In some circles, horse auctions are considered a necessary evil. To the contrary, we at Hanaeleh believe they’re evil and unnecessary…and it’s time to abolish them.
In the 1800s, Tattersalls was a popular auction in London where men of the time would go to buy and sell what they considered “prime horseflesh.” The auctions featured horses, saddles, carts and anything else a gentleman (because women were not allowed to attend these auctions) of the time might need to stock his stable. If a person had a horse he needed to sell, then he took his horse to the auction, for the most part because there were few other options available; there were no classified ads at that time, no internet, and the towns were spread so far apart that it was difficult to travel from one area to another in a timely manner.
Imagine traveling two days in a carriage to go 50 miles just to see if a horse might be a good “fit” for you? It seems ridiculous now.
At that time, auctions were a common and convenient way for people to meet in order to sell almost anything, from horses to farm equipment to livestock, and, at that time in the United States, even people.
Although the need for public auctions was apparent in the 1800s, the need has dwindled, along with the recognition that, although auctions were great for some people, they were detrimental to the animals they sold. Imagine being moved from your quiet barn, with a handful of horses you know, to end up in a small pipe stall, surrounded by anywhere between 20-1,000 different horses.
The environment is tense and loud, with any number of different people coming in and out of the area. You may have the person you know handle you, but it is more than likely you will have the auction handlers working with you. It is more than likely that you would be completely terrified in this new environment.
Horse auctions cause severe stress to horses.
Horses are herd animals so taking a horse from his home will, at the very least, stress him, and at the very most, make him so strung out that he will act erratically. It usually takes a few weeks for a horse to settle into his new environment.
In an auction, the horse is there for a few days, perhaps up to a week, before being sold – horses are coming and going throughout this time, meaning that your horse will constantly be stressed and unable to establish a herd dynamic with his neighbors.
It is more likely that your horse can fall ill or colic during this time because of the undue stress.
Horses who attend auctions are also not necessarily required to show proof of vaccinations (and even then, that “proof” can easily be forged), so your horse is now around other horses who may have been exposed to any number of different communicable diseases.
Myth: “The horses are going to be sold, anyway.”
We believe that those people who say that they are “helping” the horses by defending the auctions and the need for them should instead put their efforts into helping those horses find homes in other ways.
Recently, Hanaeleh was made aware of a situation in which a number of donkeys were being sent to auction. Instead of working with rescues or other groups to try to find homes, the people who were sending out the information were defending the need to send these poor, frightened animals to an auction.
Advertising animals online to help people get top dollar for a horse or donkey is not helping the animal; rather, you are helping the owner, who is just going to send more animals to auction. There are rescues who go in and pull horses from auctions, and we have worked with some of them to help these horses find homes, although we would rather the rescues work to give people an option to find a home for their horse before they are sent to an auction.
The horse industry is a business. We do not ascribe to that philosophy ourselves, but as a non-profit, we have the luxury of being able to hold to a higher moral standard. That being said, we still do comprehend that we are an anomaly in the horse industry, and that people’s businesses are dependent upon their ability to buy and sell horses.
What we do not understand, however, is why people continue to try to do business in a completely archaic way. Auctions are thousands of years old, and they are unnecessary and outdated. There are a number of ways people can find horses without having to put a horse through the stress of being in a crowded, frightening situation. Auctions are not only outdated, but they can be cruel to the horses while allowing the abusers to profit.
Horse Auctions Facilitate Overbreeding
As a rescue, we often hear people tell us that they are only helping to highlight horses at auction because, “these horses/donkeys are going to Mexico (ie: slaughter) if they are not sold at the auction.” We realize that this is very likely true, but the fact of the matter is that there is no reason that these horses should be in this situation in the first place.
Please do not pretend that you care about an animal if you are threatening to send it to slaughter. If you are sending your animal to an auction, it is possible that your horse can be purchased by a killer buyer and be sent to slaughter. Having a “reserve” price on a horse does help, because it usually is higher than a killer buyer will pay. Sadly, many people do not bother to put a reserve price on their horses.
We completely understand that breeders need to find a way to support their business, but the reality of the situation is that a horse who is going to ship for slaughter costs the breeder far more than the few hundred dollars he will bring in at auction.
