The Big Dream is to have a horse that’s your special friend, your cuddly pal.
Over the years, I’ve learned that it isn’t necessarily always your own horse because you can form some wonderful relationships with other people’s horses, but I don’t know a single horse-crazed kid who doesn’t dream of buying, leasing or borrowing a horse of their own.
There are many ways to buy a horse but in this series, I’ll be taking a closer look at buying a horse at auction.
Now, buying a horse and ending up with a suitable one, is challenging under normal circumstances.
Buying at auction is increasing the difficulty level exponentially; it’s like asking you to win a cross-country race the very first day you sit on a horse. The risk of losing money and getting a horse that is unsuitable, or at worst sick beyond repair, is extremely high.
However, if you have your heart set on buying a horse at auction, read this before you do, and maybe you’ll come away with some information that can help you.
Start by doing your homework
You’ve probably heard of the horse that was bought at an auction and was a total nightmare: completely unrideable, running up massive vet bills and having an attitude problem that rivalled Kanye West.
You’ve probably also heard of the horse that was bought at an auction and turned out to be a total gem – a diamond in the rough – that is now trotting around somewhere as the perfect starter pony for someone’s daughter. And it was a total steal, costing less than a new iPhone.
All these stories are true.
Buying a horse at auction is not unlike gambling, but with a trained eye and some (read: a lot) of luck, you might just get that one-in-a-million dream horse, or a halfway decent leisure horse.
Keep in mind, that it takes determination and a strong stomach to buy a horse at auction and it isn’t recommended for first-timers or inexperienced horse owners.
This five part series is meant to give you a glimpse into the world of horse auctions, and to help you decide if it’s something you’d like to explore.
If you find yourself at a loss with buying a horse in any way, consult someone who does have experience and whom you trust.
You can’t save them all
If you’re a bleeding heart (like me) and want to bring all the horses home with you (because why wouldn’t you), remember that a lot of people who rescue horses end up being like the people they’re saving the horses from.
The news is full of stories where someone was trying to help, didn’t realise how much money it would take to keep several recovering and/or ill horses, and ended up having them all rescued at the last minute by a rescue charity.
Don’t be an idiot (I cannot highlight this enough) by making it worse: rescuing a horse temporarily, only to have it end up neglected again, is the opposite of helping.
If you want to help but can’t take a horse yourself, donate to a charity that is already rescuing horses and needs money for things like feed and vaccines. Or adopt a horse from a charity rather than buying from an auction, so that they can help another equine in need.
You will see kill-buyers at an auction
You might see a lot of horses that are going to get bought by what is called a kill-buyer: someone who is buying horses for the slaughterhouse.
A kill-buyer might be representing the slaughterhouse or can be working independently and will sell the horses on to the slaughterhouse.
At an auction you will see a lot of different people, both buying and selling horses.
Kill-buyers are a fact of life at auctions. Steel yourself and focus on finding a horse that is suitable for your needs, skills and budget.
Always go prepared
Buying a horse at an auction starts before you set a single foot at the auction.
Task number two is to vow to yourself that you are coming home empty-handed.
The last thing you want is to get attached to a hopeless case that will cost you a fortune in vet bills before you end up putting it out of its misery anyway.
Don’t go to your first auction roaring to buy. Go to a few auctions just to check them out and get a feel for how an auction works. If after this you still feel like it’s good for you, then you’ll be making a more informed decision.
When you have progressed to a stage where you’re ready to actually buy a horse at an auction, you need to start preparing for actually bringing one home with you
Setting up a quarantine area is a very sensible precaution because you don’t necessarily know where the horse is coming from.
He might have been going from auction to auction, travelling the length and width of the country in the process, before ending up at the one where you bought him.
A stable is not the best place for a quarantine area, since infections can transmit from horse to horse. An infection like strangles is highly contagious and can be hard to clean out of a stable once it has gotten in.
A secluded paddock is the best option. Reserve some bleach or disinfectant to clean your booths and hands with. Always disinfect yourself when leaving the quarantine area, so you’re not carrying unwanted visitors with you.
Your horse will also highly appreciate it if you have the foresight to supply his paddock with hay and water. No grain or high energy feeds, since he will most likely have gone some time wihtout a meal or a drink.
You also don’t know what kind of food he’s been fed before and during the auction, or if he’s gone without food for a longer period of time.
A horse’s digestive tract is incredibly sensitive and transitioning to a new diet should happen incrementally over several weeks. If you change the diet too quickly you might end up with a very sick or even a dead horse before you can get started.
Preparing to bring a new horse home with you
If there is even a remote chance that you might end up making a purchase, keep in mind that the horse is then coming home with you in as-is condition.
Think about what you will need to bring him back home. Make sure to check your trailer and towing vehicle before leaving, and clean and disinfect the trailer after use.
If you have a trailer with a moveable partition in the middle, consider removing it because you don’t know if your new horse will travel well. You may not even know if he’s ever been in a trailer.
Many auctions will require that a horse have a halter and lead rope when sold but you can never be sure that you’ll get one in good condition.
Bringing your own halter and a lead rope is a good idea. Trailer boots, blanket, rope, disinfectant and basic first aid kit are all something you may consider bringing along.
In some cases, vaccines and dewormers might be called for, but you should always have your vet come and check on your horse after you’ve gotten him settled in his new home, so these things can be accomplished then.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider bringing some grain and a bucket along with you. The grain will come in handy later, when you’re surveying your prospects, and possibly if you buy a horse that doesn’t load easily.
The bucket will also make sure that you can offer your possible new horse a drink right away, if he’s thirsty and there isn’t any water available, to help him take the edge off his thirst.
Next: Doing your legwork
Free Printable Checklist
Download and print this checklist for when you do decide to go buy a horse at auction. The second page is for writing down your observations about a horse you’re interested in at the auction.
You can print several copies of page 2 so that you can have a sheet for every horse you want to take a closer look at.