A Note about Sugarbush Draft Horses

I see it over and over again, and no matter how many times it's said, it's still wrong. "Sugarbush Drafts are just an Appaloosa Draft Cross". Uh.... no. The Sugarbush Draft Horse was a breed created many years ago in Ohio. While the initial cross was made using Percherons to Appaloosas, in the many generations following, the breed has been solidified into a consistent type. Saying these horses are "just" a draft cross makes as much sense as saying that AQHA horses are "just" a Thoroughbred cross, American Cream Drafts are "just" a dilute Belgian, or that Morgans are "just" a grade.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Selling Horses, the "little bit more" version (Pictures)

So, I guess it's a sign that spring is around the corner.  Horse inquiries are up (for both directions, as you might have noticed in my last post) and my pictures are out dated.

This, is Sugarbush KatyDid, the only Sugarbush Draft Horse I know for sale (full disclaimer here:  I am advertising this horse as an agent of Everett Smith the breed founder).  I believe this picture was taken around July of last year, but could be mistaken.  As you can see, she's long, weedy, and obviously young.  She was a 3 year old there.  But this picture still gives you a good idea of what she looks like.  So, I figure that today (due to comments both here, emails and FB) I would talk about what makes a "good" picture of a horse.

I think we've all shopped Craig's List at some point.  It's kinda like an accident scene, you just can't look away!  It's also one of the best places to test out advertising methods that I know of.  I do it!  If I'm not sure what will appeal to a buyer, I toss up a CL ad, and see how many hits it gets (because I can check how many views leads to people going to my website via my website host) and how many people even send email inquiries.  Different horses need different marketing.  Some horses should be sold based on their "huggability" while others on their performance abilities. 

Now, I'm not saying to lie about a horse!  That is not what I mean about marketing at all.  But when you're selling a horse, you need to appeal to the type of people that would be best for a horse.  So, don't market your well trained warmblood to the reiners!  Dressage riders want to know about a horse's gaits.  Endurance riders want to know about a horse's soundness.  Family pet owners want to know about predictability and affection.  Now, there's a ton of cross overs.  As an example, some dressage riders want to know about predictability and affection too, but they have to have good gaits in order to excel.

And of course, many people don't really KNOW what market they are in.  Some one might claim to be a dressage rider (Yeah, I'm picking on dressage riders today, just because I am one too) but not care at all about progression, and in reality be more of a family pet owner who happens to do dressage for fun.  There's nothing wrong with this, but they are hard to market for.  This is what I mean about testing ads to see if the horse is really appealing to who you want.

And seriously, what's the very first thing we all look at when checking out horses?  The pictures!

Now, lets assume that you've managed all of the necessities from the basics post yesterday.  You have a horse that is well fed, well cared for, and well mannered and trained.  (If you don't have this, then you can't really sell your horse.  You have to FIX those problems).  When thinking about what picture to use, you have to plan ahead and actually get pictures specifically for ads.  Unless you just get lucky, and have a handful of amazing pictures already sitting on your computer.

A good sale picture shows a clean horse.  This is where it gets tricky!  Brushed isn't always enough.  For me, I spend at least 2 hours grooming before a picture session, often as much as 4 or 6 hours to get it just right.  The first thing I do is check out the hooves.  Any cracks, chips?  Too long?  If there's nothing obvious, then you're good to go.  If there is, you HAVE to fix this.  People DO look at the hooves in the pictures, and it says a ton about the owner.

Next, and with it being late winter, hair.  Is your horse a walking teddy bear?  Can you even SEE the horse through all that hair?  No, you don't have to shave him, but you can clean him up a bit.

Check out the beard on this filly!  Her head looks plain and coarse with it.  Now, after looking at her everyday, you'd probably never notice, because those moments of beauty are what stick in your mind, not the overall shagginess of her winter coat.

But, it's easy to take clippers, or scissors, and trim up her beard to be presentable and to frame her head.  It does nothing to harm her, doesn't remove her ability to be protected from the winter, but it does make her look more "finished" and presentable.

I usually recommend that the beard, excessive fetlock hair (because they do need some there for the water to drip off their legs) and the excessive ear hair is trimmed up.  You don't have to clip inside their ears, but folding the ear over (edge to edge), and trimming away anything that hangs more then 1/2 inch outside that sure doesn't hurt the way the horse looks.

Once you have trimmed up your horse, then you clean the horse.  If it's warm enough, then BATHE it.  If the horse won't bathe, you have a handling problem, and need to fix it, or accept that you will lose a lot of money due to "lack of training".  This is just how buyers are.  If you can't bathe the horse, you can still clean it up.  There are many dry cleaners out there (the products, not the stores that do your laundry!) and if it's really bad, you can always spot clean. 

The easiest way to spot clean in winter, is to brush out the hard packed dirt with a stiff curry.  Then use a stiff bristle brush, and get the chunks away from the skin.  After that, grab a medium bristle long fiber brush (a dandy brush some call them) and get as much dust off as possible.  At that point, you use a wash rag - damp, not soaked - and wipe down the area.  You do not want to be dripping water all over a horse in winter, but you do want to clean the horse.  When you are done, it should be damp to the skin.  At this point, get a dry towel, and "buff" the spot until it's dry.  Then groom the horse normally.  Yes, you get to groom the whole horse all over again.  Just remember, that elbow grease adds a TON of shine.

Here is a properly groomed winter horse.  Note that it's NOT show perfect, but is presentable.
No caked on mud, no beard, and his fetlocks are shaped up.  Now, I can point out a zillion problems with this picture (background being one of the worst) and I took it!  The color of the sky is too bright, and his blanket bleeds into it, and the pale halter makes that effect even worse.

So Choose your back ground carefully!

