Power-Shopping, Part Two

If an auction house holds a demonstration session, be there with your catalog and any notes you've made, and be ready to add additional information. The demonstration sessions are critical to making power-shopping for horses efficient. Editor's Note: This is the second part of a three-part series that began in September 2005. Look for Part 3 in November.

"Take in as much of the preview as you can," Jann advises. "Bring a lunch and don't leave. The demonstration session is your chance to see the 'product' tested."

Skip says owners or trainers show most horses. He recommends the prospective buyer ride the horse as well.

"If the seller won't let you ride, that might raise a red flag in your mind," he shares. "However, you should be legitimately interested in and able to buy the horse. If you're looking for a trail animal, nobody is going to let you ride their NCHA money-earner."

But Jann says many sellers won't let a buyer ride their horse for good reason.

"Nobody wants their horse presented poorly in front of others," she explains. "If the seller doesn't know your ability, he might refuse to let you ride."

Auction Savvy

Before the auction begins, register as a buyer at the sale office. Cash, personal checks with identification, cashier's checks and credit cards are usually accepted. If you intend to purchase an expensive horse and are a first-time buyer at that auction, bring a letter of credit from your bank stating it'll honor a check up to a specific amount. While you're at the office, pick up a stall chart so you can find the horses you want to see. If you have trouble finding an owner to talk to about a specific prospect, the office will page him for you.

Carefully read the company's sale conditions before the auction. They're usually posted on the office wall, inside the catalog or on the back of your buyer's card.

"Not all auctions have the same conditions; even auctions held by the same company might have different conditions," warns Skip.

A good example is a consignment auction versus an absolute auction. Absolute auctions, where the horse is sold to the highest bidder regardless of price, usually carry no soundness guarantees. Consignment auctions, on the other hand, typically have a sale price that must be met before the horse is sold. In addition, most auction companies guarantee soundness for 48 hours after purchase in a consignment sale.

"The buyer who isn't satisfied with the horse once he gets home almost always hasn't read the sale terms and conditions," Skip reveals.

Loose-horse auctions typically don't provide catalog descriptions or soundness guarantees. These horses are brought into the ring one at a time, but little is said about them. Sometimes these horses are bought for the meat market, although at other times they might represent a treasure-trove of experienced animals.

"Many times our loose horses represent ranch horses that can no longer make the big loop day after day on a 25,000-acre ranch, but are still sound for recreational trail riding," Jann explains. "To the knowledgeable buyer, these horses are treasures."

But, Jann doesn't recommend loose-horse auctions for the first-time buyer.

"It takes experience to buy at these auctions," she warns.

At any auction, if you're interested in a horse, watch the animal before the sale.

"The more time you spend observing the horse, the better," contends Skip. "Watch it during the demonstration; see how it behaves in the stall and crossties, what happens when it's saddled, and how it reacts to the hustle and bustle around it."

Some auction companies allow prepurchase exams by qualified veterinarians, but others don't. If you plan to buy an expensive horse, you should know the auction company's policy.

"Although our company allows prepurchase exams, some consigners don't," explains Skip. "At our auctions buyers can bring their own veterinarians or contact the office for on-call veterinarians."

But, Jann says, if the auction house stands behind its soundness guarantee, problems are rare. Most auction companies, she clarifies, are stringent about sellers divulging problems before the sale.

"Having a horse on the auction block is like appearing before a judge," Skip explains. "Everyone comes clean. We require that horses sold are sound and without vices or otherwise stated."