Buying A Horse At Auction: How It Works Plus Helpful Tips

Horse auctions have had a very bad press for many years which has put a lot of people off of buying horses there. In the past few decades though they’ve undergone a transformation and are no longer the shady places there used to be where horses were bought and sold with no questions asked. We’ve all heard plenty of horror stories about horses that have been bought at auction and, while I’m sure some of those stories are true, most of them have been exaggerated or are just hearsay. Just like buying a horse anywhere, you’ll always find a few people that have had a bad experience, but these days auctions can be a great place to buy a from – you just need to make sure that you’ve done your homework. With this in mind, what can you do to help ensure you’re buying the right horse and aren’t going to end up with one of those ‘horror story’ horses?

Types of auction

You might think that an auction is an auction but there are a number of different types of auction, both live and online, and there’s a very big difference between them.

  • Local market auctions – Horses at these auctions are often entered on the day of the sale and don’t always have papers. They’re often the last resort for sellers that aren’t able to sell their horse anywhere else or need to sell the horse quickly. You can still get some very good horses at these auctions but they’re not for the fainthearted. 
  • General riding or competition auctions – As you might expect these auctions are for people looking for riding horses or for a horse that they can compete with. To sell a horse at these auctions the seller must enter the horse long before the auction, they will also need to ensure that the horse arrives at the auction company long before the auction so that prospective buyers can view them. These are popular with sellers who are able to advertise their horses to a lot of potential buyers all at the same time.  
  • Breed-specific auctions – Breed-specific auctions are similar to general riding and competition auctions except that they, unsurprisingly, are for horses who are registered with a particular breed society or registry. Some breed registries hold their own auctions too so it’s always worth checking there first if you’re after a particular breed.
  • Performance horse auctions – These auctions are the polar opposite of local market auctions with horses being entered long before the auction. They often have a large arena (sometimes with fences) so that the seller can demonstrate the horse’s full potential. Horses sold at performance horse auctions regularly sell for the market price or higher with both the buyer and seller receiving protection if there are problems. The high cost of the horses can put some people off though.
  • Silent bid auctions – These aren’t so common but at a silent auction, no bids are taken from the floor. Instead, if you’re interested in buying a horse you then you’ll need to write your name and bidding number along with the amount you’re willing to bid and the lot number on a piece of paper. You then put that in an envelope and either hand it to an official or leave it in a predesignated bid box. The bids are then collected and counted with the highest bidder winning – it’s a similar system to the way eBay works except that bids don’t know how much each other have bid.
You shouldn't buy a horse at auction if you don't know what you're looking for

Visit auctions before

If you’ve never been to an auction before they can be daunting places which is why it’s always a good idea to visit a few auctions without bidding for any horses. You might think there’s no point in going if you’re not going to be buying anything but you’ll gain valuable experience that will help you to make the right choices when you’re ready to buy a horse.

Pre-auction homework

Once you’ve decided you want to buy a horse from an auction you’ll need to request a catalog, some auction companies want you to register online for a catalog while others will happily send you one if you call them.

Take your time to look through the catalog carefully before shortlisting any potential horses you like the look of. It’s important to know what you want from a horse, this will help you to decide which ones to shortlist and which ones to leave out. One thing to keep in mind though is that photographs can sometimes be misleading and that people photograph everything their selling in the best possible way, the catalog is only a guide and it’s important to remember that.

Some sellers will advertise their horses for sale privately before entering them for auction so once you’ve shortlisted a few possible horses it’s time to get online. With a little bit of internet searching, you may be able to find these private adverts. They will often give you more photographs as well as videos of the horse being ridden. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t find any private adverts, not every seller will do this.

As part of your pre-auction homework you should also check the terms and conditions of the auction company, for example, do they have a vet present at the auction, do they work with a reputable and reliable transport company or do you need to make your own transport arrangements. You should also make sure you’re aware of any fees they have and what those are. 

Auction fees

Every winning bid will incur a number of fees and it’s important to know what they are beforehand. While every auction company can set its own commission fee they do tend to range from between 6% and 8% of the total sale price. You’ll also have to pay local or states taxes or VAT depending on the country you’re in. On top of this, you’ll also have to factor in a veterinary examination and transportation. These will need to be added to your total price so it’s important to factor that into how high you’re willing to bid.

Arrive early

Ask anybody who’s ever bought a horse from an auction if they’ve got any advice for you and guaranteed the one thing they’ll all say is make sure you arrive in plenty of time and there’s a good reason for this. If you arrive early then you’ll be able to have a proper look at any horses you’re interested in whereas if you don’t give yourself enough time not only will you not be able to do this properly but you could potentially miss out on the horse you really wanted. This is why it helps to know which horses you’re interested in prior to arriving, you can then go straight to the horses that are on your shortlist.