Yesterday I showed a picture of Scorch looking lovely.  Well, here's an example of how the back ground can totally ruin a picture (this is rather embarassing!)
Yeah, every farm has their junk area... mine just happens to be next to the temporary house (man do I hate that ugly mobile).  And while it's ok to have it, there's no need to show it off when trying to sell your horse.  No matter HOW lovely the horse is, the viewers will never get over the junk they see and come to look. 

Now, compare that to this:
Later, and he's shed out, but same paddock, different angle.  Both pictures show a coming 2yo, and both were taken alone, just for my own records.  This picture of Scorch grazing could actually be used to sell him, although it's not the best.

Ideally, you want to have the horse standing, head up, and be able to see all 4 legs to some degree.  I'm going to pick on Arden now, to show you a few problems that many people overlook when posting pictures of their own horses.  It's normal to "know" what your horse looks like, and to assume that everyone else does as well.  But, a weird angle, or a shifted leg can send off red flags to a viewer.  The horse could look lame or deformed.

Taking a picture looking DOWN on a horse makes the horse appear shorter to the viewer.  When you "know" the horse, your mind automatically adjusts for the distortion, but if you've never seen the horse before, you get the wrong impression. 
If the horse is in mid step, the flexion of the joints can make the horse appear to have a problem.  Check out Arden's right front knee?  Does it look swollen to you?  It's not, she's just trying to take a step, but would YOU drive an hour or more to see this lame horse?
And really, the camera not only ads pounds, but also... a funky neck!  Because she's looking and stretching toward me, her head and neck are strangely distorted.

Here, the lift of her head makes her neck look scrawny, and disproportionate.  While I really like her back and legs here, the crazy neck just ruins the whole image for me.

And of course, the simple act of lifting her head can easily cause her to look ewe necked.  Look at the under muscle bulging, and the weak top line of her neck!  This horse hasn't been trained at all!

And yeah, it takes a few times to get it right.  Since this picture was for my own records, and not to sell the horse, I felt free to do a bit of photoshoping.
Not perfect, but the best of what I had, and doesn't make her look like a broken down nag.  Decent back line, good legs, a well shaped neck.  I did edit out my truck behind her though, because it was just too distracting to me.

Now in my horse ads, I prefer to use one conformation shot, like the above.  Most buyers want to be able to give the horse's overall build a "look over" before even talking to the seller.  No one really likes calling strangers, and we all know that horse people are inherently crazy, so make it easy for them.  If they can see the conformation of your horse, they will look.  If it works for them, then they might call, and if it's obviously not what they want, then they won't waste your time.

Remember, it's not about how many people are calling.  If your horse is obviously not what they are looking for, then don't waste their time, and they won't waste yours.  Allow people to rule out your horse based upon the right reasons, a good conformation shot, a good video of the horse's movement, and an honest description of the horse.  I know that I often feel like the more people call, the better I am doing, but that's rarely the case.  Many of my horses have sold to the first person to call me.... after sitting on the market a while.  Most of my horses sell within the first 5 viewers. 

Now, a good conformation picture is great, but most people will ask for additional pictures in their first contact.  Have some ready!  I like to have a good head shot, a nice image of the horse working at the level of its ability (babies playing, or being led, 2/3 year olds lunging, and mature horses being ridden).  Again, remember that the impression of the image matters!
THIS is not a way to show that your horse can lunge well!  Oh yeah, she's LOVELY there, and it's the kind of thing you look at, but it's not the kind of image that will sell your horse. (I mean, check out her balance, and control in that rear!)

Thy something like THIS instead:

Nice, forward, supple, with her ears forward.  She shows that she's working well, listening, and a pleasure to be around.

I also like to have some "emotion" pictures.  These are the ones you'd like to make into a poster and put on the wall.  Manes and tails flying, beautiful form, but not really something that tells you a lot about a horse.  Here are a few examples:

As you can see, you can't tell a lot about the horse from these pictures, but at the same time, most people find these pictures appealing for some reason.  That makes these a great supplement for when the viewer wants additional images.  I try to send 4 pictures off with each inquiry.

I won't bore you with tons of images of what not to do, but remember this.  If your buyer can't judge the horse's conformation (neck, back line, hip angle, shoulder angle, pasterns, etc) from the image, then you are wating their time, UNLESS the image shows that the horse can obviously do the job (such as "in motion" pictures at the event, we see this in barrels and reining all the time).  When you're trying to sell your horse, images are there to give the buyer information, and since you've already told them the horse's color (or should have) they should be able to get more then that from the picture.

Just remember, it takes a lot of bad pictures to get a good one.  I usually bring in about 200-300 images on my camera in order to pull out 2 or 3 that will work.  If you don't have a fancy dancy SLR camera, then find a friend who does!  It really does pay for itself.  I've found that spending one entire day preparing a horse often makes me an average of $1000 on the sale.  It really is worth it!


  1. Winter bathing... Oh so much fun up in the frozen north! lol

    Couple bonus tips: use a hot/warm towel bath to get the coat clean when it's cold. Or for a quick "bath" regardless of season use a spray bottle and fill 1/2 with warm water 1/2 with baby oil and shake. Spray on the brushed horse and rebrush. Gives the coat a nice shine.

  2. THANK YOU. You don't get a second chance at a first impression and a photo is the first thing that stands out in an ad. I wish everyone would read this post and LISTEN.

  3. Everyone should have a Mount St. Reject pile of photos (I know I sure do). I learned very quickly to squat slightly, lest the horses look stumpy *grin*.
    I took one of Rina the other day (an Arab) from behind that was TERRIBLE. I was going for a head shot (she was looking at something off to the left) but she turned her head back toward the front and the resulting photo was hysterical; she looked like a great big bubble-butted quarter horse with an itty bitty pinhead. Too funny. Thank goodness for digital cameras - next shot please! :o)