I’m still quite new in the horse sales world, but I’m meticulous about my advertisements. With Facebook, it’s possible to create a classy, far-reaching ad for nothing but the cost of your Internet (and whatever bribery it takes to get someone to take pictures for you). And with just a few tips, you don’t even need a whole lot of skill. So here are some common errors I see in advertising from horse people of all levels, and some tips on ads I like and how I try to give my sale ponies the best possible chance at finding a good home at a good price.
Do: obey the rules of the group you’re posting in. The admins of the group have created it out of their interest in horses, not for any kind of monetary gain. Respect them for that and for creating a platform for you to sell your horse cheaply and easily. Read the “about” section or the pinned post carefully and make sure your advertisement adheres to their rules. Many groups are designed for a specific type of horse or price range – make sure your horse fits in it.
Don’t: keep on posting and posting in a group if the admins have repeatedly deleted your post for being inapplicable. It’s rude and tactless, and you’re likely to get thrown out on your ear. Also, consider that a buyer doesn’t want to deal with a rude and tactless person. Aside from being inconsiderate to others, you’re just hurting your own interests in the long run.
Do: include photos. Facebook is full of bright, interesting colours and most of us don’t concentrate very hard as we’re flipping through it. Sale posts without pictures are doomed to simply being overlooked. It’s also highly unlikely that anyone will bother to come a view a horse if they haven’t seen pictures of it, and people don’t like to have to contact you just to get pictures of something they turn out not liking anyway. Also, many horse sale groups require photographs.
Don’t: include poor quality photos. And this doesn’t just include cellphone snaps in low light. Selfies with your horse might be adorable but they’re totally irrelevant on a sale ad. As a buyer, I’m looking for someone knowledgeable and professional to deal with, and a teen in a tank top making a duck face while clutching her horse’s nose doesn’t qualify. These photos are perfectly fine to include on your own page or wherever else – but leave it off the ad.
Of course, cellphone pictures in poor lighting are also a complete no-go. A high quality photograph can really attract buyers and show off your horse at his best. There’s no lying in photos, but here’s an example of how a quality picture can make a horse look more valuable.
However, even a high quality image taken by a professional photographer can be completely useless in a sale ad. Remember that the kind of buyer you want to attract for your horse isn’t simply shopping for something pretty running in the field. A responsible buyer is a responsible owner, and a responsible buyer wants to be able to make some kind of an assessment of the horse.
Do: take high quality, highly applicable, clear photographs. Pictures should grab the buyer’s attention, but also give them a good idea of what the horse looks and moves like. For higher value horses, it’s probably worth it to have a professional photographer do this (if you don’t have a sister with mad skillz like I do).
Your horse should also be turned out as carefully, or even more so, as for a show. It should at the very least be extremely clean and well groomed. I like to put on a set of newly washed white exercise bandages (except for the conformation shot), as a clean set of white bandages expertly applied highlights the horse’s movement and gives an impression of the seller as being skilled and professional. However, they will draw attention to the horse’s legs, so if your horse has obvious conformation flaws in its lower legs, omit them entirely. He should at the very least be correctly trimmed according to his breed standard, preferably neatly plaited (except for natural breeds). I’ve never plaited for sale shots because the arena is kind of shabby, so I’ve felt that plaits can look like I’m trying too hard. But if I had a classy arena, I would definitely do plaits and quarter marks.
The rider/handler should also be neatly turned out. Show attire is a bit pretentious, but you should be clean and neatly dressed, with polished boots and long hair put up in a hairnet. I wear my work breeches and a golf shirt with my usual hat, gloves, and boots with gaitors or long boots.
The exact photos you take will depend on the horse, but I prefer to always include:
- A good conformation shot. Set the horse up against a nice background as you would in the show ring for its breed or type, even if it’s not a show horse. This is a deceptively difficult shot to get right. In my experience, it’s best taken with the photographer kneeling down. It should also be taken directly from the middle of the horse’s side – no funny angles so that the buyer can assess the horse’s conformation accurately. The horse should wear a bridle or show halter, no saddle. Always take the conformation shot first – he shouldn’t be sweaty.
- The walk, trot, canter and – if applicable – jump. If the horse is backed, these must be taken under saddle. If you have an elementary dressage horse, nobody wants to see him trotting around in the field. Youngstock should be photographed moving freely in an arena or a field with a nice surface. Ridden horses should be photographed in the nicest arena you have access to. The gaits should be captured from the side in the correct moment, with the inside hind leg coming under to give the best impression of forward, balanced movement possible. Given our scruffy yard, I like to use show photos for this part if the horse has already shown. NEVER use stolen, watermarked photographs! This is ILLEGAL and gives a very, very poor impression.
- One photo that’s just pretty, just to catch the reader’s eye. Preferably a head shot that shows something of the character and spirit of the horse.
Do: write your advertisement in clear, correct English. If that’s not your strong point, get someone else to do it or just proofread it for you. Grammar, spelling, and punctuation aren’t overrated. There’s no need to try to be Shakespeare – don’t go overwriting or using inappropriate long words. Buyers don’t want to read a poem, they just want all the horse’s information in a format that’s clear and easy to read. SMS slang is not acceptable.