If you are a breeder and you are sending horses to auction, knowing that they may go to slaughter, then you need to reevaluate what horses you are breeding; if they are not selling to individuals, then STOP BREEDING THEM.
The Quarter horse industry is an excellent example of a oversaturated market.
There are thousands more Quarter horses than the market currently needs. Why, then, do Quarter horse breeders continually breed? For some reason, they would rather see their yearlings go to slaughter than they would breed more indiscriminately. It makes no sense, and if the breeders truly cared about their animals, they would change how and what horses they are bringing into the world.
The Thoroughbred industry is another group that uses auctions as a way to facilitate the overbreeding and discarding of the horses they breed.
Hundreds of Thoroughbreds move through the auctions every year, and not all of these have been on the track; horses who are not determined worthy of racing will be indiscriminately sold at an auction, often before being registered. Lacking any official papers, a young Thoroughbred does not have the same chance of finding a good home. Horses who have been lamed, either temporarily or permanently, are easily discarded to make way for a new crop of racing prospects.
The United States sends over 100,000 horses to slaughter every year and the majority of these horses are young, sound, viable animals.
The question, then, is, why do breeders continue to overbreed? The truth is that the slaughter pipeline allows them to continue to overbreed, and the auctions help to facilitate these sales. Without slaughter or auctions, these breeders would quickly be out of business.
Auctions Do Not Match the Right Horse to the Right Owner
When buying a horse, there is more to it than just determining whether the horse is healthy, sound, and has adequate training. The horse and owner must be a good “fit,” meaning that they must work well together both on the ground, and under saddle. A horse and owner must have complementary temperaments as well as ability levels.
At Hanaeleh, we have prospective adopters come out to meet the horse, groom him, and ride him. We are open to having new owners come out several times to get to know the horse before adopting him to make sure they have a good connection, and they are a good “fit.” The reason is because we want to make sure that the horse and the owner are going to be happy together, that the owner is getting a horse who she can safely handle, and that she also has the knowledge and capability of working with that particular horse.
Not All Horses Have the Same Temperament
Tragedy usually strikes horse owners when they purchase a horse who does not have the level of training or the temperament that complements the new owner’s. Sometimes, too, the horse and the new owner just do not work well together- sometimes this is due to the discrepancies between the owner’s ability and the horse’s needs, and sometimes the owner’s personality clashes with the horse’s personality.
We have had horses surrendered to Hanaeleh who have a number of training and temperament issues that are quickly resolved with the proper handling. It was not that the previous owner was bad or inept; that person just did not have the ability or desire to deal with that horse’s particular quirks.
In addition, some people are more tolerant of certain horse behaviors. Cribbing is a good example of a horse behavior that some people will work around using collars or similar devices, while some people refuse to purchase horses who crib. Some horses will bite or kick when being tacked up, or do not tie at a cross-tie or trailer, or do poorly when next to a gelding but are fine next to a mare- the point is, that horses have their unique quirks that go beyond merely conformation and soundness and even training.
It is difficult if not impossible to determine whether that horse at an auction will spook at your dog, or if he will go over water, or even his true personality. If a horse is at an auction, he will most likely be a very different horse there than when you finally get him back at your facility.
You May Be Buying Someone Else’s Problem
People who are looking to purchase a horse always have to take heart in the mantra, “buyer beware.” At Hanaeleh, we go through a vetting process that allows us to ensure that the horse and owner will be a good fit. If things do not work out, we ALWAYS take our horses back- we want to make sure that they will be safe for the rest of their lives. Although most horse sellers will not offer this guarantee, the ability for you to work with the horse, to see him in his natural environment, and to spend more than five minutes with him will give you a better understanding of the horse and his unique quirks.
We also always recommend a vet check on any horse, something that is not even an option for almost any auction. Knowing what you are getting before you take your horse home prevents a lot of problems and potential dangerous issues that may come up later.
In an auction, you have a short time to see the horse in the stall, being ridden, or turned out in the main area before bidding. The horse is in a new, uncertain environment, which can put even the most docile of horses on edge and cause them to act contrary to their nature.
