What is exactly in a commission?
Your child wants a horse. You have been taking your child for lessons from a trainer down the street. That trainer has been teaching your child amazing things. Your child has borrowed a trainers horse to learn her diagonals, maybe jump a small course for the first time, maybe even traveled to her first show, and the trainer is essentially investing a large amount of time in introducing your child to the horse show world. You think your child has a great relationship with the trainer, and your $65 a week is starting to show in your child’s demeanor. She is suddenly really looking forward to barn time. Her grades are looking better, and you are starting to get keen on how to hold lessons over your child in order to get the trash taken out, and her room clean. Now your child wants a horse. Her own horse. A horse who will have its own original hashtag.
But instead of sitting down with the trainer, who your child has been learning from for months and months (maybe even years), you decide to handle the process of acquiring a horse on your own. You look on Craig’s List. You look at forums on FB. You join horsemen’s classifieds and are very impressed with the pictures, the sales ads, the impressive “Got this home from the track next door/kill pen/someone’s field six hours ago and he is already jumping a full course!” This apparently highly intellectual animal has suddenly gripped your family as the smartest and safest horse on the planet and ABSOLUTELY must share a last name with you. He probably even has a heart shaped star on his forehead which, let’s face it, is just screaming kismet! What other signs from God do we need?? The budget you have envisioned for the future family member, in your mind, seems so easy to locate online and the horse will only increase in value with your child’s training/riding right? (But your trainer might have been thinking this budget would be a suitable 12 month lease put into a stepping stone horse for your child to learn all the ropes, then maybe upgrade to a fancier, younger, and sounder model when the time is appropriate. Because your trainer has the professionalism to see the big picture.)
You and your child go try this horse, you show up on time, are greeted with the biggest smiles you have ever seen,your child hops right on, and in five minutes is positively glowing, you would even swear her equitation is rock star perfect on this adorable creature, and easily overlook the fact that it is kind of gimpy for the first twelve minutes your child is riding it, because your toothy fairy Charmster has spun you a simple tale of this amazing blacksmith whose wife just left him (because he works too hard) but she can’t call anyone else to sub because he is simply the best, so the three missing shoes will be fixed the following Monday because I just need to give him some time to figure out his personal life. I mean, I would expect the same from my friends, you know? By the time the explanation is over, the horse is already looking pretty good! You see his willy kind of low, but since you don’t reaaaaallly know what a low willy is, you think oh, he is so laid back he cannot even put the energy into putting his penis where it belongs and suddenly a low willy is a sign that the horse is super safe.
Your child jumps a cross rail two times, and the adorable toothy handler says, that was amazing, he is so green, you should really end on a good note ok?! He will pick this up so fast, he is totally unfazed by jumping, but he has done a lot this week, and is super tired from all the change, but I promise you all the jumps in his future will feel exactly like that cross rail!! Your child gives the kismet horse a giant hug and he even turns his head around to acknowledge her hug and nuzzle her for a treat, which you didn’t think to bring with you, so your poor child looks at you like omg mom, he NEEDS a treat, what are we neanderthals?? The Teeth just smile and say oh my gosh, don’t sweat it, we have loads of treats we spoil this one so bad, because he is literally the best behaved horse we have EVER had! and we have had a lot, let me tell you!! Then she does.
On your way home, your child is literally bursting at the seams with pride and excitement from the experience. She recaps every step, every transition, she feels he has wings at the canter, omg mom did you see when he tried to do that lead change, he was telling me he could do it! He just needed like a little more room at the end of the ring! I mean, that ring was soooooo small, I just couldn’t steer in a ring that small…….But in a normal ring, he could totally get it, I just know it, he really tried for me.
You have never seen your child this happy. You get home, share the experience with the rest of the family, and by morning you are budgeting the new family member into place. You call the Teeth and thank her for an amazing trial, and assure her you are very interested, you just have to call your trainer down the street to inform her of the horse, but all is good, no worries, my child LOVES the horse!! The Teeth respond “I’m so glad you came, but last night I had seventy more inquiries from an ad I forgot I placed in a local paper and it just came out this morning! The phone has been ringing off the hook!! Please try to make a decision by the end of the day so I can line up more people to try him! I am sure you understand!”
So you call your trainer down the street who (unbeknownst to you) has been patiently inquiring to her network of other professionals that you have a new novice kid who needs a specific type of horse, size, age, blood type, naturally an older horse, coming down from the adult amateurs but 2’6” winner, maybe needs a bar shoe or little maintenance, no problem. She has envisioned an appropriate match and been using her little black book of contacts to find just the right type. But when you ‘inform’ her of your little adventure and let her know of the urgency, she hesitates, trying to take in all that you have just told her. You mistake her hesitancy for something else, maybe that you feel she doesn’t think your child is actually ready for her own horse, and start to question the trainer your child has trusted for a very long time. You get defensive, and feel like you are being tricked. Meanwhile, your trainer is inwardly reeling and desperately trying to form the words needed to save this situation which really, can’t be saved. Of course she wants your child to have her own horse, she likes your child and wants her to be included with the other children who may have their own horses, too. But that is not the problem.
In the back of your mind, you have made the ultimate decision that it just cannot be that difficult to buy a horse, and the idea of paying a commission to someone else for such an easy task of acquiring a very large animal which may or may not require a lot of professional training and guidance down the road is just not worth an additional 10-20%.
And you could not be more wrong.
