Power-Shopping at Horse Auctions

If you're like most, there's never enough time to finish your to-do list. And if looking for a new horse is on that list, forget about getting anything else done.


Finding a new horse can easily consume entire weekends. But there's a way to use your time more efficiently. Power-shopping at horse auctions maximizes the number of horses you see in a day, instead of consuming entire weekends seeing a few horses on your own. Auctions allow you to evaluate and compare dozens of likely candidates, making the most of your time.

To gain some insight on maximizing your time at auctions, we've asked three auction authorities for guidance.

Finding an Auction

Well-known auction companies advertise in local newspapers and regional and major horse publications. Many ranch- and performance-horse auctions and sales associated with national shows also are advertised within such publications.

"Finding an auction that meets your needs is essential," says Jann Parker, horse-sale manager, along with husband Bill, of the Billings Livestock Commission (known as BLS around the country), the oldest livestock auction in Montana. "Buyers should concentrate on sales with the best chances of providing the kinds of horses they're looking for."

As do many auction companies, BLS holds specialty auctions throughout the year. Their February auction features sons and daughters of American Quarter Horse Association, National Cutting Horse Association and National Reining Horse Association money-winners or the winners themselves. Ranch geldings are highlighted in May, team-penning horses are showcased in June, cutting horses show in July, performance and speed horses in August and roping horses in September.

"If someone was looking for a rope horse last fall, our September sale provided close to 200 horses to consider," Jann says. "If they couldn't make that sale, we had 30 rope horses to offer in October. We're known for our western ranch and performance horses, so sellers bring us good stock throughout the year."

When you find the right auction, ask if it's registered with the Packers and Stockyards Administration.

"Registration keeps auction houses legitimate," says Skip Turnbull, owner of Turnbull Brokerage and Sale Company, Peachland, North Carolina, one of the largest sellers of Quarter Horses and Paint Horses in the country. Skip holds monthly auctions and conducts nine catalog auctions and one or two dispersal or herd-reduction sales a year.

"The Packers and Stockyards Administration is the government agency that oversees livestock auctions," explains Skip. "The agency conducts random audits. Noncompliance with regulations can put an auction house out of business."

Brett Stossel works for Triangle Sales Company, Shawnee, Oklahoma. Consignment sales there often present 700 horses, the majority being Quarter Horses. He recommends finding out how long the auction house has been in business.

"Many auction houses have been around a long time, and have a history with buyers and sellers," Brett says. "Word of mouth is a good way to evaluate a company. If things aren't run responsibly, it's pretty hard to hide."

Finally, says Jann, look for an auction that provides demonstration facilities for sellers to showcase their horses.

"We want buyers to see roping and cutting horses working," she explains. "It's important for buyers to see these horses in action."

Do Your Homework

Brett says savvy shoppers do basic research before the auction.

"If you're interested in cutting or reining, read about those disciplines and find out which bloodlines produce consistent winners," he recommends.

Bloodlines can make huge differences in auction prices.

"Pedigree, along with training, drive up prices," Brett explains.

Getting the catalog before the sale also is important. Jann says buyers should study the catalog and note horses of interest. Many catalogs list sire and dam, as well as additional pedigree information. Owners are also encouraged to submit comments.

"Try to take the emotion out of the process," Jann stresses. "Decide what kind of horse you want and how much you can spend, then stick to that game plan."

Although printed catalogs are usually sent out two weeks before a sale, consignments are typically updated daily on company Web sites.

Check back in October and November for parts two and three of this story.

Holly Endersby is a frequent contributor to the magazine.