Horse marketing 101: Seasoned veterans share advice for buyers and sellers
“2011 has been the best year for marketing horses in the last ten years,” says Trent Kolander, owner of the Jackson Livestock Exchange in Jackson, MN.
That’s a bold statement, considering the equine business has been through a tumultuous ride in the last couple years, with horse slaughter being shut down in the U.S. and animal rights activists spotlighting the mistreatment of unwanted horses. However, Kolander is no stranger to the auction market, and he has seen things start to progressively turn around for the business in the last few years.
“Horse sales were great before the ban on horse slaughter in the U.S., but when it shut down, everything crashed,” recaps Kolander. “Here in the last two or three years, it’s starting to get stronger again. There are a lot less people raising baby colts; numbers just aren’t what they used to be. Quality horses are fewer and farther in between and harder to find. With these factors in play, we are seeing an increase in demand for saddle horses at much improved prices.”
From what Kolander has seen, an average horse brought $400-$600 two years ago. That same horse might bring $800-$1,200 today. Higher-end horses that brought $3,000 in 2009 are bringing upwards of $4,500-$6,000 in the 2011 markets. So, what’s the secret to capturing more dollars in the horse market? Kolander offered his advice while at the monthly Mitchell Livestock Horse Sale held June 18, 2011 in Mitchell, SD.
“The way I market is through auctions,” Kolander says. “I’m a big believer in auction markets because it’s the quickest, most practical way to sell a horse or any livestock, for that matter. A sale like this one allows for both horses to be consigned the same day of the sale and many times, offers catalogs, so potential buyers can view the horses and their information ahead of time. Horse sales like this one are constantly growing and are on the upswing. In this area, there are still ranchers who need young geldings on the ranch, and they are coming here to buy them.”
Jim McGregor, a diversified farmer and rancher from Salem, SD, raises crops, cattle and owns a dairy and a feedlot. His operation allows him to train horses in a wide range of practical work settings, preparing them for his customers.
“I buy a lot of horses that have been under-utilized,” explains McGregor, who sold four horses at the June Mitchell Livestock Horse Sale. “Nobody wants to buy horses that aren’t broke to ride, so we take these horses and use them for a few years on our ranch. By the time we are done with them, they have helped rope calves, sort cattle and doctor steers in the feedlot. We put a lot of miles in them by the time we are ready to market them.”
McGregor has been in the business for 37 years, and he says it’s important for a horse salesman to match the horse to the rider. He believes in getting to know the horse well and using them for a couple of years before selling. He offers his horses for sale both at auction markets and by private treaty. He has sold horses to both seasoned ranchers and to the occasional pleasure rider in the Sioux Falls, SD area, and he shared his advice for potential buyers when selecting a horse.
“Today, horse business has the best breeding using the best genetics than we ever have in the past, and a lot of horses just stand in the pasture not being used,” says McGregor. “The biggest mistake a buyer can make is not doing their homework. Prospective horse owners need to ride the horse and get to know it. Is it the right height and size? Does it have the right attitude? Does your riding ability match the horse’s personality? Don’t buy a green horse if you don’t have the time to train it. Most importantly, if you find a horse you’re confident riding, pay the extra money for it. Don’t try to save a few bucks because you end up losing it on lost confidence and injuries.”
McGregor’s reputation for matching horse to rider is uncanny, and it was quite evident he has a soft place in his heart for instilling a love of these animals in children, too. His grandchildren Dillon and Tayah McGregor joined him at the auction barn to sell “Snickers,” a registered pony that the kids helped train.
“Two weeks ago, Tayah was scared of horses, and now she is confident and skilled around Snickers,” says the proud grandfather. “Our summer intern, Andrea Loges, has done a great job of working with the kids and teaching them horsemanship.”
That confidence showed as Tayah and her brother rode Snickers into the ring as the first entry in the sale. The pony was sold to Iowa for $500. Fifty additional saddle horses and another 60 loose horses were sold that day. For sale organizer, Rhonda Loges, being able to make horse sales work in a tough market is a challenge.
“If you can make a go of things in the horse market when it’s at its worse, you should be able to do it anytime,” says Loges. “I have been doing this for 10 years, and we are constantly working to grow our presence in Mitchell.”
Whether selling or buying a horse, Kolander, Loges and McGregor agree – do your homework, know your market, put a lot of miles on the horse and match the rider to the animal for best success.
editor’s note: the mitchell livestock horse sale is held each month, and both buyers and sellers can learn more information at http://www.mitchelllivestockhorsesale.com to find consignment forms, color photos of online catalogs and check out videos. more details can be found on facebook at “mitchell livestock horse sale.”
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