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Making a Profit with a Small Horse Business
by Patricia Hampton - North Wind Arabians

Many people look at the horse business and wonder whether it is possible to make a profit while following their dreams.  The answer is yes, but it takes good planning, good choices, good advertising, common sense and a lot of work. If you want to invest in a business that will make you rich, go into something else, but if you want a nice little business to supplement your income while providing you with a wonderful lifestyle, raising horses may be for you.

Raising horses is not a get rich quick business and, in most cases it is not a get rich slowly business either, so be wary of anyone who tells you to invest your retirement money in their very expensive mares. Keep your retirement money, do your homework, then buy quality animals at reasonable prices.

So, what does it mean exactly, "Do your homework"?  There are many fine horses in the world but occasionally you see one that just takes your breath away.  When that happens, find out who the horse is.  Study the pedigrees of horses that have this effect on you:  Look for the common threads. They will be there. You will find many people willing to advise you, but only you can really determine the type and bloodlines that will steal your heart. Ask for videos from many breeders, find old videos with the ancestors of today's horses.  Study the conformation, type, movement and beauty.  Figure out where they fit into what you really like.  Doing this homework in advance will save you years of wrong direction and culling, not to mention thousands of dollars.

Now to saving dollars. Once you have identified the type and bloodlines you are interested in, go shopping.  Pricing in the Arabian horse market is rather odd - more geared to the buyer than to the quality of the horse. People who show are more likely to get high prices for their horses that people who do not.  The reason is simple: name recognition.  The horse down the road from you whose owner rides on trails or competes in endurance may be a better animal that a horse whose championships have won him the coveted name recognition but he will not command the prices.  Show wins are no longer a measure of a horse's quality, but more a measure of how much money an owner is willing to throw at the horse to get the trophies.  Most people have dropped completely out of the Arabian show scene, so as you shop for your horses, seek quality, first in the individual animal, then in the pedigree and don't worry about name recognition. Read ads for horses for sale in magazines and on the internet. 

Seek the bloodlines, type and quality you like and see what kind of prices the horses are bringing. If someone tells you that you can make big money by buying a thirty thousand dollar mare and paying a five thousand dollar stud fee to their stallion, see what those offspring are really bringing on the open market. Small breeders who do not have ten thousand dollar advertising budgets and fifty thousand dollar show budgets are simply not going to get the really high prices, so don't spend that much on your breeding stock.  Absolutely top quality mares are available priced between $5000 and $20,000. Look at prices, do your arithmetic, figure out your annual expenses for stud fee, vet expenses, feed and maintenance of a mare and calculate what you will have to sell foals for to recoup your investment and make a profit within a few years. Take a hard look at the ads and determine whether you can spend that sum on the mare or whether you should keep shopping. Sometimes deals can be had on older mares, but PLEASE don't buy an older mare on a gamble unless you plan to retire her. These horses give their lives to us and deserve good care and love in their old ages. A single, truly splendid foal from a first rate old mare will make her worth the investment, but it is never a sure thing.  Do NOT buy an old mare with the hope of using transported semen.  It can happen but the odds are terrible, you are more than likely to come up empty handed.

Stallions, oddly enough, are usually purchased before mares.  It may be that people just fall in love with their special beauty and spirit, but it is prudent to have your breeding program at least well defined before purchasing a stallion.  If you shop well, there are stallion quality colts available for as little as a couple thousand dollars. There are also many gelding quality colts being advertised as potential stallions. You will do yourself a great service to study Arabian type, conformation and movement.  Learn to look at and evaluate legs, shoulders, hips and croups.  You cannot trust show ribbons, you really need to learn to judge quality for yourself.  Even at that, it never hurts to ask a more experienced person to look too. Please never, NEVER look at a stallion prospect and think that he has this or that fault but your mare can compensate.  You should never downgrade your mares.  Find the best mares you can and breed them only to stallions who are at least their equals, hopefully better.

Preservation breeding is a category unto itself.  There a number of special groups you may want to look into.  Among these areas are the Egyptian Arabians, the Spanish Arabians, the Crabbet, CMK, Russian and Polish Arabians and there are many other smaller groups. Preservation breeding has the advantage and disadvantage of having a smaller gene pool.  The advantage is that you can breed foals of predictable size, shape and temperament much more easily with line breeding and fewer outside genetic factors.  The disadvantage is that if you do it badly, you really can cement bad traits as well as good ones. It takes more study, more thinking and planning, but this is a pursuit of passion, is it not? Just be sure that the animals you are choosing to preserve are worthy of your efforts.  Never be so entranced by a pedigree that you forget to analyze the quality of the individuals you are selecting for your program.

A final word is about dealing with people. When you get an inquiry on a horse you have for sale, answer promptly. Have a decent video, printed pedigrees and a sales list with descriptions ready to send. You may have to answer twenty inquiries, send twenty videos, to find a serious buyer. Treat  each as a valuable contact. Do not ask people to pay for or return your videos.  Sitting on someone's shelf, they may finally be shared with someone who sees exactly what they want on your tape! Every person who talks to you about Arabian horses is a person of value.  Be willing to share, to mentor, to educate. If a child, who is clearly not in a position to buy a horse from you asks, treat that child with the same courtesy, respect and generosity as you would an adult. That child is important, that child is the future of the breed. Send the child your best video and keep that wonderful young imagination fired.  That child may be back in ten years to buy a son or daughter of the horse that stole his/her heart on your video.

The market is tough, good for buyers right now, but you can make a profit if you breed quality, keep your prices reasonable but more than your expenses, and are kind to people making inquiries.

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