horse or the buyer is interjecting oohs, ahhs. Plan a time to interview the potential buyer when you are both not distracted by your horse. People who are skilled at deception will take every opportunity to distract you when faced with tough questions.
Breaking It Down
While it is easy to provide a questionnaire or form to follow, no two horses are alike. Your interview should be based upon your horse’s needs. Luckily this still breaks down into some general areas.
- Does the person have the financial and physical necessities to provide a good home?
- Does the person have sufficient experience with horses to provide a good home?
- Is the person of good character and sound judgment to provide a good home?
- Are your horse and this person compatible in a way that will provide a long term home?
- Is the information you are receiving truthful?
If you interview within the context of your horse, these general areas will vary from horse to horse. For example, if you sell a 2 year old, your horse’s “life plan” most logically would include training him for riding. This is probably not a good match for a person seeking their first horse….or possibly even their second horse. Or, if your horse is difficult to keep fenced in, you had better be asking about the quality and type of fencing the potential buyer has. Still another, maybe you are selling a horse that needs ongoing vet care because he has a special medical condition. This is not a good match for a person just “making ends meet”. It may be a good idea to sit down with pen and paper and ask yourself “What will my horse need over the next 10 years?” If you are seeking a long term home for your horse, your horse’s life plan should be long term as well.
While the buyer will make his or her decision most likely while viewing your horse, the interview is where you will gather the most information to determine if the home is right for your horse. Some tips:
- Stay focused by setting the environment (no distractions and plenty of time) and having most of your questions prepared.
- Don’t give away the answers. If you are interested in finding someone with specific qualities, don’t tell them up front! Bad question: “I’m looking for someone who knows how to manage a hard keeper with Cushing’s…do you have that experience?” Good
- Don’t ask questions that can be answered with “yes” or “no”. For example ask “Tell me about your training experience”. Don’t ask “Do you have training experience?”
- Don’t be afraid to end an interview. If a person is a jerk and/or irritated with your interviewing, simply tell them “Thanks for your time but I really don’t see this as a good fit for my horse.” and then thank the heavens above that they self-screened.
- Look for eye contact and detail. Truthful people generally will look you in the eye when answering your questions and will be able to recall very specific details. Follow up with a detailed question and see what you get! A person may not recall the name of their horse’s medicine, but they sure as heck will tell you what it looked like or how it was administered.
- Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions. “Have you ever been investigated for animal cruelty, neglect, or abuse? Have you ever sold a horse at auction?” People who have nothing to hide and are responsible owners will not be offended by the hard questions. They will understand and answer proudly. (If you are particularly nervous about this it is much easier to look down at your list of questions when you ask this. This will tell the potential buyer that the question is standard and nothing personal.)
- Know what saves you time. Even though a property inspection will be done, you can possibly eliminate an unqualified party early by asking them to describe the property during the interview.
The Halo Effect
The “Halo Effect” occurs when you find a trait in common with a person that allows you to identify with them, such as attending the same school or sharing a similar trade. This is never a good reason to set aside your process—in fact it can be the most dangerous of all. Practiced liars know how to make up nuggets of information that endear them to you. Stay focused and do not waiver from your process!
Financial and Physical Necessities
While you don’t need to be rich to own a horse, it is certainly not a poor man’s hobby and cutting corners usually buys you serious, more expensive problems down the road. While it is considered bad form to ask “how much money do you earn?” you can ask about their abilities to keep up a standard of care. A person who maturely handles their finances will answer this question with ease and will likely relate their length of employment, what they do, etc. A person who looks at you dumbly and stammers out “I can do it” is probably not your safe choice. If you want to ferret out the really inept, ask the very open ended question as to how much they believe it will cost to properly maintain your horse in any given year. The answer may surprise and amuse you. If they throw out one number, ask them how they arrived at that number. Do your horse a solid favor—find a realist.
It is fairly safe to say that many a poor decision is made in desperation. When you are at your whit’s end you may find yourself grasping at straws—or in this case making even the poorest choices in buyers appear better. This is simply wishful thinking.
Clearly accidents and unexpected things happen. Nobody plans on losing a job, getting in an accident or losing a spouse. However, if you are in a situation where the light at the end of the tunnel may actually be a train, it’s time to think about selling or rehoming your horse while there is time. At the very least consider what your contingency plan will be. If a close friend or relative can care for your horse until you’re back on your feet—great! Figure it out ahead of time and have your contingency plan ready. If you haven’t a clue what you’ll do if that train hits, then it’s probably time to start the sale or rehoming process. Better to be the person who rehomed their horse to a great home prior to a bad divorce playing out than the person who wound up selling to a kill buyer when they found their checking account emptied! Simply stated, your stress level will significantly impact the quality of your decisions.
If you find yourself in sudden desperation, reach out before doing something you’ll regret. Contact local shelters and tell them of your predicament. They may very well have options available (whether it is temporary shelter or feed) that will help increase the amount of time you have to find a good home for your friend.
Fact versus Fiction
Your follow up to the interview—checking references and visiting a buyer’s property—will allow you to ferret out fact from fiction. When checking references, focus first on finding references that have reputations at stake—trainers, vets, rescue groups, breeders—and count Aunt Martha and Best Friend Bob as just icing on the cake. Sometimes close friends will slip up when they get chatty, but usually they tell you how wonderful the person is. And last but not least, no one said you have to check with only those people they listed as references! Maybe their neighbor will be the best reference of all…
The Electronic Age
So much information exists on the internet! Physical addresses, names of horses, email addresses and more can help you in your pursuit of truth….and nothing speaks more clearly of a person than a Facebook account that’s not locked down for privacy. If you don’t know your way around the ‘net, ask a friend. It’s well worth the time and effort.
Thanks to Devmar for writing this lovely article up for us!