Going, going, gone! When the hammer falls at those words, your horse is sold. Selling at auction gives you a definite transaction, with the highest bid taking the horse home. An auction can be the fastest way to sell a horse, and it might even bring a good price. But it can be a daunting process if it’s not well researched.
“An auction is a good way to sell if a horse needs to go and he needs to go now,” says Karen Craighead, president of the Missouri Horse Council. But remember, selling a registered horse at public sale lets the market—the highest bidder—set the animal’s value. “Understand that prices may not be what you think they should be,” Craighead adds. On the other hand, she notes, “If you don’t sell the horse, what’s it costing you? You take him home and keep him longer.”
Jeff Marsh, auctioneer of Virginia’s Eurosport Auctions, offers a slightly different perspective. “Realize that it’s not necessarily what you get for the horse, but that he’s not on your feed bill any more. Take that into account,” he says.
Choose a Sale Venue
Auctions can be held at a specific location or via an online auction. To place your horse with the right buyer, you can choose these types, as well as from among a variety of reputable sales firms.
Top auctions target your specific breed or discipline and attract genuine buyers. Look for an auction house that’s proven to sell a high percentage of consignments at fair prices. For example, the 2009 AQHA World sale had 80 percent of consignments sold.
To research sales history, Craighead advises, “Watch your breed magazines to see who specializes in selling your breed. Call the company and ask for statistics.” She works with Triangle Horse Sales in Oklahoma, and has taught stable management courses at Stephens College and William Woods University. Susan McCarron, an equine appraiser, publishes a blog with links to sales results. She says, “You can see a trend from auction to auction about what these horses are bringing.”
For the protection of both buyers and sellers, state laws govern public auctions. “The auction must be registered with the state,” says Craighead, “horses are livestock.” Also, auctioneers must be licensed.
The rules and regulations still leave plenty of room for enterprising auctioneers to operate according to their preferences. For example, some sales require applications. These “select” sales pick only the best horses. In contrast, online auctions match sellers and buyers via a website, where bidders typically can place bids within a seven-day timeframe.
And then there’s a presentation sale, where horses are presented, allowed to be ridden, etc. The best of these sales are festive events, where bidders vie to take home superior horses. For example, at the Galway Downs event, buyers have three days to try out horses, and meet with sellers to make offers.
Sale organizer Wendy Wergeles explains, “We bring the buyers and sellers together, and make it friendly and fun, and as safe as we possibly can, and legal.”
This type of sale allows buyers to see and compare horses in a competition setting. Wergeles also says that they require digital X-rays, which are held in a repository organized by the consulting veterinarian.
Cindy Bowling Garner of Triangle Sales Company advises, “Before you decide you want to sell, attend a sale and see how it works.”
Visit the sale, or a similar one, and watch and listen to buyers in the stands. Find out which horses are standouts, and why they attract more bids than others.
“Put the horse where he will look like a champion compared to the rest of the population,” Marsh says. “That way he can be a standout. Otherwise he can get lost and just be average.”
Setting the Price
Know the price range you expect by looking at prices of comparable horses. “Be realistic and don’t get caught up in the big prices you see,” says Craighead. “That’s the upper half-percent of the horse population.”
She adds, “What horses bring at auction we consider a wholesale market. That is what that particular animal is worth that day.”
McCarron notes that some sales include premium sections. “If you have a horse that is worth a lot more, you pay more to get into the premium section. That attracts the kind of people you want to sell your horse to.”
Think about if you will set a reserve price (i.e., a minimum bid). Marsh advises against a reserve, saying, “If you’re going to put your horse in a sale, sell him. Make up your mind that you will sell, sell, sell. The sales price at the top of the hammer makes the market value.”
He adds, “If you don’t sell the horse, you can affect value in a negative way. People know the horse was there. People saw him—you almost have to ship him out of the neighborhood to change his value.”
Ultimately, you have to balance optimism with realism. Sales conditions are improving, but it’s still a buyer’s market. That means you may not get the price you feel you should. “It seems that slowly and surely the market is inching upwards,” McCarron says. “Everybody has their own idea about what their horse is worth. At the sale, you see from their faces, the bidding is like a shot in the heart. That’s how the market is at this point—it’s whatever a certain person wants to buy at that time.”
Plan to Sell
So: if you really want to get top dollar, you must prepare your horse well. “We set up the sale, get the people there, and have the staff,” says Craighead. “You have to make an investment in selling your horse.”
Selling takes only minutes in the sales ring, but it still requires a bit of time and energy in advance. For the biggest bucks, you need to put in the effort to prepare the horse properly.
“People need to feed their horses and have them fit and ready,” says Craighead. “Think about it—the auction is the most important horse show in that horse’s life.”
