How to buy a horse at auction
Buying a Horse

Buying your horse at auction, pt 2: Once you get to the auction, do your legwork

Because you don’t want to see your new horse for the first time in the sales ring, it’s a good idea to arrive at the auction early.

Ideally, that means early in the morning when most sellers arrive with their horses. It’s the perfect time to get a look at the animals and chat up the vendors (and get all the best gossip, of course).

Go around and talk to the vendors; find out where they’re coming from, why they’re selling the horse and why they’ve chosen this auction.

Maybe they live in the middle of nowhere, and this was the closest auction, or perhaps they’ve been struggling to find a buyer for the horse (remember always to ask why that is).

If a seller is a local, you’ll want to figure out why they aren’t selling through classifieds or other local means.

Depending on where the auction is, the grounds can be quite large

But since you arrived early, you have enough time to find and see all the animals that you’re interested in.

Horses can also be sold at cattle markets and will then be mixed in with a lot of other animals.

Find out if all animals are sold in random order or if types of animals are grouped together for auctioning. This way you’ll know when you need to be at the ring.

Any kind of livestock auction can be a bit overwhelming with many animals and many vendors eager to sell them. 

Don’t fall for something that isn’t right for you. 

Every horse comes to an auction for a reason, and it’s your job to find out why

Stick around and watch the horses being unloaded. Watch how the handlers work and how the horses respond.

It will give you an idea of how the horses handle and how sound they are. And, if you spot a horse you like, you will also get an idea of how she loads and travels.

Some owners might let you see the horse walk and trot in the exercise yard if you ask nicely, and some might even allow you to ride the horse, so take the proper footwear and helmet with you and don’t forget your manners.

Register yourself at the auction when you intend to buy

The auction will usually require your full name, telephone number and address before giving you an auction number.

Many auctions publish catalogues before the auction, but by the time the actual day of the auction rolls around, they will also have a list of late entries for you to view.

Some auctions allow entries to arrive right up until the time of the auction, so you won’t ever be sure what is in the auction until it has passed through the sales ring.

Once the horses are unloaded and settled in, you can catch some breakfast.

Try to glean more information by chatting up vendors and other buyers at the venue. If you can find some old-timers or trainers you can see if they have any friendly advice for you.

Your legwork isn’t done yet!

Shadowing old-timers or trainers might give you helpful information as they roam around looking at the stock for sale.

Usually, they will sum up the situation fairly quickly, and you might learn that the horse you had picked as a good showjumper, might have poor alignment or seem drugged.

Try to look for horses that attract a crowd, a lot of interested trainers for instance, often means that the horse has good potential. It also means you might be bidding against a lot of other interested buyers, which will push the price up.

Having your treats or grain bucket handy will let you get a look at the disposition of the horses.

Walk around shaking your bucket and watch for the horses that show interest by whinnying, coming closer or begging.

That they know what a bucket of grain is means they’ve had contact with people and have probably been handled at least some.

If they behave well enough, they might be what you’re looking for.

All the horses at an auction might not be ready to ride, and you can chat with the vendors to find out what kind of horses they’re selling. A vendor will usually have a good idea of the type of buyer the horse is suited to.

If you get a bad gut feeling about a horse, and you feel like steering clear of it, you should. Always trust your instinct. You’ll avoid getting hurt or buying a horse that doesn’t suit you.

When you finally find the perfect horse you should chat with the vendor, do a once-over to check the horse is sound, and hope that tranquilisers are not misleading you.

Then you go on and find two or three more perfect horses, do your due diligence with them and remember your promise to go home empty-handed!

Don’t get hung up on one horse, because you might end up bidding against others who can afford to spend more than you can. Always make sure you have options — and one of them (the cheapest one) is going home empty-handed.

Some auctions don’t allow handlers with the horses for sale or provide their own handlers.

Remember to look for a tag with a number on the horse and write it down along with any observations you’ve made about the horse.

You can use a simple out-of-ten scoring system to indicate how interested you are in the horse. 1 = not interested, 10 = very interested.

The auction numbers of the horses are often tagged to the halter right under the ear  (on one or both sides).

Tags can also be on the withers or rump — as on the white horse above — and they can be glued or sprayed on depending on the type of auction.

Next: Not on looks alone

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