How to Buy a Horse at a Livestock Auction
By Carolyn M. Bertin
This article first appeared in the free Hoofprints magazine
of Edgewood, NM.
You may have heard of a show horse that someone got for a
song at a New Mexico livestock auction. Then again, you've probably
heard of critters that turned out to be lame or locoed. Buying
at a livestock auction may look like a lottery. Yet, if you know
your way around, you can come up the winner.
The first thing to remember is that most folks at livestock
auctions are friendly and helpful. This will come in handy if
you react like most greenhorns. Everything is confusing! You
can't understand a word the auctioneer is saying! Help! The fellow
(or gal) who can help is probably standing right next to you.
Now let's back up to what you need to do before you head for
the auction. When you buy that horse, you probably won't know
what it's been eating. It might been through auctions from Alberta
to New Mexico and encountered microbes for everything from strangles
to rhinopneumonitis. It may never have touched a barbed wire
fence or walked inside a barn. Even if she is thin or under two,
she could drop a foal the next morning. Or tonight. How do you
prepare for these possibilities?
The most important thing is to have a quarantine area. You'll
also need bleach to disinfect your boots when you get back so
you won't track strangles or salmonella all over your place.
A stall in a barn is not usually the best quarantine area.
Strangles can linger in your barn for years, and the vaccine
isn't reliable. Perhaps your new horse will think bears hibernate
in places like these. Maybe nobody ever told her that she wasn't
supposed to jump out over the stall door and play with your tack.
A barbed wire enclosure could be even worse. Your new horse
might not know that barbed wire bites.
The next thing to consider is food and water. At many auctions,
by the time a horse has gone through the sale ring, it could
have gone over a day without water. Bring a five-gallon bucket
to take the edge off your new horse's thirst.
A horse who has been living on grass may wolf down alfalfa,
then colic and you know what's next. Your safest bet is to start
your new horse on Bermuda, timothy or oat hay. You can gradually
add alfalfa over the next few days. If underweight, slowly introduce
foods such as sweet feed or Calf Manna. For a malnourished animal,
vitamin and mineral supplements will speed recovery. Don't give
grain-type supplements to donkeys or ponies, as they are prone
to founder. They will plump up fast on hay alone.
It's a good idea to have all the vaccinations you'll need
on hand, as well as tetanus antitoxin in case your purchase gets
hurt before the vaccination achieves immunity. Don't forget wormers.
The last thing to consider is what kind of clothes and equipment
you should bring to an auction. In part, this will depend upon
what kind of a horse you plan to get. Of course it will tie and
trailer quietly. Oh, yeah? A horse that is perfect under saddle
may have tantrums when tied or hurl itself around a trailer.
So it's a good idea to bring a trailer that your horse cannot
possibly fly out of at 70 MPH in the middle of I-25. You also
want an arrangement that is stable enough that a thrashing horse
won't be able to capsize the whole works. There's a reason ranchers
haul livestock with pickup trucks and not SUVs.
You don't have the right stuff to haul a potentially dangerous
horse? Ask around at the auction and you'll find someone who
will deliver, probably for $25.
As for clothes, there's a reason cowboys wear leather and
gloves. Those horses you'll want to get close to might attack.
If you aren't afraid of looking like a sissy, you can also wear
a riding helmet. A lariat if needed to catch your horse, halter,
lead rope and trailering boots almost round out the picture.
Here's a trick few people know. Bring along a bucket with
a little grain. Don't feed it (colic!), just use it to make noise.
One last thing. Pen and notepaper.