Is it possible to buy a decent horse, at a decent price, at a public auction? Yes – providing you follow a few commonsense buying tips.
Buying a Horse at Public Auction
by Dale Anderson
Let me share a short story with you about public horse auctions and my friend Jack.
Jack, an old time horse trader, and I use to travel to horse auctions all over the state. I’d just watch Jack and maybe later ask my questions. Jack was usually pretty closed mouthed, but he let me in on his secrets to buying good horses at auctions.
Here are 5 things to do to put the odds of buying a good horse at public auction in your favor:
1. Arrive at the auction real early – 3 hours or more before the auction starts.
You want to be there as the horses arrive, so you can see who brings them and how they unload and walk to their pen.
Who brings the horse? A horse trader, private party, woman, man, kid, also how many horses did they bring? You need to know this so you have a clue as to who you will possibly be buying from and who to talk to about the horse before you bid.
2. If you see a horse you like, go to the horses holding pen. Watch the horse and how he moves.
If the horse is tied up in the pen this could mean trouble as the horse owner might not want you to see the horse move. Check the horse for blemishes and soundness, make sure the legs are clean and the hooves are healthy and maintained, there should not be any limping or signs of lameness.
I do not like scars, divots or bumps on the head and neck. This shows the horse has been in a wreck of some kind, which could mean the horse is prone to panic; I’ve been stuck with a couple of panic prone horses and they have hurt me. If you don’t know about lame horses and what to watch out for, take someone with you who does – or don’t bid.
Now the horse should show signs of life, maybe be a little bit excited being with all the other horses and in new surroundings; if not, you could be looking at a drugged horse.
3. Talk to the person that brought the horse.
You will know this person because you have seen them arrive. Make sure they are the owner of the horse – if not, who are they? The standard stories are:
“It’s my neighbors horse.” This often means: “It is my horse but I am not going to admit it to you, as I don’t want to be held accountable for the lies I’m about to tell you.”
Or it might mean: “I’m a dealer trying to pass off this horse as a good old horse that is so gentle to ride, the neighbor kid rode it bareback on the road,” when in reality it’s a dink horse that he can’t sell off his trading string.
Jack used to sidle up to the person who brought the horse and softly ask: “Say, can you tell me a little bit about your horse?” Then he SHUT UP and listened. They would tell all the nice things about the horse and Jack would just look at the horse, not saying a word. After they got through the string of lies or half truths, they would start getting nervous because it was so quiet; they thought that they had to ramble on some more and that’s when a bit more of the truth started to show up… “Yeah, old Barley don’t buck – except that one time when he broke my collar bone…” Ooops!
4. Follow the horse from the pen to the sale ring.
Jack used to walk right into the sale ring with the horse and watch it move in the ring too. The other advantage is you can see who is bidding. The owner or someone with them may be running up the bid, you know this because you seen them arrive right?
Now you may not be able to get in the ring but you can stand next to it so you can see the horse and the crowd too. Most owners try too hard to get their horse to ride well in the ring, which is usually too small to work a horse in, so you get to see how the horse responds under pressure. Watch for rearing, head tossing, humping up or crow hopping – usually the small size of the ring prevents them from bucking.
5. If you still like the horse bid on it.
How much? Jack would only pay about $15 to $20 above killer price. How much is that? You need to snoop around before the sale and ask the dealers or auctioneer; I’ve seen it range from 15 cents to 1 dollar a pound, so that could mean from $150 to $1000 for a 1000 pound riding horse.
Jack was comfortable paying that price as he would take the horse home, try them out, if there was a problem he would run them through the next auction and not get hurt too bad, out $20 at most.
This works well if you, your wife, or your kids don’t fall in love with old Barley; Jack used to say – if you don’t like it, send it right back to the auction.
You can get a nice horse at a rock bottom price following this method. My experience has been that I can get older, well-trained horses that people are bailing out on because the kids all left home and they don’t want to feed the horse any more, or they just were flash in the pan horsemen and need the money for a quad runner.
I have also bought young, unbroke horses that people do not have the skill to train; if you think you want a go at that, make sure you have a medical plan and go for it.
I do not pay top dollar for exceptional horses at auctions because experience has taught me there are no exceptional horse at these auctions. If you think there are some there, look closely – there is usually a hole in them somewhere.
Now put this plan into action and you will find a nice horse that you can use and even make a profit on if you so choose at some time in the future…just follow all the steps and you will get the successful results.
St. Jacob’s Horse Auction, Photo Credit: missbossy, Flickr, Some Rights Reserved.