Facts About The Risky Business

Of Horse Auctions

By Charlotte Uhrich

Buying a horse at an auction is a high risk venture and not recommended if you are new to the equestrian world. ACE advises anyone who wishes to buy at an auction to go with someone who is familiar with that auction house and who has had success with several horses from that location in the past. Do not rely solely on the word of an agent, broker or employee of the auction. That being said, many good horses can be found at auctions across Canada and the U.S. Intercepting horses at auction to prevent them from being bought for slaughter is an important strategy in creating a better future for our horses. Sadly, too many of these horses do not find good homes and end up in the hands of a kill buyer or a collector for a kill buyer. Here are some tips you will want to follow when looking for your new partner at an auction:

1. Know what you want before you go and stick to it!

2. Buy at a reputable auction where there is a vet present. It is recommended to have the horse you just purchased vet checked, no matter what your budget may be. If your horse does not pass a vet check immediately after the sale, the sale can be terminated.

3. If you are looking for a certain breed that is registered, check that the horse has registration papers from the breed association. Make sure the sellers name is on the registration for easy transfer of ownership.

4. Have a list of the lot numbers, or highlight them on the sale catalogue. Watch each horse as they enter the sale ring. This way you can see their confirmation, limbs, movement and signs of good health. If an alarm goes off by the way the horse looks or moves, avoid it.

5. Observe the horses carefully when they are handled, tacked up and mounted.

6. Look out for professional riders on a pony that you are considering for a child - there could be reasons for this.

7. Take someone with you who has experience purchasing horses at auction. 

8. Don't get carried away! Auctions can get exciting and auctioneers build up the atmosphere to push up prices when they can. Have a preset budget and try to stay within your budget. Remember there are extra fees you will have to pay on top of the purchase price.

9. Don't expect to get quality for pennies.. the best horses will bring the highest bids.

10. If you don't have your own transport, there are usually some transporters at the sale so you can get your new partner safely home.

Horse Auctions In General

The local horse auction is where people conduct the commercial trade in equines. Hundreds of horse auctions are held each year. Thousands of horses are auctioned each year, including healthy pleasure horses and ponies, former race horses, draft horses, donkeys, mules, and even wild horses.

Who purchases horses at auctions? 

While some people looking for inexpensive riding horses and ponies purchase them at auction, the majority of horses sold at auctions are purchased by either kill buyers or the people who buy for them (called collectors). Kill buyers are those people have contracts with slaughterhouses to supply them with horses.

What conditions are horses in at these sales?

Some horses are in excellent health, with beautiful coats and well cared for hooves. Others have been trucked to auction from places where they received little to no care. Often, these horses suffer from extreme neglect. Starvation is the most common and obvious affliction. It is difficult to visit a horse auction and not discover horses with hip bones and ribs so visible that the animals look like skeletons. Also seen are horses with systemic infections such as pneumonia and strangles, wounds, and serious foot problems that make it exceedingly difficult and painful for them to walk.

How do horses end up in bad condition?

There are several reasons. Some people do not realize the responsibility, cost, or time involved in properly caring for horses. The winter months are particularly bad for neglected horses because they are not able to graze on pasture and may not be fed adequate amounts of hay.

Are horses treated humanely at auctions?

Some auctions are better than others, but horses are routinely whipped and prodded as they are driven to and through the auction ring. Because horses at auction seldom receive even water, they may be severely dehydrated. Crammed together inside dirty stalls and pens, with no consideration given to their compatibility, horses often kick and bite one another.

Can conditions of horses at auctions be changed?

With the adoption of better regulations and upgraded enforcement, owners will realize that they can no longer neglect their horses and expect to sell them at auction. Without a way to market these horses, unscrupulous dealers and owners will be driven out of the trade. Cracking down on auctions is the first vital step toward ending the many abuses to which horses are subjected.