I read this fascinating article in the New York Times and thought I would share it with everyone.
BARGAINS IN THE BARN
By: SARAH MASLIN NIR
Published: October 28, 2009
WHEN Janet Rizzo decided to buy a second horse after her first one was sidelined by an injury, she wanted a mount of comparable ability. She expected to pay a price similar to the $70,000 she spent on her first, 11 years earlier.
But in this withered economy, Surfer Girl, the 12-year-old chestnut mare she brought home from the InterContinental Sport Horse Auction in Wellington, Fla., in February, cost less than $20,000. This year, Mrs. Rizzo said, she is going back for two or three more.
An increasing number of horse owners have been selling at deeply discounted prices, according to trainers, dealers and riders. One result has been that people looking to buy have new opportunities to acquire decent mounts.
“I would have never thought, say, three years ago, that I could go down to Wellington and for an investment of $80,000 walk out with maybe three quality horses,” said Mrs. Rizzo, who is the auction’s sales manager but has to bid to buy horses like everyone else.
While there are deals to be had, don’t expect to find a Ferrari at a Toyota price — the top competitive animals, whose prices start in the millions and work their way skyward, are as costly as ever.
In the world of hunter-jumpers, prices for what are sometimes known as “trade horses” have dropped. These are quality horses but ones that are unlikely to take first place, said John E. Madden, who deals in high-end horses through his company, John E. Madden Sales, with his wife, the Olympic rider Beezie Madden. For these trade horses, he said, “The prices have fallen through the floor.” But, he said, “to get the winner, the price hasn’t dropped at all.”
Wendy Ritter, who trains and sells horses out of Seabreeze Farm in Geneva, Fla., agrees. “Expensive horses are still expensive,” she said, adding, “Horses that are sort of medium and became inflated over the years became a little more realistically priced.”
This year, when Reily Rieker, 15, was ready to graduate from riding ponies to horses, she found and fell in love with Andricus, a striking dark bay warmblood. Andy, as the 8-year-old horse is called, became a part of the Rieker family in Oviedo, Fla., over the summer when the seller more than halved the asking price, said Reily’s father, Mark.
“The seller was very motivated to sell, and we took advantage of it,” said Mr. Rieker, the founder of a construction services firm. “It was a terrific opportunity for Reily to be able to get a horse. It was a combination of both the lack of track record that the horse had and the adverse conditions of the economy.”
Industry professionals suspect that prices have dipped because of the precarious financial situation of some horse owners and dealers. Board, training and veterinary expenses can cost thousands of dollars a month, and some are eager to lighten the financial load of horses under their care in a recession.
While Surfer Girl’s age and record may have contributed to the bargain price Mrs. Rizzo paid, horse dealers like Emil Spadone said price reductions had increased in the last year. “It’s a buyer’s market, but at the same time, people aren’t going to give them away either,” says Mr. Spadone, who estimates that some horses are selling from 30 percent to 40 percent less than they would have a year ago. He said he sold 80 to 100 horses annually for prices ranging from $15,000 to $300,000 through his business, Redfield Farms, in Califon, N.J.
The astronomical prices (sometimes edging past the half-million dollar mark, for horses that were just above average) that cropped up occasionally in better times, he said, are a thing of the past. “It was almost as if this economy is almost a bit of a reality check for us, and a correction,” he said.
Before Robert Beck, a trainer in Long Valley, N.J., was even sure that one of his clients, a beginner stepping up to own her first horse, definitely wanted to buy a certain mount, he asked the seller, Mr. Spadone, to lop $10,000 off the asking price of $60,000 for the 7-year-old Dutch warmblood. Mr. Spadone readily agreed. Mr. Beck, who estimated he had bought at least 100 horses from Mr. Spadone, said the response might have been different before the recession.
Mr. Spadone “would have held onto him and see what happens,” Mr. Beck said. “People are a lot more willing to get it done for a little less money, but to get it done quickly.”
“THE buyers are brutal,” says Jay Matter, also of Wellington, Fla., who has been selling horses for 30 years. He speculates that hard-nosed buyers, not desperate sellers eager to be rid of the financial drain of extra horses, are driving down the prices. Mr. Matter said he had been offered up to 70 percent less than the asking price for a horse, which he said he had rarely seen until this year.
But low offers are, in his experience, rarely accepted; even in this economy, sellers still seem to have their limit. “Do we have people who are down and out and have to sell their horse? Not so much as in the housing market, where your house has been foreclosed,” said Mr. Matter.
Mrs. Rizzo said she thought, “We’re probably reaching the bottom” of how low horse prices will go, “if we haven’t already reached it already.”
Sellers like Nona Garson, a trainer and former Olympic rider who runs the InterContinental Sport Horse Auction, said that prices had slipped 20 to 25 percent. But while her prices are down since the recession began, the number of sales has dipped only marginally, echoing other sellers’ experience of the market.
Kathy Meyer, a spokeswoman for the United States Equestrian Federation, the governing body for the sport, said that while the United States Hunter Jumper Association, an affiliate of the federation, braced for a drop in membership for the 2009 season, it fell only 1 percent from previous years.
That the numbers held could be an indication that those in the competitive horse-riding demographic have been relatively insulated from the nation’s economic woes, and that prices are unlikely to move further. Others see something else keeping horse prices from a complete free fall.
“This is a luxury item that can get cut,” Mr. Madden said. “But strangely enough, I’ve seen people losing their houses but they won’t sell their daughter’s horse, because it very much has to do with quality of life.
“I think that is a funny thing that guides the business.”