I wish more people would jump in their truck and head to their local auction, outbid a killbuyer and bring a lucky horse home. It’s really not hard to do! In fact, it’s easy and a very rewarding experience. Here are some simple instructions to get you started on an auction adventure that may change your life.
First find a local auction. ERN provides a list at www.EquineRescueNetwork.com There are auctions in every state that feed into the slaughter pipeline. These auctions are essentially an outlet for owners to relieve themselves of the financial burden of an unwanted horse. Typically owners will sell the horse to a local dealer who will then take the horse to auction. Horse dealers create a buffer for horse owners so that they don’t have to be exposed to the ugly horrors of the slaughter pipeline.
Time to pack up your trailer and get on your way. Before you go here is a list to consider:
- Leadropes and Halters. Many years ago, I bought a horse at the Kneeneland Thoroughbred Racing sale. He came with a leather halter with his racing name engraved on a polished halter plate and a well oiled leather shank. There are high end auctions, and low end (meat) auctions. If you are at a low end auction, expect to be handed a horse with a tattered halter and a leadrope made of hay string.
- Hay and grain. I usually bring two full hay bags and a bucket of grain to help horses load or to make fast friends with a new donkey.
- Lunge Line. It’s amazing to me that most of the horse from auctions seem to jump willingly onto the trailer with a “GET ME OUT OF HERE” attitude. But just incase, I carry a lunge line to help load. Plus sometimes it’s helpful to see a horse move on a lunge before you bid. The bidding areas are so small, and it all happens so fast. At some auctions you may be lucky and find an area to quickly see a horse on a lunge. It will tell you a lot about their training and soundness.
- Buckets and a water container. I bring several SMALL buckets that hold 2 gallons. In addition, I bring a 10 gallon container for each horse. If you fill a big bucket (8 QT) and your horse only drinks only a sip, it’s not easy to pour the remaining back into the 10 gallon container. If you leave it in the trailer stall, it will just spill once the trailer begins moving. Using a small bucket is less waste. If your horse is super thirsty, you may just have to fill it more than once.
- First Aid. If you are not confident in your own veterinary expertise, note that every auction will have a licenced veterinarian in attendance. Most will give you quick medical advice on a horse before you bid. Eye injuries are common so I travel with a tube of ophthalmic antibiotic ointment. When you go to your vet and ask for the eye ointment – grab a bottle of bute and a tube of banamine. You may not need that on the trip, but it may come in handy later. I also carry a bottle of Ace and a syringe. I have only used Ace once on a trip to auction when a tire on my trailer blew just before the George Washington Bridge. I had a nervous Thoroughbred on the trailer that got increasingly nervous as large tractor trailer trucks zoomed by. Traveling alone with three horses and broken down on a busy expressway was making me nervous too, so opted to give the Thoroughbred one CC of Ace which seemed to calm us both down while AAA changed my tire.
- Finally pack up your truck with the essentials for vehicle emergencies and food consumption. Once the horses are loaded you will want to keep moving and your only stop will be for gas and to water horses. I bring plenty of caffeinated options (unless you like bad gas station coffee), fruit and healthy snacks. The best kept secret to my long drives is Audible available on Amazon. You can listen to books which makes the drive far more pleasant.
When you arrive:
I suggest getting to the auction one hour early. Go to the main office and get a bid number. Then take a trip around and look at the horses waiting. Take a note card with you to jot down horse’s hip tag number and notes about each horse. Unfortunately horses are not run through the ring in numerical order of hip tag. So keep an eye on each horse you want to bid on as you never know when they will appear in the ring.
It is chaos. Keep reminding yourself that YOU ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE for horses being at the auction – save what you can save, but try not to get reeled into an emotional bid to save a horse that is not worth saving. Remember: you have to feed and care for the horse you bring home.
If a horse appears in the ring with “signed paperwork” that means he/she has not received carcinogens (ivermectin/wormers or bute/banamine) for at least six months. When the auctioneer announces “Signed Papers” the killbuyer’s in the audience take notice.
There usually is also a group of “Loose Horses” – the wild-card horses. These loose horses are a mixture of ages and training. These horses that are so unwanted that no one even bothered to see if they were halter broke or broke to ride. They are chased into a ring (loose), all have have signed papers and will sell immediately to the killbuyer. I bought one of these “Loose Horses” once at the auction in Billings, Montana. “Wallace” was a bit scared and oneray at first, but two years later, he sold for $25,000 as a field hunter. He just needed someone to give him a chance. Because of Wallace, I always am careful to consider the “Loose Horse” Pen.
If a horse has a red mark drawn through his hip tag that means he has already sold. The office will not give information on horses sold at auction. However, if you are intent on saving a particular horse, stick around. Eventually someone will move that horse. When that someone appears ask questions. If it is a killbuyer, often times they will sell you that horse for a small profit, other times they will sell you that horse for a large profit. I once paid $160 over the auction price for a horse that was sold to a killbuyer. It was worth every penny.
Another thing to consider is that any of the “catch riders” will jump on a horse for you for $20. If you are considering a loose horse or a buy-back from a killbuyer, flag down one of the riders that ride horses in the ring during the auction. They will give you a full assessment of a horse while you watch safely from the sidelines. I had a catch rider jump on two horses that I was considering buying back from a killbuyer – one turned out to be VERY broke, the other not-so-much. The catch rider explained that the ‘not-so-much’ horse was probably a driving horse and with time would be a nice riding horse. She was exactly correct and now I have a nice young horse that rides and drives!
Remember any horse that sells for less than $700 is at risk for slaughter (although prices vary with supply and demand). Stallions, blind horses and weanlings under six months old do not ship to slaughter. Some killbuyers simply ‘discard’ young weanlings. Older grey horses do not ship to slaughter, yet younger greys do. Mini horses do ship to slaughter, and donkeys ship to slaughter. In fact, Donkeys are a precious commodity in China. Donkey hide is an ingredient used in popular Chinese tonics and medicines. China has consumed over 80,000 donkeys this year – so many that Africa now bans the export of donkeys. This causes China to look for Donkeys in the U.S. Therefore, if you are hoping to rescue a donkey, expect to bid against killbuyers who are looking to get top dollar for donkey hides.
Finally – and most important….