What should you expect to pay for your next dressage horse?

Whether or not you have limited resources or very deep pockets, you should be aware of what is fair market value for the horse you intend to purchase. The value of a horse can be quite subjective and is largely determined by desirability, rarity and potential. Very often a flashy horse will bring a higher price because it is easier to believe that the horse has a great future ahead.

A horse's price tag is sometimes determined by a seller without adequate expertise to properly assess the animal. For this reason, horses often end up with an advertised sale price that has little to do with the horse's worth. Horse buyers also become confused in their shopping because of a lack of thorough understanding of what makes a horse worth a given dollar amount. A horses value takes in all observable factors like the quality of all three gaits, temperament, rideability, competitiveness, potential, soundness, age, reliability and a host of other important details.

It is not unusual to find a horse on the market that is not a "complete package," but priced as though it was. For instance, you might find a horse that is sound, beautiful with two wonderful gaits but a terrible canter. The owner is focused on the general quality of his horse and is pricing accordingly. He may not realize that the bad canter is strongly affecting the potential future use of his horse.

The price of any given horse is the present value of the perceived future use of the horse for the buyer. That means that if the horse has a canter that will keep him from any hopes of Prix St. George, then it needs to a radically lower price than a strongly similar horse with a good canter.

Like every other market, prices are directly affected by supply and demand. If a horse is rare and desirable, it will be expensive. For instance, a horse that is likely to go to the next Olympics will be quite expensive because there are only a few of them in the world, sellers wouldn't want to part with them, and buyers would pay the king's ransom to purchase them. On the other hand, a horse that is already 14 years old and only 3rd level is radically less valuable, because it's future use is certainly a less coveted destiny.

Age has a strong affect on value for this reason. Sophisticated buyers realize that if the horse is "on schedule" in its training for its age, it is radically more valuable. An eight year old that is only trained to 1st level can not be an expensive horse. On the other hand, an seven year old horse that is 4th level is normally an expensive horse. The most difficult horse to find is the 6 - 9 year old (competitively 3rd or 4th level) horse that is schooling through much of the Prix St George test and has a basic idea of piaffe and passage. If you were to find the same horse at 11-13 years old, the price should be relatively lower.

One common mistake that both buyers and sellers make is forgetting to take in the entire profile when assigning a value to a horse. For instance, Graemont will frequently get calls from a buyer who describes a 50K horse and says they have 25K to spend. When we gently try to point out the frustration the buyer might encounter, the customer tells us "yes, but...I already found just what I was looking for in that price range so I know it's out there." Naturally we ask, "why didn't you buy it?." The answer is usually, "because it was a little too difficult to ride" or "because it didn't have a good canter," or "because it had 2 previous colic surgeries," or most commonly, "it wasn't sound." Sometimes buyers fail to realize that a horse that can deliver the whole "dream" is rare, and therefore us usually more expensive than the one that has "issues."

Another common mistake that buyers and sellers make is using classified ads to gather comparative market data. For instance, they see an advertisement in a national magazine for a 4th level Hanoverian gelding for $20,000. Without more information, it could be assumed that they shouldn't have to pay more than this amount for a 4th level gelding. Fact is, the horse is likely for sale because the owner wants to dump him and get something that's NOT dangerous, difficult or unsound. Similarly, a seller will sometimes see a two year old gelding by a semi famous stallion priced at $30K. They might be tempted to use this information to price the horse they're selling by the same sire. Fact is, this isn't relevant information unless the horse is truly comparable AND if it SELL FOR THE ADVERTISED PRICE. Anyone can advertise an absurd price, but only repeatable and completely comparable sales justify a value.

There has been a noted sophistication in the market over the last decade with dressage horse sales. Buyers and sellers worldwide are becoming increasingly educated as to what a good horse is. Consequently, rare horses are more commonly recognized and have become more expensive. On the other hand, bad horses have become more inexpensive.

So, how do I know what a horse is worth?

Many buyers only have anecdotal evidence to go on when pricing horses. It is probably a good idea to talk to someone involved in sales about your situation if you need advice. Using numerous comparable sales (that are truly comparable) is the only true way to validate a horse's price.

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