Buying a New Horseback-Riding Companion

Horse sales don’t have to be scary if you do your homework before purchasing that dream horse.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal.

’Tis the season, for horse sales!

Before you head off to purchase your next family member, brush up on your ring-side knowledge.

Calculate the Pros

There are many advantages to buying at an auction.

Mike Jennings (along with his brother, Tim) owns and operates Professional Auction Services Inc., of Leesburg, Virginia. In business since 1978, the company has run more than 180 auctions across the country with gross sales of more than $85 million. He knows first hand what auctions offer horsemen.

“From a seller’s standpoint, the auction company helps to get people in to look at a horse and to help negotiate the price,” Mike says. Without a high-profile breeding, showing or training program, many places don’t have the traffic to attract buyers for even the best horses.

“And the buyer gets to go to one place and look at a lot of different horses instead of having to drive all across the country. The buyer also knows the sellers are motivated sellers.” The horses wouldn’t be there otherwise.

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Auctions also offer an element of security that most private sales don’t. “If you go to a catalog sale,” Mike says, “that has a good ‘conditions of sale,’ you’re protected better than you are in most private sales.” An auction’s conditions of sale, as published in the catalog, act as a purchase contract and outline how the transaction is handled.

“In a private sale, often the only thing that gets signed is a personal check,” Mike says. “There’s rarely a formal agreement and no guidelines to follow in case a question is raised about the transaction.”

“An auction is really just a process of negotiating a price,” Mike says. “Some people get nervous because the auction goes fast when the horse is in the sale ring. But we’re just negotiating price. That’s all it is.

Give Yourself Time to Shop

First things first, buyers must give themselves time to shop for horses they are interested in at an auction before they go through the sale ring.

The most successful auction buyers try to do as much shopping as they can before the sale, studying the catalog and contacting horse owners to ask questions. They also arrive early, giving themselves plenty of time to see the animals they are interested in before the sale starts.

“If you’re going to be a good shopper,” Mike says, “whether it’s private sale or at auction, you need to make a list of questions that you can specifically ask about an animal. Know which things are important, what you must have, what you can’t have and what you can live with, whether it’s size, color or degree of training.”

You should also thoroughly inspect the horse.

“By contract, our sellers must disclose certain defects and vices in a horse,” Mike says. The list of required disclosures (which includes everything from cribbing and parrot mouth to lameness due to navicular syndrome) is published in the company’s conditions of sale.

If an item on the list applies to a horse, it’s either listed on the catalog page or the auctioneer announces it when the horse goes into the ring, prior to the start of bidding.

“Buyers need to listen carefully for updates or corrections regarding the horse when it is in the sale ring,” Mike says.

“Small things, like scars, bumps or splints,” he says, “by law, the seller does not have to announce those as long as they have not affected the soundness or usability of the horse, and they do not affect their future usability.”

“And,” he says, “as long as those things can be seen from a reasonable examination. The ultimate responsibility is for the buyer to examine the horse before they bid on it.

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“If the horse was there and available for you to examine, then the seller did their job.”

Don’t Be Afraid to Walk Away

Remember, you don’t have to bid.

“It’s the buyer’s responsibility to determine if they want to bid on a horse,” Mike says. “Once the auction starts, it’s the auctioneer’s job to help determine the price.”

Mike is the first to advise someone not to bid if they’re unsure about a horse. “If you can’t get the information you need to buy a horse, then scratch it off your list. Go shop one that you can get the information you need on.”

Most sales completed at auctions are happy ones.

“We sell approximately 2,500 horses per year,” Mike says, “and disputes are raised in approximately 2 percent of the cases. That has been consistent over the years.”

If you give yourself time to shop before a horse goes through the ring, and you remember that you don’t have to buy, the auction process becomes less scary.