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Difficult trading conditions — both privately and at auction — have been a feature of the sport horse market for several years, and, although one reason may be that too many horses are being produced, another is undoubtedly unrealistic valuation.
Many sport horse auctions are characterised by the words “not sold” appearing in the listings with monotonous regularity. Sometimes, this is because an animal has failed a vetting, but, more often, it is the result of over-valuation.
This situation depresses vendors, buyers and auctioneers alike.
Richard Botterill – auctioneer
Richard Botterill of sport horse auctioneer Russell Baldwin Bright says: “In realistic terms, the value of a horse is the price another person is prepared to pay. There are several areas to be addressed in valuation, but the end picture is an overall view of the horse and its suitability for its chosen discipline.”
“The most important factor is that a horse is produced from stock which has proven ability to deliver good temperament, conformation and rideability. I would always put a greater value on a horse from a performance-tested family,” says Richard.
At the lower end of the market, trade is more difficult. “Any vices will reduce a horse’s value considerably – particularly if it is untried,” maintains Richard. “But horses with proven form can sometimes be forgiven a vice, as top-class animals are very hard to find.
“One advantage of buying at a well-organised auction is the opportunity to assess a horse alongside a large number of others.
“Vendors should also realise that well-mannered horses in good condition and properly shod will have a greater value. Presentation is the key – whether at auction or privately.”
Cathy Wood – producer
Devon-based Cathy Wood has been selling horses successfully for many years, privately and at sales.
“You have to look at your own stock with your eyes wide open – not through rose-tinted spectacles,” she says.
“Assess their strengths and weaknesses and value them accordingly; for example, a horse I sold for an owner last year was possibly the most talented I have ever had in my yard. But he had two small sarcoids, which we declared, and this was reflected in his price – he was sold for around half the amount I would normally have put on as a reserve.
“I try to put a buyer’s hat on and ask myself how much I would pay. You can’t value a horse on what it has cost you — some will earn more than their cost, while others will be a bitter pill to swallow.” Cathy feels that the reserve price should be set responsibly.
“I set my reserve as the lowest amount I am prepared to accept, not what I think the horse is worth, as you have to be realistic. I think there has been too much hype about continental prices — it would be lovely if ours were as high, but that just isn’t so.”
Sandra Biddlecombe – horse dealer
Sandra Biddlecombe has been selling home-bred and imported sport horses for many years. She sells at auction as well as privately, and one of her best sales was of a £16,000 Dutch dressage prospect at the Equilibra sale. She values temperament highly.
“He was worth his money because he was a very nice “person” and trainable, as well as being a good mover. He had been in a professional yard for 12 months, so he could do the job.
“This was the first time I had sold a “made” horse at a sale. When you keep a horse longer, you take a risk, as you invest a lot more money in it.
“When I am setting a price, I think of what the horse is worth to me at home and try to be realistic. I also bear in mind that anyone can go to the continent and buy a nice horse, so I can’t afford to be silly — but if I do have a special horse, I will put a special price on him.”
Nicky Stephens – event rider
Former international event rider Nicky Stephens has bought literally hundreds of horses at auction.
“The first things I look for are whether the horse has the conformation to do his job and if he has a kind attitude. Without these two things, you have nothing.
“The only conformation faults which lower a horse’s value to me are those which could affect his soundness later on, such as sickle hocks, badly-conformed limbs or back at the knee – other faults, such as long backs or straight shoulders, only come into it if I am looking for a show horse.
“The horse’s temperament is vital. A horse with a good mind, but perhaps limited scope, is worth more than one which has all the ability in the world, but doesn’t try.
“If I am buying for myself or need a horse to do a specific job, I wouldn’t necessarily mind if it didn’t pass a vetting as long as it passed on the important aspects, but this would lower the value.
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