Can You Trust Your Agent?

I saw this yesterday, and it’s both unbelievable and absolutely believable. To summarize – horse agent/trainer is being sued by former horse owner because she sold the horse for $900,000, and told the owner she only sold it for $300,000, pocketing $600,000. It’s unbelievable that someone could think they would get away with pocketing that much money fraudulently and it’s absolutely believable because trainers do things like that all the time. Certainly not to the extent of $600,000, but I’ve heard enough stories to know that trainers will inflate the price of the horse to skim some money off the top. 

They get away with it because of the completely bizarre practice of paying the trainer for the horse, instead of the seller, that the horse world has somehow normalized. Oh, but of course, the trainer found the horse, and I now give all the money to the trainer, and the trainer handles everything! It’s just so simple!

WHY? Why would a horse trainer handle the transaction? Why would the buyer not simply pay the seller, and then pay the trainer directly for their services? How is an adult not able to write a check to the seller and not able to also write a check to their trainer? The purchasing of the horse may have been assisted by the trainer, but the trainer assistance is a separate transaction. 

The only reason I can see for the trainer insisting the check be written to them IS the opportunity for fraud. The less the client knows, the more the trainer can get away with. I imagine it’s not phrased like that to the client though. They probably say something like it’s how they get their fee, or they want to make it easier for the client. Maybe some people are unable to write out two checks, but I seriously cannot imagine being so laissez faire with such a serious transaction. People who are careless with money don’t hang on to it very long, for sure. 

I could hear an argument for the trainers being guaranteed their fee by handling the transaction, but I will counter with, trainers aren’t stupid. If they’ve been running a horse business they know exactly how to bill for all the services they render to their clients. They aren’t afraid of not being paid any more than they are afraid of not being paid for regular training or board. Someone could just as easily skip out on a training bill, so it’s not like there’s a higher level of risk. Besides, if the trainer so clearly doesn’t trust the client, why should the client trust them? 

It’s dumbfounding to me that this is normal. It circles back to other thoughts I’ve had, that some people just assume everything their trainer says is golden light, shining from the heavens, and their trainer would never take advantage of the hero worship of their clients. But, they do. From the lesser things like showing up late to lessons but ending on time, all the way to billing for things they didn’t do, trainers will take advantage. 

Don’t get me wrong though – I know not all trainers are like this. I would venture to say the majority of trainers just put in an honest day’s work, and may occasionally and accidentally slip up, just like normal people everywhere. Most are true professionals and treat their clients with respect. I hope all of those trainers are blessed with the proverbial money tree in their backyard, and a barn that never runs out of hay.

 What do you think? Would you, or have you, paid your trainer directly for a horse owned by someone else? I would love to hear the pros and cons of this. 

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  1. I paid the trainer directly for Paige, in cash. She was only 2k, and Paige was easily worth that. I think he’s an honest trainer though, and Paige’s last owner was/is a long time client of his who I doubt he’d want to shortchange because it would hurt his business in the long run far more not to have that guy as a client vs. skimming off some of the fairly low purchase price.

    A lot of situations I’ve seen with my friend who is a trainer is that her clients will say, I need X out of this horse, anything you get above X is your commission. Often X is reasonable and she can get a little more for herself, but X is sometimes too high for the quality of horse they want sold and she will struggle to place that horse, much less make any money off of the transaction.

    1. I can’t imagine he’s taking much from $2k, but it’s because trainers DO develop the level of trust that they get away with it. The trainer in the link above had previously sold 2 other horses for the client, so they had an established relationship. You’d think that the trainer wouldn’t have wanted to risk breaking the relationship with a client that is continually bringing good business, but she did it anyway.

      It is up to trainers to decide their fee or commission system that makes sense with the business model they are using. If it’s not working, it may be time to figure out a different model to continue to sell horses at a profit. It sounds like she’s essentially buying the horses for the price the client dictates, that may not be in her best interest in some cases.

  2. idk, there’s definitely a lack of accountability in the system where entirely too much control is given to trainers – creating these masses of riders who are basically paralyzed without a trainer there to tell them what to do, where to go, how to proceed. so this honestly doesn’t really surprise me. a lot of ppl like the convenience of having someone handle all the heavy lifting and dirty work in exchange for a commission. less morally upright individuals can usually find plenty of opportunity to turn this to their advantage.

    1. I agree completely! Trainers feed off this too… the more in control they are, the more they are relied on, the circle goes on and on and on…

      I just can’t imagine such a hands-off approach.

  3. I think it’s really important to be cognizant of this sort of thing when buying and selling… but I’m not sure it’s actually the norm. When I purchased, I wrote the check to the trainer.

    1. I hope it’s not the norm, but it would be impossible to determine how much this goes on because trainers aren’t going to admit to it. A trainer isn’t going to want to their clients to know they are doing it. The horse owner isn’t likely to figure it out until well after the ink is dried, if they happen to hear about it through the grapevine.

      Did you write the check to the trainer for the convenience of the transaction? Just curious.

  4. My old farrier (who wasn’t that great) his wife was a trainer, and she did a shady ass deal like this where she sold the horse for more etc. She was taken to court too and rightfully so.

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