Arriving early will also give you a chance to speak to the seller and ask any specific questions you might have. Most auction companies will also have an area for the seller to walk and trot the horse in so you can see them moving although it’s down to the seller’s discretion whether or not they’ll do this. Some sellers will be happy for you to ride the horse yourself too if you ask nicely.

You can also speak to the seller about any paperwork the horse has. This can be especially important if you’re interested in buying a particular breed. Does the horse have all of the relevant and necessary paperwork needed by that breed’s registry?

Post-purchase examination

Some auction companies will have a vet present while others will allow you to have your own vet check the horse within a certain period of time, usually up to five business days, after the auction. If you do choose to have the horse vetted (which I strongly recommend you do) after purchases him and the horse fails that then you can at this point terminate the sale without incurring any fees aside from the vet bill. You might think that this isn’t necessary and hopefully that will prove to be the case but is it a chance you really want to take?

All auction companies will have a list of conditions under which they will allow you to terminate a sale so it’s important to read those and make sure you understand them fully. If the horse fails a veterinary examination under any of those conditions then you need to either speak to an official immediately, if the vet check is carried out at the auction, or contact the auction company as soon as possible if it’s taken place at the seller’s yard. In most cases, the auction company will require you to provide a written statement from a licensed veterinarian detailing the reason for terminating the sale.

If the horse has passed the examination then, first of all, congratulations! It’s at this point that you can start to arrange transportation for him. Some auction companies will provide their own transportation service at a cost while others allow you and the seller to work out the arrangements together.

How do you find out about upcoming auctions?

A quick google search (other search engines are available) for horse sales or horse auctions in your area should bring up a list of upcoming auctions and auction companies, some will even have reviews so it’s a good idea to read those. If you’d prefer to get a recommendation then your local tack shop or veterinary practice will be able to help. Online forums can also be a great place to ask, they’re generally full of helpful, like-minded people who will be happy to recommend places they’ve found to be good as well as tell you about ones to avoid.

Attending an auction

All reputable auction companies will require you to register with them before being able to place any bids at all. Some allow you to do this online beforehand while others are happy for you to arrive early and do this on the day of the auction before it starts. Usually, they’ll need your name, address, phone number (usually a cell number), and some form of official photo identification, you’ll then be given a bidding number which is what the auctioneer will use to record your successful bids.

Auction day tips

  • Be prepared – If you buy a horse at auction the horse immediately becomes yours and you’ll be responsible for it which means that, unless you agree otherwise with the seller, you have to take the horse away with you. This means you need some sort of transport as well as a halter and lead rope for the horse and plenty for hay and water for the journey back home.
  • Go with somebody with auction experience – If you’ve never bought from an auction before then I would recommend going with some who has experience. You might think you’ll be fine but as the saying goes two heads are always better than one. Ideally, the experienced person should know about your riding capabilities, they will then be able to help advise if a certain horse is right for you or not.
  • Don’t get caught up – At an auction things can happen very quickly and prices can increase in the blink of an eye. Keep in mind how much you’re able or willing to spend and don’t get carried away with the excitement of the day.
  • Beware professional riders – This might sound like a strange thing to say but if you’re after a quiet children’s pony or a horse for a nervous rider then a professional rider can be a bad sign and should at least cause you to ask questions. Is the horse/pony difficult to ride, do they need a professional rider to be able to handle them? Are they green and haven’t been ridden much? If the auction company has its own rider then this obviously is different.
  • Listen to your gut – You should always listen to your instincts, they’ve usually noticed something that you haven’t. Buying a horse is a big commitment and if you have a hunch that the horse you’re looking at isn’t right for you don’t buy it. 

Why should I buy a horse from an auction?

Some people will argue that buying a horse from an auction is a bad idea, stating that a good horse is never sold at auction and that owners who sell horses at auction are disreputable. Yes, of course, there are disreputable owners at auctions but if you buy privately how do you know the owner is genuine? You’ll always get good and bad owners wherever you go but as Jonathan D’Arcy, General Manager at Inglis, says “Public Auction is regarded as the most reliable and safest way to transact bloodstock sales because the auction company will provide protection to buyers and vendors through the terms and conditions of sale.” Stating that “Inglis, Australia’s oldest and most respected auction company, offers live and online auctions throughout the year and guarantees payment once a lot has been sold and that purchasers have safeguards in place should the horse they have bought be found to have certain vices such being a windsuckers or a roarer.

Why should I sell my horse at an auction?

A lot of people will automatically shy away from selling their horse at an auction but actually, auctions can be a great place to sell your horse. If you use a reputable auction company then you’ll be protected from the buyer not paying but more importantly you can be more confident that your horse will be going to a good home. Selling at an auction also means that you’ll be able to advertise your horse to a wide, captive audience.


However, you choose to buy a horse it’s important to always do your homework but as you can see buying from an auction can be a great place to buy that special horse.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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