altAh, the excitement of the auction – nothing quite like it! As the leaves turn colour and the air more chill, we start to see the advertisements in the horse magazines and on-line for the many fall horse sales. Production sales, breeders group sales, association sales, select sales and dispersals – all are vying to have you fill a seat at their event.

If you’re looking for a horse, any type of horse, you can probably find an auction selling just what you seek, likely a number of them, and there are benefits to buying at auction versus buying privately. Ron Anderson has been involved in the horse industry all of his life and in purebred horse sales by public auction for over 30 years. He believes the auction is a great place to purchase a horse – that is, if it’s a reputable auction and you do your homework. With a little help from Ron, we’ve compiled some things to consider when buying or selling at auction.

Benefits to Buying at Auction
At an auction, you have the opportunity to compare similar horses, offered by different breeders or consignors, in one location and under the same set of circumstances. In addition, you have public opinion to offer guidance on what is fair market value for the horses. When purchasing a horse privately, the price is set and you need to determine on your own if the price is fair in the current market for that type of horse.
 
altSelect a Sale to Attend
  1. What kind of horse are you looking for? Find the sales that are selling this type of horse. Many sales are geared to specific breeds or categories of horses. How do you determine which of these sales are reputable? Has the sale been conducted for a number of years or is it a one-time event with no track record? What kind of guarantees or buyer assurances are offered (i.e. vets on site, soundness exams, x-rays available)? Are the horses pre-selected for the sale or can consignments be made right up until auction time?
Do Your Homework Before the Sale
This is the key to successful buying at auction. You’ve already selected the sale, now you need to decide which horses to look at. If the catalogue has 80 horses, for example, you obviously need to do some pre-screening to narrow the field of possibilities.
  1. Decide what you are looking for in terms of age, experience, breeding, etc. and make a list of your criteria.
  2. Identify which horses in the sale meet your criteria. Do both sides of the pedigree demonstrate the performance type and level you are looking for? Breeding is never a guarantee but a good place to start.
  3. Stick to your category. Don’t be swayed by a “nice horse” from another category. If you are looking for a 2-year old prospect to start next spring, buying a yearling delays your plans by a full year.
  4. Investigate siblings or offspring of the horses for their show records and accomplishments. Do these fit with your goals?
  5. Most catalogues include owner/agent/breeder information for the horses. Call them, ask questions and don’t be shy. Ask for the information you don’t see in the catalogue, or for any updates on the horse in terms of show experience or additional training.
Based on the information you have put together on each horse from all of the above, eliminate horses from your initial list that no longer fit your criteria. The remaining list is the one you take to the auction.
 
At the Sale
Sales offer a variety of previewing opportunities prior to sale day or time. Make sure you take advantage of these. You’ve completed your homework but are not ready for the sale ring just yet.
  1. Have your list of potential horses at hand and/or your bookmarked catalogue.
  2. If you don’t have the expertise to assess the conformation and/or appropriateness of the horses, make sure you have someone with you -- a coach, trainer or other qualified individual.
  3. View each horse in or at their stall. Ask the consignor to bring the horse out or request permission to go in the stall.
    1. Is the horse the right size for what you need?
    2. Does he have any conformation issues?
    3. Does he visually meet your expectations? Even the best breeding may not have created a beautiful horse.
    4. ASK QUESTIONS about what you see, i.e. what caused that scar on the horse’s right front leg?
    5. Does the seller have a reserve or bottom line price for the horse? There is no point in spending a lot of time on a horse that is well outside your budget. Concentrate your efforts on those you believe are in or close to your range.
  4. View the horse during any previews that are offered, in-hand and under saddle.
  5. View the horse in the warm up area.
  6. If the sale offers this opportunity and you are seeking a horse trained under saddle, try the horse out yourself.
  7. Evaluate the horse from your perspective. Emotion can cause you to purchase an absolutely lovely dressage horse, but you really wanted a jumper.
  8. View the health records and/or x-rays available for the horses remaining on your list at this stage.
Before the Auction Begins
You’ve done your homework, you’ve viewed, observed, explored and possibly ridden all of your potential purchases, and then confirmed the state of their health and soundness. You’re almost ready but there are a few more things to consider.
  1. Do you understand the terms and conditions of the sale? Read them carefully for information on how to bid, reserve prices, guarantees, payment requirements, etc.
  2. Do you know what your budget is, your financial comfort zone? Assign a “sticker price” to each horse you’re interested in, with variances based on the age and experience level of each horse. Prices are not necessarily etched in stone but should fall within a range to keep emotional spending in check. Don’t overspend unless it’s an informed decision based on what is happening in the auction -- when public opinion tells you that the fair market value of the type of horse you are wanting is higher than you anticipated.
  3. If you are new to the auction process and feel you’d benefit with some guidance, ask the auction staff for assistance before sale time. These people are there to help you purchase the horse you want. Meet your ring man. This is the person who will be taking bids from a certain section of the crowd. Identify yourself as a novice buyer ahead of time and ask him where you should stand during the sale of “your horse” so that he’ll be sure to see you.
It’s Sale Time!
The stands are filled, the auctioneer and announcer are in place and the ring men are ready to take the bids. You’ve done your homework so you can rest assured that the horses remaining on your list are good potential purchases for you. Follow the progress of the auction carefully and be ready when your first horse is on deck.
 
The job of the auction staff is to keep the bidders informed of who holds the last bid and what you need to do to catch up if it’s not you. If it feels like things are going too fast and you’ve lost track of where you are in the process, let your ring man know, ask to be caught up. This is not a stupid request; you are a smart bidder to do so.
 
The auction sale can have an atmosphere similar to a carnival and it’s easy to get carried away. Stay focused, stay with your short list and keep your sticker prices in mind. Don’t let a “good deal” or an emotional response to another horse divert you from your plan.
 
In most cases, the auction process will determine the fair market value of the horse you are bidding on and, if you’ve not given in to emotion and been caught up in a bidding war, you can be assured that you have paid a fair price for your new horse. Most owners have a bottom line price for their horse but, in some cases, if the particular horse you are interested in does not have a lot of potential buyers, and the owner is keen to sell, you might even walk way with a bit of a bargain.
 
 
The Other Side of the Coin - Selling a Horse at Auction
If you are considering selling a horse at an auction, this can be a very good decision. In addition to selling your horse, you will get your name or farm name out into the public, build profile and recognition and possibly gain future business.
 
To ensure auction success:
  1. The same “rule number 1” applies to sellers that applies to buyers -- choose a reputable sale that is appropriate for the breed or category of horse you are selling.
  2. Bring a good quality horse to the sale to show off what you have. Over the years, auction staff will get to know your horses and brag about your successes and the quality of horses you bring to the event.
  3. Prepare your horse for the sale. Make sure it is fit, well-fed and in show condition.
  4. Continue to market your horse. Make sure people know your horse is headed to the sale and can be viewed there.
  5. At the sale, make yourself accessible, have handout information available for your horse, and create an inviting stall-side area to talk with prospective buyers.
  6. Demonstrate your horse to the absolute best of its ability.
At most sales, you will have an opportunity to set a bottom dollar for your horse. Determine a realistic selling price based on current market trends, consider the cost of keeping the horse if your reserve is too high and then set your minimum price. The auction staff will do their best to see that fair market value is achieved for your horse.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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