Using the right jargon is also important to come across as knowledgeable. Of course, the best way to come across as knowledgeable is to be knowledgeable – learn the terms for what you’re trying to say and apply them right. Common mistakes include writing out the horse’s height incorrectly (e. g. 14.5h or 14.2″) and using the wrong term for the gender (e. g. saying stallion instead of colt).
Don’t: write extravagantly. You really don’t need to call your horse “priceless”, “SPECTACULAR”, or “perfect”. (“Perfect conformation” is something that doesn’t exist – put it on your ad and a good buyer will immediately be suspicious that you’re either clueless or dishonest). It’s okay to throw in a few positive adjectives about things that really are positive about your horse (“outstanding temperament” or “incredible jump”), but don’t try to make him a unicorn.
Do: include all the relevant information that you have on the horse, paying special attention to the information required by the group rules. This will include a minimum of height, age, gender, location, level of training, breed, contact details, and price. If he has any real vices, say so. But don’t be scared to include the things he’s really good at. I like to add the horse’s ground manners (“good to box, clip, bath, and tie up”), something about his temperament (“easygoing and willing”), the ideal situation I’d like to see him in (“best suited as a first pony for a nervous child”), and what kind of maintenace he needs (“lives out, barefoot, unshod, no concentrates” – LOL you can tell I train Nooities).
Don’t: try to sound like you know everything. Present the information you do have in the most accurate and professional way you can, but don’t add in information that you’re only guessing at. It’s okay not to be an expert. Put in everything you know for sure, leave out everything you don’t really know. If you’re not an experienced horse person, it’s worth having a vet or yard manager in your area just measure your horse and check his teeth for age.
This is especially true for breed and height. Don’t just take a wild guess at how tall your horse is. If he’s a farm horse whose parents were both descendants of semi-feral crossbreeds, he’s not 16 hands, and most buyers will know that. Use a measuring tape – even the type you use for sewing or measuring an area – to measure him in centimetres, then put that height on his ad as approximate (“+- 150cm”). Better yet, ask Google to convert it to hands for you, but unless he was measured with a proper stick by an experienced horse person, always give the height as approximate. It’s also not a great idea to guess at your youngster’s expected maturation height if you don’t know how big the parents are. If he’s a 13.3hh two-year-old, he’s not going to be 15.1hh no matter how badly you want him to. It’s generally safe to give the height of both parents or give the expected height as being somewhere in the middle of the height of both parents. Huge foals do not necessarily grow into huge horses.
As for breeds, everyone has an opinion about what breed their crossbred is, but unless either or both parents were registered, it’s not a “Friesian cross” or a “Boerperd cross”. Calling your vaguely Nooitgedachter-shaped mongrel a Nooitgedachter is inaccurate and insulting to the true Nooitgedachter breeders, no matter how pretty he is. Just say “crossbred” on the ad. There’s nothing wrong with a crossbred, and buyers will appreciate your honesty. If your horse does bear obvious resemblance to a certain breed, but you can’t prove his lineage, it’s perfectly OK to call him a crossbred of a certain type (e. g. “crossbred of Basutho type”).
Do: reply as promptly as possible to any correspondence. Once you’ve hooked a buyer, you need to continue to impress them with your service. Be prompt and polite. Many of us have a life outside of horses, so we can’t always respond immediately, but answering within 12 hours makes a good impression. If you’re doing this professionally, responding within the hour is my ideal. Learn where all the hidden inboxes are on Facebook and make sure all the relevant notifications are turned on.
Don’t: engage in battle with trolls. You will lose. Some people take pleasure in commenting on advertisements, especially those of amateur or inexperienced horsepeople, to provide their unwanted opinions. This is best avoided by following the tips above to ensure your information is correct, but sometimes it’s merely a personal opinion that someone will choose to vent on your post. Fighting with them in the comments of your sale post isn’t going to give a very professional impression, and it’s probably not worth your energy anyway. Delete the comment, report to the admin or Facebook if necessary, and move on. If you really do want to speak to this person, inbox them.
If you see something on a sale ad that is truly a concern to the welfare of horse and/or rider, commenting on the post isn’t going to help. All that does is make the OP defensive and cause a flame war, probably ending in the removal of the ad and the horse going to slaughter or being given away to the next person that comes by. Beware spouting self-righteousness in the name of “education”. If you do truly want to help the horse, report it to the relevant welfare organisation. If the seller really is abusive or neglectful, they’ve provided you with all the information required for an investigation by animal welfare. Screenshot the ad and report them. That’s how horses will be helped, not by preaching on Facebook.
Ultimately, the best advertisement for your horse is a good horse. Have your horse in good condition, wearing well-fitting tack, and being correctly ridden. Do some research on what kind of price you can expect to get for him, and price him fairly. If you are in dire financial need and trying to get rid of your horse as quickly as possible, the most humane option for all concerned is to take him to your nearest equine shelter (Highveld Horse Care Unit for most of us in Gauteng) and surrender him. It is highly unlikely that your underweight, unbacked, R1000 horse is going to end up in a good home.
Just be honest, be kind, and do your best.