Horses who are lame are also given drugs to mask their physical issues, so you may not even be aware that the horse has any lameness issues until days after you get him home. Sometimes people get lucky and get a lovely, sound horse, but we have seen case after case where a person purchased a horse from an auction, only to find out that the horse either needed an extensive layup, thousands of dollars in medical care, or the horse had a permanent lameness.
There are no repercussions for individuals who will purposefully try to dump horses who have issues onto unsuspecting buyers.
Horse Auctions Create a False Urgency of a Horse Needing a Home
We receive a number of e-mails from different organizations that tell us we only have “24 hours or the horse will ship to slaughter!” or “This horse is going to auction tomorrow unless we raise $300,” or words to that effect.
Hanaeleh has helped horses in these situations by taking in those horses or facilitating the rescue of horses who are truly in danger of going down to Mexico for slaughter. The horse auctions, however, create a false sense of urgency, and false sense of security as well.
False sense of urgency
People are more likely to give money in a crisis or life-or-death situation. This is true across all giving; for example, the Red Cross sees donations rise exponentially during a natural disaster. The same can be said for an auction; if a horse needs a home, but is not imminently threatened with being shipped off to slaughter tomorrow, then people are less likely to help.
If people receive an e-mail saying that they must help that horse or he will die tomorrow, usually people will offer to help, at least financially. If you are a disreputable individual, and you don’t care where your horse ends up, you are more likely to use the threat of slaughter as a way to get your horse sold.
The question arises in that once the horse is purchased, is he safe? The answer is a resounding maybe; the horse may be “safe” for that moment, but the reality is that when a horse is purchased at an auction, he is only safe for that moment.
False sense of security
If you purchase a horse from the auction, or if you donate money to a rescue organization that goes to auctions, you are rescuing that one horse from one situation. Before you start throwing your money at auctions, however, you need to be aware of two things:
#1: Who are you outbidding?
You need to be savvy as to who the kill buyers are at the auction. If you’re just bidding to bid, you’re helping to continue the perpetual cycle of auctions.
#2: What happens to the horse after you rescue him?
This is what upsets us the most: rescues or well-meaning individuals will raise thousands of dollars to purchase horses from auctions, only to find out that the horse is back at the auction a few years later. This happens much more often than you might imagine.
People want to help; people want to save a horse from a horrific end, but often the reality is that they do not have the ability to actually care for the horse that they might take in, or the horse might not turn out to be what they want. A rescue might purchase 10 horses at an auction and will place the horse with a trainer or someone who promises to take care of the horse. That person might then give or sell the horse to another well-meaning individual, only to have that person sell the horse or take it to auction.
Unless the rescue has a first right-of-refusal on all of their horses, then you have no guarantee that horse will not end up back at an auction (and in danger of being sent to slaughter) again.
Unless you are taking the horse yourself, or the rescue actively keeps track of all of its horses and retains that first right-of-refusal, that horse can still be in danger of being sent to slaughter. At that point, the only people you are helping to make money are the abusers and killer buyers.
It is not very expensive to rescue a horse from an auction; a few hundred dollars and you have a horse. The real cost is in the rehabilitation and retraining. It can cost thousands of dollars to rehabilitate a horse, and often people who purchase a horse from an auction will either give up or realize that they cannot financially continue the rehab. What happens then is either a rescue like Hanaeleh is contacted, or the horse is once again sold or given away, only to end up at an auction once again.
At Auctions, The Horses Are Put into a Dangerous, Frightening Situations
Horses are herd animals, and most horses do not do well when moved from one stable to the next. The water tastes different, the hay is different, and the overall routine, including noises and people, are different.
In Hanaeleh’s adoption contract, it explicitly states that a horse will not start training or be ridden for the first two weeks in his new home; this is to ensure that the horse has time to settle in and get to know the routine of his new surroundings, which will help prevent stress, colic, and frustration on both the horse and the new owner.
An horse auction is a far cry from a boarding facility.
Auctions are not meant for long-term housing, and the horses are placed in small stalls, usually pipe or box stalls, surrounded by sometimes hundreds of other horses, who are all equally as frightened. Some auctions are better run than others, and the quality of feed, care, stalls, etc. vary widely between different auctions. The auctions are loud, with horses coming in and out constantly, all equally as frightened.
