How to Buy a Horse at a Livestock Auction,
Now we come to the good stuff. Imagine a tall three-day eventer
that will give you years of winning competition, for $700. Imagine
a palomino bulldog Quarter Horse with cow sense and friendly
as a dog, for $490. Imagine a mustang with hooves so strong you
can ride her bare-hoofed all day in the Sandias, for $330. Imagine
a leopard Appaloosa, a gaited horse that you could zoom along
on without spilling your glass of champagne, a black Percheron
18 hands tall, a semi-retired Thoroughbred who will teach you
how to do the piaffe, a Shetland that your kid can ride without
even a bridle. All those horses go through auctions and any of
them can be yours. The trick is to recognize that horse when
you see it.
You don't want to see your horse for the first time when it
prances into the sale ring. Your best be is to spot it when the
owner or dealer is hauling it into the auction. Many arrive the
morning of the auction. So if you get there early, you can meet
many people and swap gossip. Where are they coming from?
If they live far from cities, they are arriving because it is
about the only way to find buyers. If they are local, watch out.
Why aren't they selling through a classified ad? Every horse
comes to the auction for a reason. It's your job to figure out
Stay while the horses unload and watch as the wranglers run
them to their pens. You can get a good idea of how sound they
are as they make that dash. Don't worry about not being an expert.
Your intuition can do wonders.
When you've had enough of that, you can enjoy a Western-style
breakfast in the auction café and trade more gossip. Even
if you don't get a horse this time, chewing the fat (and, trust me, auction food offers plenty of fat) with the
old-timers and ranchers is half the fun.
Oh, yes, the old-timers! At every auction, broken down cowboys
watch and tell tales and hope to see some greenhorn do something
memorable. You don't want to do some memorable thing such as
get chased down by a locoed stallion, so instead have breakfast
with an old-timer. Let him laugh at your fractured Spanish.
Now go out to the pens with the old-timers and get serious.
Most auctions have a catwalk where you can view livestock from
above. OK, so half the boards on that catwalk are split and some
are missing and things kind of wobble, but the old-timers aren't
scared and if you are, hey, you're entertaining them. Now is
when you discover that the Quarter Horse whose owner says he
heads and heels has a crooked back. Your hunter/jumper prospect
wearing aluminum racing shoes has pelvic bones that are somewhat
Next comes the you can get killed part. Don't want to get
killed? Look for people who are in the pens with the horses and
who are busy boring the old-timers. The old-timers are all looking
instead at the greenhorn getting into the pen with the wild mustangs.
This greenhorn will be fun. See the mustangs go hysterical and
the greenhorn run and scramble through the welded pipe bars of
the corral, conking his noggin.
If you are not experienced with wild or outlaw horses, you
have one safe option and one semi-safe option. The safe one is
to ask one of the people in the pens about that special horse.
He or she might tell you its age, whether it is sound and broke
and give you ideas about its personality. Then again he or she
might fib or ignore you. You are still alive.
The semi-safe option is to see what happens when someone else
gets into the pen with that special horse and figure you are
as good as she is at not freaking out livestock. This is where
gloves, leather jacket and helmet can come in handy. Above all,
follow your gut. If a horse makes you uneasy, your gut is trying
to keep you alive.
Some auctions offer over a thousand horses and attract only
a few people fanatical enough to get into the pens. Here is where
your bucket of grain comes in. Walk down the aisle between pens
shaking it and see which horses whinny and beg. Not all of these
may be broke to ride, but they probably are at least safe. Probably.
So you've found your dream horse. You've done the usual checks
for soundness and hope that steroids, local anesthetics or a
tranquilizer aren't misleading you. Now identify two or three
more and vow to be ready to go home empty-handed. You'll find
it easier to get a good deal if you don't get hung up on one
horse. Yes, a killer buyer might ship it to the Bel-Tex slaughterhouse
in one of those stock semi trailers parked nearby, but you can't
save every horse.
This is the stage that separates the losers from the winners.
The horses that look the best often aren't. Now is the time to
consider horses that are obviously defective, but that you can