by Debbie Hanson
“If I knew then, what I know now...”
How many horse folks have uttered those words? I sometimes feel those words originated in the horse industry. A few years ago I also found myself reciting them time after time. My story started just like the majority of horse-sale-gone-bad stories, but it had a different ending.
We were new to the horse industry when my daughter began taking riding lessons. After a few years of riding and horse shows, my equestrian had outgrown her pony, and it was time to move her up to a horse. Her pony would first need to be sold, however, in order to finance her new hunter jumper.
This is where my learning experience began. What many people do not realize is once your horse is out of your possession, it can become a very long, expensive, and almost impossible road to recover your animal or money owed. Horse trainers and dealers know this. Once a horse is in another jurisdiction or state, the likelihood of a favorable outcome diminishes even further.
I also learned that it is a common practice in the horse industry for some horse trainers or brokers to negotiate deals between themselves, without informing both buyer and seller of all the details. When a seller asks $10,000 for a horse and a buyer pays $30,000 for the animal, without seller or buyer knowing anything about the additional funds added to the price, it is not only illegal but it is also fraudulent. This practice is called undisclosed dual agency. Sadly, most jurisdictions consider it ‘civil theft,' but I find nothing civil about it.
Still relatively new to the industry I didn’t feel comfortable with the industry’s sales methods, but I was told, “It’s always been done this way.” When my daughter’s pony was sold after going out on trial, not only did the horse trainers not tell me, they also kept the money from the sale, totaling more than $18,000. To cover their tracks, they told me the pony did not sell, and that they’d like to purchase her as a broodmare.
Many months later I finally learned the truth. I cried but then my sadness turned to anger; I was angry someone my child admired, someone who was supposed to represent the best, actually represented the worst. The most difficult day was when I had to tell my daughter that the horse trainers had sold her pony months earlier without our knowledge. She replied, “Mom, how can they do that to a little kid? They are adults.”
What made my case different was that the FBI got involved. The case was the first federal case of its kind, regarding horse sales, and set industry precedence. It gained media attention, was highlighted during National Victims Week in 2006, and has helped to protect horse owners with additional laws.
Come to find out the horse trainers had dozens of victims; they committed their crimes across the country and stole money estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The horse trainers were charged with more than 70 counts each and both served federal prison time and three-years probation for their crimes. While now off probation, the two are still suspended from the United States Equestrian Federation - USEF, but are back working in the horse industry as horse trainers; they may even have the opportunity to have their membership reinstated in good standing with the USEF in the fall of 2011.
We did find the new owners of our pony and she remained with them. We never purchased a horse for my daughter, but instead leased a variety of hunter jumpers throughout her junior years.
I now wonder if the ten years I spent, dedicated to the case, could have been avoided, if there had been a resource available when my daughter started riding, like Rate My Horse PRO. I trust Rate My Horse PRO will inspire a higher level of honesty and integrity in the industry, which will benefit everyone.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA