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The Ins and Outs of a Public Horse Auction, by Richard Winters



IMG_9870A couple years ago we returned from the Snaffle Bit  Futurity in Reno, Nevada.   In conjunction with the  annual horse show there was also a Two-Year-Old  Select Sale.   This sale was for young prospects that  had been started and were also working cattle.   Prospective buyers attend with hopes of finding  their future Reined Cow Horse Champion.   We had purchased a very nice buckskin  filly, by Shining Spark, that our daughter  Sarah had started while working for Carol  Rose Quarter Horses.   I am proud to say  that Sarah did most of the training and  represented us brilliantly at the sale.   Both  she and the filly did an outstanding job and  “Shiners Darlin” was the high selling filly  and sold for $51,000.

Buying and selling horses at a public auction can  be a bit intimidating.   An auctioneer is rambling  some language you don’t understand.   Guys with cowboy hats and ties are shouting  back to the auctioneer every time they  get a bid.   You wave to your friend who just  walked in and now you’re told you you’ve  just bought an appaloosa broodmare bred  back to a mammoth jack with a mule colt  by her side!

Below is a list of things to consider when buying  or selling a horse at a public auction.


1) Fees: You will probably be charged an  entry fee, plus 6-10% of your horses selling  price, for the opportunity to be in the auction.

2) Rules: Find out if you are allowed  to “buy back” or put a minimum bid on your  horse.   Most auctions allow this; some do not.   The prestigious Red Bluff Bull and Gelding  sale requires that every horse transfer ownership  regardless of the final bid.

3) Present your horse as valuable: This  means washed, clipped, freshly shod, and all  tack cleaned.   You should prepare as if you  were entering the show pen.

4) Have your paperwork in order: If you  are selling a registered horse, make sure that  he is registered in your name.   Otherwise it  might be difficult to prove that you have the  legal authority to sell him.

5) Be prepared to wait for your money:  Most auction companies will not pay you until  the new buyers check has cleared the bank.   Most transactions are settled in 30 days or  less.


1) Buyers beware: You are purchasing  this horse “As Is.” Any questions you might have  in regard to the soundness of a horse need to  be addressed before the bidding begins.   Many  higher end sales recommend that sellers provide  x-rays that can be viewed during the days and  hours leading up to the sale.   Some auctions will  have a veterinary inspection completed for every  sale horse.   This is not a comprehensive examination.   However, the process will sift out horses  with obvious physical problems and adds value  to prospective buyers.

2) Ask the sellers a lot of questions about  the horse you are interested in purchasing:  How much training has the horse had to  date?  What type of experiences has the horse  been exposed to?  Has he ever had any lameness or physical  problems?  What’s his strongest  and weakest  trait?  How long has  the seller owned the  horse?

3) Arrive early to watch  any previews of the  horses being offered  for sale:  Many sales  will have a designated  time when each horse  is previewed for the prospective buyers.   This is  often a time when you will see them work cattle,  rope, or perform other tasks in which they are  proficient.   If time allows, ask the seller when they  will be riding the horse again.   Are they allowing  others to take a “test drive?”  You can learn a lot  by watching some other buyer try out the horse  you’re interested in.

4) Get a bidder’s number: If you think you  might bid on a particular horse, register with the  sales office prior to the start of the sale and have  your bidding number on hand.   It doesn’t cost  anything, and it will help your transaction and the  entire auction run more smoothly.

5) Attend a sale: You may not be ready  to buy a horse but observing an auction will help  you become familiar with the process.   Being  more comfortable with the chant of the auctioneer  and following the bidding will better prepare  you for when it comes time to raise your hand to  purchase a particular horse.

Auctions can be intimidating, but they don’t  have to be.   Most of the personal with the auction  company will be happy to answer your questions.   They want it to be a positive experience for the  buyers and sellers.   Public auctions are often the  clearest indicator of the fair market value of the  horses offered.   Regardless of what the seller  thinks, the horse is only worth what the buyers  are willing to pay on that particular day.   Auctions have been the time tested way  to purchase everything from the backyard  kids pony, all the way up to the multi-million  dollar race horse.   Do your homework.   Ask  good questions.   Pay attention.   Consider  bringing an equine professional to help.

And remember, don’t scratch your nose.   They might point at you and yell “Sold!”  

Richard Winters credentials include  World Championship titles in the  National Reined Cow Horse Association  along with being an AA rated judge.   He was  the European International Colt Starting  Champion, in Poland, the Super Cow  Horse Championship, in California.   Richard  was named Champion of the 2009 Road to  the Horse – Colt Starting Competition and  won the West Coast Equine Experience  $10,000 Colt Starting Challenge.   Much of Richard’s work has been  accomplished through the Horsemanship Clinics  and Expo’s he conducts around the country.  Follow Richard Winters at:

[published in Performance Horse Digest, Volume 5, Issue 11.]


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