S.C. horse sellers, breeders struggle in buyer's market
S.C. horse prices plummet, sellers trying to get by
Tim Corley, co-owner of Noble Horse Farms in Saluda, looks out at Regatona, a 5-year-old Andalusian horse, that is nine months pregnant. Corley said the farm focuses on quality rather than quantity.
Sharon Knight, Noble Horse Farms co-owner in Saluda, said Andalusians are her favorite breed to work with, such as her two-year-old named Bondadosa. Knight said she is trying to wait out the poor economy before selling any of her horses again.
Sharon Knight of Noble Horse Farms said Andalusians, such as this 9-year-old Stallion named Hielo, usually sell for around $30,000, but in this poor economy they often sell for as low as $5,000.
Bruce Gates, along with his wife, Tracy, owns Open Gates Farm in Lexington. Bruce Gates feeds Smokey, one of their quarter eight horses, but said they won’t sell anytime soon because the asking prices are too low.
By Liz Segrist Edited by Pete Shooner Posted on April 22, 2010
The recession transformed South Carolina into a horse buyer's paradise and a horse seller's nightmare.
Sharon Knight, along with business partner and fiancé Tim Corley, owns Noble Horse Farms at 2364 Newberry Hwy. in Saluda where they breed and sell Andalusian horses.
Knight and Corley said prices went south about a year ago, and ever since, it's been hard to be a horse breeder or seller.
"Nothing is selling. Nobody is buying," Knight, 45, said. "If you want to buy one, now is the time to do it, because people are willing to lower their prices."
Even in a poor economy, Knight said the 18 Andalusians they own wouldn't usually go lower than around $5,000. But in a good economy, one can go for around $30,000, and for rare colors, one can go up as far as $60,000 to $80,000.
S.C. certainly is horse country. The industry brings an estimated $1 billion annually to the state, according to the Clemson Equine Extension Web site, but when the recession hit, prices of all breeds went dramatically downward.
Owners definitely felt the effects of a buyer's market, and Knight and Corley said they "barely made it through 2009, the roughest year."
"Everything for ourselves went on the back burner and everything for the horses went on the front burner," Corley, 53, said. "South Carolina was one of the last to really feel the recession, so we'll be the last to come out of it."
Horse owners around the state are dealing with the same issues as Knight and Corley. Bruce and Tracy Gates of Open Gates Farm at 194 Zenker Road in Lexington said the cost of caring for their eight quarter horses is staggeringly expensive, around $24,000 a year, not including any shows or unforeseen expenses.
Horse experts attribute several factors to lower prices and a tougher market for horse sellers and breeders:
- Over breeding.
- The last U.S. horse slaughterhouse closing in 2007.
- The overall lack of money due to the economy.
The poor economy took an unexpected toll on the Gates' selling prices. Tracy Gates said the combination of higher gas and feed prices, along with people having less money to spend on buying horses, caused many horse owners to come up short.
Due to these factors, the Gates' selling prices have been dramatically lower.
"The last one I sold would have brought me about $5,000 four years ago, and now it brought me $2,000," Bruce Gates said.
The Gates said they don't have any plans to continue breeding or selling now because they know they won't be able to turn a profit.
Sarah Hare, National Barrel Horse Association district director for the Columbia region, said the closing of the last U.S. horse slaughterhouse possibly created some overpopulation.
"People just can't afford them anymore, so they're just letting them go for whatever they can," Hare said.
Over breeding and the economy caused decreased prices, especially at the lower economic end for horses, said Carol Deacon, S.C. Horseman's Council president in Rock Hill.
"Economic downturn has touched a lot of people and made them rethink a lot of their breeding choices, which is a good thing," Deacon said of breeding the best horses for the best possible offspring.
Vicky Hall grew up loving horses and opened Heritage Hall Stables at 323 Garbar Lane in Moncks Corner seven years ago, but said she isn't even trying to sell her horses now.
Hall said the poor economy has had a ripple affect on S.C.'s horse industry. Hay, grain, corn and gas prices went up, as did the cost of newspaper advertising, and people could neither feed nor advertise their horses, she said.
Linda Symborski quit her job as a registered nurse in 1977 to own, sell and board horses at her Pendleton farm, The Heritage at 1200 Cherry St. Ext. She said she won't sell or breed now because she won't settle for the current asking prices. For example:
-A young, trained horse would previously have sold for $7,500 and now sells for around $2,500.
-As for her trained horses for jumping and under saddle riding, she used to sell them for $25,000 and now the average asking price is around $10,000.
Despite Symborski's drastic drop in sales and her halt on breeding, she has had more boarding inquiries than ever before this year. She owns six and currently boards 19.
Bruce Gates said good horses are now available for as low as $50. "With $50, you won't be buying one of mine. But, I have faith that it will pick back up," he said.
Knight said although they've made personal cutbacks, there's nothing she'd rather be doing than caring for her horses. Due to their strict budgeting, they've been able to resist selling for less and to hold out for an improved economy.
"If you can't wait, you're going to end up selling dirt cheap," Knight said. "But, if you're in the position to wait, I think the market's going to turn around."