Marsh says, “Performance horses need to be under saddle. It’s a buyer’s market, and most [buyers] are interested strictly in made horses. The horse has got to be ridable, quiet, and athletic. Then you’ve got to have your horse turned out—he has to have bloom, he has to have been rubbed. He has to look the part and be the part.” He reminds sellers to go with what he calls the three F’s: “Feet, fat, and fit.”
In a similar vein, Garner adds, “Your horse should be fit and ready to ride. He’s tuned up like you’re going to a show, and you’re ready to compete somewhere. You’re being judged by the general public.”
“Make sure that horse is well trained,” says McCarron. “That horse should have a job. People are not going to pay a lot of money for a horse with problems.”
Supplement the horse’s appearance and presentation with ample information. Prepare a flyer about your horse, with photos and other information to complement the catalog description. If your horse has an outstanding pedigree, add photos of his sire and dam, and grandsires.
Bring videos of the horse in schooling and at shows, and be ready to show clips to potential buyers. You can meet buyers at the sale barn—note your stall number on your flyers, and be ready to talk with trainers or sales agents.
If you’re not keen on doing the sales presentation yourself, you can arrange to have your horse agented at the sale. Garner says, “Many times owners have a trainer represent them. Your trainer would know the horse well, and sign his name as your agent.”
Quality sales have preview sessions, where you or your trainer rides the horse. And buyers may ask for a tryout, so decide if you’ll let them ride your horse for a few minutes.
On sale day, each horse enters the ring for bids. The ring may be lavishly decorated at a big sale with the auctioneer on a platform, against a backdrop. Illuminated signs display the horse’s catalog number, current bid, and other information, such as a cribber, or pregnant.
Horses go in order, which may not be same as the catalog number. The ring is large enough so a riding horse is shown under saddle, by your trainer or a sales rider. Otherwise a handler from the sales company leads the horse into the ring.
At many auctions, when a horse goes into the sales ring, a handler from the auction company will present your horse in hand and under saddle.
The auctioneer reads the catalog description, or adds observations about the horse to entice bids. He starts the bidding with an opening price. Ringmen watch for bidders to raise their numbers, or indicate they agree with the auctioneer’s call. When bidding stops, you decide if you accept the bid.
Consigning the Horse
Think you’re ready to take the plunge??To consign the horse, you complete a form that is a contract between you and the sale company. Understand the terms and conditions, especially the certifications you are required to supply. All auctioneers expect a current Coggins certificate. Be sure to confirm the date, as it may differ from what the auction house requires. In addition, a select sale will probably require X-rays.
Beyond that, you’ll write a description for the sale catalog, and also submit a photo. If you have already created a sales flyer or brochure, you can use that as the starting point for the sales catalog. “Represent what the horse is when you put him in the auction. If he’s ridable, ride him,” adds Craighead.
While you want to portray your horse in the best possible light, the consignment contract will insist that you honestly describe major conditions, such as if the horse is a cribber. Like selling a house, you must disclose specific issues.
Note the sales company’s terms for paying you after the sale. A typical agreement would be 30 days.
The Costs of Selling
Expect to pay a consignment or catalog fee, like a show entry fee. The sale company acts as your agent, so you pay a commission up to 10 percent. “You pay the commission for the sales company to try to help you sell your horse,” says Karen Craighead, president of the Missouri Horse Council.
If you decide not to accept the highest bid, you “pass” the horse. A pass out usually costs you, with the company charging you a no-sale fee.
If your horse doesn’t sell in the ring, a buyer may approach you later. It might be tempting to work a deal outside the arena to avoid paying a commission, but if you sell your horse on the grounds you should still pay a commission and work through the auction house.
Why? “It’s for the seller’s and buyer’s protection,” Craighead says. “The sales company will stand behind you if the buyer wants to renege. I’d sure want the sales company standing by me in court if something goes wrong, like a bad check. And the buyer has no recourse if he gets a lame horse, unless he went through the sales office.”
And don’t forget a final cost—you’re expected to present the horse in a halter that then goes with the horse. —CS
For More Information
Sales companies post online catalogs, consignment forms, and FAQs for sellers and buyers. Here are some auctions and auction companies.
1) Triangle Sales Company: Trihorse.com
2) Superior Sales: Superiorhorsesales.com
3) Professional Auction Services, Inc.: Professionalauction.com
4) Cedar Ridge Arabians: Cedar-Ridge.com
5) Focus on Sport Horses, Elite Event Horse Auction, link to video on YouTube: Focusonsporthorses.com
6) McCarron Equine Appraisals, blog on sales information: Mccarronequine.wordpress.com