Wild Pony Auction at Chincoteague Island
Buying a Horse

Buying your horse at auction, pt 5: When the hammer falls

If, and when, you start bidding always keep your limit in mind. Don’t go higher than you can afford. Once the hammer falls, you’re liable to pay the auctioneer in full.

When you do want to bid, make your intentions clear by showing the auctioneer the bidding number you got at registration — and make sure it’s facing the right way!

If the price is going above your head, make sure to signal to the auctioneer that you’re out when he directs his query towards you, asking if you’ll go above the last offered price.

Clearly shake your head to signal that you don’t want to bid any more.

Never bid more than what feels comfortable

Don’t budge from the amount you’re comfortable with no matter what the auctioneer or ringmen say. Their job is to get as much money for the horse as they can and will always try to get you to raise your bid.

Stay calm and bid at whatever rate pleases you. If you feel like you might get talked into bidding more, get up and walk away until the sale is done.

If you decide to stay put, be prepared for the auctioneer and ringmen attempting to get a better bid out of you.

Understand what you’re buying

Especially, when you’re still new to buying at auctions, the auctioneer’s chant can seem intimidating. Don’t let it discourage you from getting what you want, though.

If you aren’t sure about the current bid, ask a ringman or the auctioneer to tell you. As much as it’s their job to get the best price, it’s also their job to sell to you and not confuse you.

The auctioneer is working for the seller and it’s his job to create excitement as well as a sense of urgency. The chant is designed to motivate people to bid quickly and secure a sale at a high price.

You should bid at a pace that is comfortable for you. Keep in mind that bidding too slowly might mean the gavel falls before you’re done bidding.

If an auctioneer feels that the buyers are taking too long and the pace of the auction is slowing, he will quickly hammer down one or two sales to pick up the pace and get back in control of the auction flow.

If you’re bidding on a horse that is within your means, and you genuinely want it, be mindful that you don’t slow down too much. You don’t want to lose the horse just because you weren’t bidding quickly enough.

When you win the bid

When you do finally win the bid, you will be asked to show your number again so the auctioneer can write it down.

You will then usually be required to give a deposit on the lot, which can be 10% of the purchase price or something like £50, depending on which is higher.

The clerk will also want you to provide details of how you’re going to transport the horse. Once you have paid the deposit, payment in full will be required either before the auction is over or right after it.

The sale will continue in lot order, so if you want to bid on another lot, you can continue to do so and go pay the auctioneer once all the lots have gone through the ring.

Upon full payment, you will receive your receipt(s), the horse(s) passport(s) if they have them, and the pass to get your horse(s) out. When you have your transport arrangements in place in the loading area, you can fetch your new horse(s).

You will need to show your pass to the staff to get your horse out of the auction’s facilities. Usually, auction grounds don’t have overnight or long-term housing for animals and may require a site to be cleared by a specific time on the day of the auction.

If you run into any problems on-site, you can talk to the auctioneer, ringmen or previous owner to see if they can help you.

If you’re tagging along with your trainer or another more experienced owner, in order to get some help finding yourself a horse at auction, you might be able to negotiate joint transport for your horse.

If the other person is also going to buy one or more horses you could get a lift for your horse to another yard or even your own stable.

If a horse has never travelled in a trailer before, it will most likely travel better in the company of other horses. If you’re inexperienced or new to horses, get help with the transport as some horses can be tricky to load and unload.

If you don’t own a trailer you can hire a service to transport your horse, just remember to contact them in advance to find out about pricing and how the transport from an auction will work in practice.

Don’t forget the fine print

Before going into an auction, you should always check the types of warranties offered on the horses.

The horses are not usually vetted before going on sale (other than pregnant mares confirmed to be pregnant), and any warranty given is based on the experience of the vendor of the horse.

This is why it is important to chat with the vendor of an animal you’re interested in buying.

The warranty status of a horse will be written in the catalogue and will be stated by the auctioneer at the time of the sale (this is why you need to listen carefully, because the warranty in the catalogue may differ from the warranty at the time of purchase).