This scenario I have described is among thousands which happen every day, with a few variations, which, to those who have been in the horse business for more than ten minutes already know about, have experienced, and have been burned from. The trainers who are asking for, say, a 15% commission are not stealing from you. They are using EVERYTHING they have learned, paid dearly for, and have the position of trainer today because of that education, to PROTECT you from making a bad decision. Should any other profession require payment for services? I had my hair done the other day by a professional which was amazing. It was expensive, $125. I could do it myself for $8.99 with a box from Clairol. But after several tries doing it myself and looking at the grey hairs which never captured the coloring quite right and my inability to see the back of my head, which means a LOT of grey hairs show when I have a ponytail, I decided I can’t do it myself with good results, and a professional will stand behind his/her work, so if I am unhappy, they will fix it free of charge. If my box of Clairol doesn’t satisfy me and the results are disastrous, I still have to go back to a professional and say FIX ME! Then I will have to pay $125 on top of the $8.99 and twice the time is spent on hair……
You pay trainers a commission because the job they have to find you a suitable horse is a service they are providing. Maybe it takes longer than you had hoped, yep, sometimes the horse your child requires is just not out there at that particular moment. But you wait until your trainer is satisfied with the creature that IS appropriate for your child. This could have involved three phone calls, but it could have involved 155 phone calls. You don’t know, nor is it your business, most likely if the perfect horse was a result of three phone calls, it is actually the 155 previous phone calls which led her to an easy transaction that time. Believe me, I have a list of clients waiting on horses which will ever only require one phone call. But that is because the four decades of calls I have made contributed to me knowing EXACTLY what my clients are looking for. Your trainer will ultimately have to stand behind the horse that is chosen for your child, so it is less likely an unsuitable one will appear on your doorstep.
Don’t shortchange an important figure in your child’s life, you cannot negotiate with a University for education, don’t try to negotiate with the hard working individuals of the show world. If you have done your homework and you have joined a good and reputable show barn, which has been around of years, then the professional there is going to use his/her small network of other professionals to keep you from getting duped by the liars, thieves, and cheaters in this business. That is why they are a good and reputable show barn. They are involved in the show world community, they probably serve on committees which work to improve membership relations with horse show associations and Federations. Of course, it is YOUR responsibility to seek out trainers who hold a higher standard of integrity, even if it means you are going to have to deal with a longer commute a couple times a week, but this is all on you. The information is all out there. It is a tight community. Just shopping for your child’s first helmet at the local tack store will probably be a valuable resource for information.
And I don’t really have a problem with internet shopping, some great horse relationships have been a result of online ‘matchmaking’. But take a well respected, reputable trainer with you, especially the first time, so they can tell you what exactly you are looking at. An unbiased opinion will save you thousands of dollars.
So then we try to deal with the flip side. Say your child is off to college, and the decision is made to sell the horse with it’s original hashtag. It has been a successful show horse for your child. Your trainer has advised you of the appropriate market for the type of horse you have, and you expect to pay a commission for the sale, but have a bottom line set. Anything over that is up to the trainer to manage. How many commissions is too many commissions? It seems like EVERYONE has their hand out for access to their little black book of contacts, and suddenly your children’s or junior hunter is stacking up tens of thousands of dollars on top of what you were told was a fair price for your horse? Is this fair? Should there be a limit? Can it be controlled? No, probably not, but do you want to run the risk of a no sale because of your fear of too many people receiving commissions? Ugh, the dirty side of horse dealing has finally raised its head too high. And this dirty side might be what is fueling just enough of the rumors to keep the newest members into the show world from paying a reputable trainer a commission for the very first horse. Is there enough room for transparency in this trade business? I usually find if you are just upfront with the whole process, that it helps. We are seeing more and more interest in online agencies facilitating horse deals, like the Equine Exchange, offering legally binding contracts to protect both buyer and seller, which might be the way of the next generation, but not exactly getting us out of sticky situations right now.
Yet, I worry about where we keep heading. Each year that creeps by seems to bring us closer to a Federation controlling sales of horses, like in Real Estate, And if we took a vote today on how many people would be in favor of a Federation controlled sale, what would be the guess of percentage in favor? 2%? seems high, actually. So now we look the other way when we know people are being silly about how much they are charging for their contact info, because we need each other to stay in business and if one us starts speaking up, people will think twice about dealing with them. I get that. I have seen it. For me, I have been doing this so long, I could care less what other people make, I just have a bottom line for each horse, and whatever happens past that is fine. I have a percentage I keep across the board for ANY transaction, on ANY level of price up to 100k. Above that mark, even if the horse is being brokered for 300k, my contact info is still only going to cost you 10k. Because that is what I feel people understand, and it is a formula which works for me in the business I have created for myself. If people feel that I deserve more for brokering a fancy expensive horse, they write a bigger check if the deal gets completed.
Some trainers have all of this wrapped up in a boarding or lesson agreement, which spells out all the scenarios in a simple paragraph, and it possibly could even be written into the Waiver of Liability form. This business, i.e.: Noble Stables, charges UP TO 15% for a sale/lease/brokered transaction. This is brilliant, because it suggests flexibility for a less expensive horse. And it introduces a conversation about the service the business is providing. Give a trainer a chance to be flexible in order to make a good sale go through.
The horse business can wreak havoc on individuals who LOVE horses and work hard for them, and clients who believe it is not a real job, and you are entertaining their offspring because it is fun, always fun. Like a game. But it is not a game. It is still a business, like any other sport, a trainer is taking responsibility for very important decisions, and they should be able to answer all the questions you have at all times, and be given a chance to make the right decision.
Owning one horse for a short amount of time is not always going to be completely satisfying, but the more you sort of go with the flow, learn from mistakes, find your ‘horse professional’ you can basically trust, and see more long term issues in the horse business than short term, the easier it will be to balance out the dollars. You win some, you lose some like when faced with buying stock for the first time. There are no guarantees in the stock market, no way, no how… And what does the stock broker say? The longer you are in it, the better your results.