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Horse Trader Tricks: Don’t Fall Victim

When it comes to selling horses, dishonesty runs rampant — and if you’ve ever fallen victim to one of these scams you know the heartache and headache it can cause.
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Flickr/nathanmac87/Creative Commons License

Horse Trader Tricks is a website that began when three women who had all been victimized by dishonest horse traders met online. Founder Sandy Scott explains:

Misery loves company and when we started comparing notes, we realized that our traders used almost identical tactics to sell their horses. All three of us are lifelong horse owners and we couldn’t believe our own stupidity. We began writing the text for HTT in September of 2010, and felt our target readers would be novice horse shoppers because surely the three of us were just unusually and embarrassingly gullible, and atypical of the traders’ usual prey.

We posted ads on Craigslist and a few other sites asking if other people had suffered similarly. Emails poured in from victims telling their stories… along with hate mail from traders.

Ha! We had clearly struck a nerve in the horse industry.

Now we realize that it’s not just first-timers; experienced horse buyers have been deceived. We missed the basic principle of all flim-flam men and scam artists.  In order to be successful in duping people, they have to be convincingly charming and sincere. Our true common denominator as victims is that we all liked and trusted our sellers.

Now five years later, Horse Trader Tricks is an excellent resource for educating horse shoppers about the dastardly tricks some traders use to sell horses. Sandy has kindly allowed us to share excerpts from the site with Horse Nation and we encourage anyone who is thinking about buying a horse to visit the site for even more valuable info.

Profile of a Horse Trader: Charming, Knowledgeable, Sincere, Dangerous

Horse traders come in every shape and size.

For the sake of brevity, we’ll refer to our horse trader in the masculine, but there are plenty of women in this game too.

For example, you might encounter a kindly senior citizen, a young woman with a baby on her hip, a cowboy, or a man in a business suit; don’t let stereotypes blind your good judgement.

Horse traders have to be convincing.

He knows the first step in making a sale is to establish a connection with the buyer, so he’ll tell you what you want to hear.
He will be confident, and often friendly or funny. He’ll seem like a nice guyand you’ll like him.

Horse traders listen carefully.

If you describe your ideal horse, the animal you’re looking at will match perfectly.

If you confide that you’ve bought horses from other traders and been unhappy, he will commiserate and tell you that he’s also heard bad stories about those sellers and will assure you that you’re safe with him.  Don’t be fooled; most of the traders know each other and work together. They meet weekly across their region at livestock sales and auctions.

Horse trader selling tactics:

A trader might shamelessly use his child to sell horses. When you see his 6 year-old daughter effortlessly turning, trotting and stopping the mare you’re looking at, you’ll be impressed. Traders are affectionate with their own children, and yours, too.

A tricky trader might exhaust the animal hours before you’ve scheduled your appointment to look, or he might administer a sedative so the horse appears calm.  The horse might be sticky with sweat or freshly bathed to hide the evidence, but he knows a worn out horse will be less likely to misbehave.

He might dose the horse with pain killing drugs so there’s no evidence of unsoundness.

A typical trader has only a small round pen or paddock to showcase his horses. If you ask how the horse goes in a larger area or out on the trail, he assures you it is steady and exactly the same no matter where it is ridden. The trader has his other livestock in fields around the paddock or round pen so you can’t try the horse yourself outside the small area.

He is adept at trial closes (Sales tactic 101) by saying you won’t find a nicer horse anywhere else, and encouraging you to agree.  He’ll say he has two other people scheduled to look at this particular horse later in the day. He carefully lets you know that you’d be foolish to let this perfect mount go by not making an immediate decision to buy it.

He’ll say he’s had the horse for over a year, but he has too many and needs to let some of them go… or it’s his wife’s favorite but she’s too busy to ride… or he felt sorry for the horse and took it out of the goodness of his heart to find it a better home.

The horse won’t have a current Coggins certificate because “it just expired.” If you could see the real Coggins, you might observe that he’s only owned the horse a short while.

He may offer to let you try the horse for a week or two and return it if you’re not completely satisfied.  He’ll give you examples of a few fickle and unreasonable people who have returned good horses to him.  He’ll explain, with a sigh of resignation, that he refunded their money and sent them on their way.

If you want to think about it overnight, he’ll kindly offer to hold the horse because you’re such a wonderful home.

If you want to document all he’s said in the form of a sales contract, detailed bill of sale, or written agreement for a trial period, and he refuses, it might mean your trader hasn’t been completely truthful. Proceed with caution.

Profile of a a Victim

Horse buyers who are especially vulnerable to being scammed often fall into one of the two categories listed on this page. If you recognize yourself, please pay close attention to the words of wisdom and experience this website offers; it was hard won.

“I miss riding”

This mostly describes me:

I am a woman in my 40s, 50s, or 60s.
I was an accomplished rider in my younger days.
I haven’t ridden consistently for years or decades.
I am looking for a gentle, well trained horse.
I want to spend less than around $2,000.
I am confident about choosing the right horse.
I don’t always recognize scoundrels.
I really, really, really don’t want to get dumped at my age.

“Every child should have a horse”

This mostly describes me:

I am a parent or grandparent
I may not have a lot of useful or practical experience with horses.
I remember loving horses as a child with joy and nostalgia.
I am looking for a very cute, reliable, small horse or pony.
While horse shopping, I am open to advice from the seller.
I want to spend less than around $2,000.
I don’t always recognize scoundrels.
I really, really, really don’t want my child to get hurt.

Red Flags

Note: The red flags listed here DO NOT always mean you are dealing with a dishonest trader! While many dishonest traders will use these tactics to sell horses, true or not, there can be perfectly reasonable explanations for any of them (except not signing a contract). Please, use them as intended: as an early warning system.

Pictures in advertisements show the horse in a creek, with a dog in the saddle or someone standing in the saddle.
Pictures show a child on the horse.
The horse doesn’t have a Coggins certificate (in states where it’s expected).
The horse is saddled and bridled when you arrive, or already sweaty.
You Google the seller’s name, address and/or phone number and see many ads for “kid-broke” or “100% bomb-proof” horses.
The seller wants to meet you somewhere to show you the horse.
The only place to ride is a small paddock or round pen.
The horse is advertised as 100% child safe or kid broke.
Seller refuses to sign a bill of sale, a contract, or anything else that may document details of the sale.
The horse is in very poor physical condition.
Bait & Switch — The perfect horse in the ad is no longer available, but the seller has many others for sale.
If a male horse’s penis is more relaxed than normal, it might mean the horse has been sedated. (Click here for more signs that a horse may have be drugged.)
The seller makes excuses (recent stone bruise, hooves trimmed too short, tripped yesterday in the pasture, caught a cold,etc.) if a horse is sore, lame, or sick. A pre-purchase exam will at least let you know what to expect if you do buy.
If the horse is unusually shaggy well into late spring and the seller says it just hasn’t shed out yet, the horse might be suffering from Cushing’s disease.

For more information on topics including…

Research your seller

Recourse if you are the victim of a scam 

Lies commonly told by horse traders

Buyer etiquette and responsibility

General horse buying advice

The pity purchase 

Trader horror stories

Horse sale contract advice

What you need to know about “horse rescues”

The perils of Craigslist

… and much, much more, visit Horse Trader Tricks. Remember, when it comes to avoiding scams, knowledge is power!