What determines the value of a horse?

As horse lovers we are aware that every horse is priceless, regardless of breeding, training or talent. But the fact of the matter is that some horses command a higher price tag than others. For many of us, the reasons behind this might seem mystical. Why should one plain brown horse cost R5,000 while another costs R500,000?

HQ spoke to Candice Hobday, one of the organisers of the Equisport Auction to be held in September, about the aspects which contribute to the monetary value of a horse.

Amateur vs professional

IMG_8686“When it comes to horses you could almost say that there are two distinct types available: those for the professional and those for the amateur enthusiast,” she begins. “The trick is being honest with yourself when determining which of these categories you fit into.” Clearly the ‘professional’ ride will come with a much higher price thanks to a variety of aspects which include breeding, talent, temperament, training and achievements. On the other hand, there is immense worth in the seasoned schoolmaster, who can offer a rider a wealth of value in terms of riding experience.

A green horse with a green rider is the worst combination

They are often, by nature, much sharper and more sensitive. Before determining the difference between a professional and an amateur ride, consider the difference between these two types of rider. Essentially, if you earn your living on horseback, you’re probably a professional. If your riding fits in around a full-time career, you most likely fall into the enthusiastic amateur category. There is no shame in this fact, and it is not any indication of your skill or ability – the sad reality is that at present the South African climate doesn’t support a burgeoning equestrian industry.

The right horse

Once you’ve determined your needs, what sort of horse should you be looking for? As an amateur, the most important qualities are temperament and training, says Candice.

You want something that will look after the rider, and try a little.

He has to be nice to ride, forgiving in the contact and brave, not spooky. A horse who can go a few days of no riding without going crazy. He should be reliable and constant – the type of horse who will get the rider over a jump.

Conformation is another consideration, but again, perfection isn’t necessary. “For dressage, a horse who is a little uphill and flexible is easier to ride. Good rhythm in the frame and good fundamentals in the gaits are necessary – three fair gaits but a five or a six out of 10 is good enough,” she emphasises. Breed type isn’t a major concern and Candice adds that crossbreeds are generally a great option – the good news is that very often they’re more affordable. “Sometimes breeding makes a difference, but it’s not always a guarantee.”


Flash equals cash

Colour and size can push prices up significantly

Colour and size can push prices up significantly

One trap that many buyers fall into which impacts the bottom line is the temptation to invest in ‘flash’. “Colour and size can often affect the price of a horse even though they have little bearing on actual ability,” warns Candice. In SA, ‘big’ is often seen as ‘better’ but this can be a disaster. “It’s easier to park a Mini Cooper than a bus,” she jokes. Fashionable pedigrees are another factor to be careful of – particularly with stallions who have yet to prove themselves.

The pro ride

When it comes to the ‘competitive’ ride, you need an ambitious horse who wants to be there with you. These horses can be a bit spooky because most riders at this level can cope. “You want reactivity, a capacity to learn and a lot of sensitivity – they must be hot enough. Where an amateur horse should ‘simmer’ a pro ride needs to be at ‘boiling point’,” says Candice.

Now conformation becomes important because faults can impact soundness under pressure. Also, at higher levels a bigger horse might actually be better – but not so big that he’ll break down. “Of course there are exceptions, but a smaller horse may struggle with the 1.5m classes, so you need a bit more substance. It’s nice to have a bit of flash for dressage – though this is less important for jumping.”

Good paces may draw the eye, but a solid, reliable horse may get you further

Good paces may draw the eye, but a solid, reliable horse may get you further

Horses with the scope to excel at this level have a higher price tag because there simply aren’t a lot of them. “About 2% of dressage horses will reach Grand Prix,” says Candice. “A lot can do piaffe or pirouettes or one-time-tempis but not all in a row. Few possess the mental and physical strength required.”

Jumpers have a similarly stiff list of requirements. “For jumping a lot hinges on adjustability. It’s not simply about being able to jump. You also need a horse who is scopey with good technique, and the right combination of carefulness and bravery,” she continues.

Ultimately there’s no real price indicator for the equine market. Economic fluctuations may mean that a horse who earned R150,000 last year will only fetch R100,000 this year. Emotion also has a lot to do with it. When you meet the horse of your dreams, whether you’re amateur or pro, no price is too high.

Pro pricing

Riders in the ‘pro’ league will understandably be facing far heftier horse prices. Here, it’s difficult to establish costs because determining factors are so varied. Discipline, breeding and location are to be considered – an imported horse will obviously be more expensive. Although stories abound of Junkmail champions, the reality is that most professional riders will be looking in excess of R150,000 for their next ride, with many rocketing towards a million.

Text: Brigitte Billings
The full article appears in the September issue of HQ.


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