The types of warranties given differ from auction to auction and animal to animal. They also vary in the length of time they are valid.

Warranties may also not apply to animals that sell for under a set value or weigh less than a fixed weight. Always check with the auction you are buying at to make sure you know how they operate.

Examples of warranties

  • Sound in wind, eyes and action — a horse/pony that is sound according to the vendor and has no underlying illnesses (treated or untreated).
  • Suitability — suitability warranties may be given for horses/ponies that are ridden or driven.
  • Hunter — quiet to ride and quiet in traffic, is capable of being used for hunting.
  • Hack — quiet to ride and quiet in traffic, is capable of being ridden as a hack.
  • Quiet to Ride — quiet to ride and quiet in traffic, is capable of being ridden.
  • Quiet to Drive — quiet to ride and quiet in traffic, is capable of being driven.
  • Sold as seen — the horse is sold as seen without any guarantee of being sound or suitable for any specific activity.

There can be many more types of warranties that differ in what they include or exclude.

Some auctions may also require stable vices to be reported; some may require specific combinations of vices to be announced — such as if cribbing is coupled with wind sucking.

Any procedure that has been done to the animal due to unsoundness is usually required to be listed, as well as if the animal is in foal (that’s horse speak for pregnant).

If a horse fails the warranty that it came with, you should immediately contact the auctioneer to find out further procedures. You will typically be eligible to get a full refund from the vendor, though this may not always be the case!

Usually, proof of the unsoundness of the animal will be required at the expense of the buyer. Also, if you decide to return the animal to the vendor, it will be at your own cost.

If a vendor has a higher reserve on the animal than reached in the auction ring, the animal might go unsold. If this is a horse you’re interested in the auctioneers will usually still work as an agent after an unsuccessful auction.

You can approach the auctioneer or senior staff with a reasonable offer, and they will introduce you to the vendor. If you make a purchase this way, the auctioneers will still require you to pay for the animal as if it had been sold under the hammer.

Before deciding to buy at auction

If you’ve never owned a horse before, or never bought animals at auction, you would do well to take someone with experience along.

They can then help you make a good purchase and find a good horse. You should even visit a few auctions, before going to one for making a purchase, to see how it all works and if it could be a right place for you to buy.

An auction is hectic and busy, and it can be very confusing for both animals and first-timers. Finding a good bargain takes experience, and a good eye, and even then the buyer can get something they didn’t expect.

Remember that young horses will always need several years of training before being good riding horses, and even those horses that are ridden in the ring are not necessarily ready to be ridden.

Use caution and listen to your instincts. Always be prepared to go home empty-handed.

Consider other options

Especially if you are not buying the horse for yourself, but a family member, it’s better to buy a horse from someone who will let you ride the horse first and take a while to think about it.

If you’re buying a horse for a child, you might consider finding a horse to lease that you might be able to buy if it turns out to be one of those once in a lifetime dream horses.

Remember that there are many other places to buy a horse, where you can get more help with the buying process and won’t have to make a split-second decision like when you’re bidding.

If this is your first horse, consider leasing first. You can always buy a horse later when you’ve gained some experience.

  • If you aren’t ready to own a horse part-time leasing can be for you. You will then share the horse with other renters and just pay for the days when you want to use the horse.
  • Full-time leasing is an excellent alternative to buying a horse, which allows you to visit with the horse and ride it before signing an agreement. Leasing can also come with access to a trainer depending on where the horse is to be stabled.

Adopting a horse from a charity usually means that you can return the horse to them if your child outgrows the horse or you can’t keep the horse anymore. It also means that you’ll be giving a horse in need a loving home and allow the charity to take in a new horse. 

However you decide to get your horse, always take your time and find a horse that has a good temperament for you, suits your skill level and whatever you want to use it for (hacking, dressage, jumping, driving, competing, cross-country etc.).

Good luck!

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