In an auction, the horse is tagged with a number on his hip, then sent through a small pen for people to inspect. Some of these horses are handled by the auction handlers, not their owners, and they are often asked to run around so people can see them move to determine lameness. In some auctions, multiple animals are put into a pen at once. This process can be incredibly frightening for the horses, especially if they are being jostled and kicked by other animals.
Horses who are sent to auctions are supposed to have medical paperwork, but that varies on the auction. A horse who is sent to an auction can be exposed to any number of diseases, including strangles, EHV and Potomac Horse Fever. A horse whose immune system is already compromised by stress is more likely to be infected by these diseases.
Horses at auctions are sold for as little as $50.
This fact means that the horse was most likely purchased by a kill buyer and will be shipped to Mexico to slaughter. Some people will put a reserve price on their horse, but depending upon the price of horsemeat, even that may not prevent a killer buyer from purchasing your animal.
In addition, you don’t know what person is going to purchase your horse, and as long as he has the money, you don’t have the option to say no. If the new owner has a reputation for being abusive, or who ascribes to practices you may deem abusive, you have no say as to whether he buys your horse or not. You are sending your horse to an uncertain and potentially dangerous future.
If you care at all about your horse, then an auction is a horrible place to send him.
Horse Auctions Attract and Benefit People Who Neglect and Mistreat Horses
When I purchased a used car, I did not go to an auction, for the most part because I was fairly certain that someone was going to try to cheat me, and there would be no repercussions. Since I’m not a mechanic, I was concerned that I would be buying someone else’s problem car.
The same is true for horses.
When you purchase a horse, you are usually not offered the opportunity to get a vet exam. You may see the horse ridden or trotted around, but you don’t know if the horse is injured and on high doses of pain killers, or if the horse has a mental issue and is on high doses of calming medication. The truth is, you know nothing about that horse- not even where he came from.
If you care about your horse, and you are a reputable trainer, you should have ways of finding homes for your animals.
You should have a network – both by word of mouth and on the internet so people can find your horses. You should check out the people and, if you truly care about the welfare of your animals, you should have a first right-of-refusal on all of your horses.
So who sends horses to auctions, then?
Sometimes it’s for financial reasons: they have not paid board and their horses are being sent in lieu of payment.
Other times, these people who have something to hide:
- Horses who have injuries
- Horses who need to be trained
- Horses who have been neglected
- Horses who sadly should be euthanized.
- Finally, there are some people who just cannot be bothered to find a home for their horse on their own.
If you go to an auction, you will see a lot of beautiful animals who could have found a wonderful home without being put through such a frightening ordeal.
You will also see, however, the hundreds of Thoroughbreds that the racing industry throws away every single year.
You will see the camp horses who have worked their entire lives for people.
You will see horses in various stages of neglect.
You will see horses who have been bought and sold at various auctions without receiving adequate training.
You will see horses who are permanently lame, brought back time again when the new owner realizes that it is not an issue that is easily fixed.
You will see neurological horses who should never be ridden, but who are touted as rideable.
You will see horses who are older, who are in devastating pain, but who are put through the auction so their owner can squeeze a final $100 out of them, instead of humanely euthanizing them.
The horse auctions allow this neglect to continue.
As long as people have a way to dump the horses they abuse, they will continue to abuse their animals. It is only when we close down their ability to easily rid themselves of the horses they are neglecting or abusing that we will highlight their actions.
To recap, auctions represent everything we as a horse rescue are against:
- They facilitate overbreeding
- They do not match the right horse to the owner
- They create a false urgency of a horse needing a home
- The horses are put into a dangerous, frightening situation
- They attract and benefit people who neglect and mistreat horses
With videos, the internet, and numerous sites across the world that are dedicated to the adoption, buying and selling of horses, the horse industry needs to abandon its thousand year-old rituals and move into the 21st century.
We have ways of helping people find a horse that’s right for them, and we have ways of finding homes for horses. None of them need involve an archaic custom that often creates a fearful situation for the animals. Instead of supporting horse auctions, we should be working to end them. Instead of accepting them as the norm, we should be actively supporting alternatives to auctions.
We need to abolish horse auctions instead of accepting them as a necessary evil to the horse industry. They may be evil, and they are completely unnecessary.