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Top Five Reasons Not to Buy a Horse at an Auction


Auctions are fun to watch and the prices you may see horses selling at may be  tempting. Should a first time horse buyer buy a horse at an auction? You might come home with a good bargain. But, buyer beware: you might come home with a big problem.


Many horses are auctioned because it's difficult to sell them privately. The ethics that govern a private sale don’t apply to auctions. An experienced horseperson might be able to pick out a diamond in the rough, but an auction is not the place to go looking for your first horse. Here's why an auction can be a bad place to buy. 

1. Horses May Be Drugged

Horse with ears back.
Image: K. Blocksdorf
It’s sad but true, but some unscrupulous sellers will give horses calming drugs before an auction. A horse may appear ‘bomb proof’ at the auction, but once the drugs wear off you may have a very difficult and dangerous horse on your hands. Private sellers can drug horses too, but if you suspect drugging this can easily be picked up in a pre-purchase veterinary exam.

2. Not as Well Broke as they Appear

Image: K. Blocksdorf
I recently saw a horse go through an auction that I knew had been ‘broke’ a few days before. The horse was very quiet as it was ridden through. Why? Because horses are followers and in the confusing atmosphere of the auction it looked to the only place it knew for confidence--its rider. Anyone buying this horse might have thought it very well trained. In reality, it had been barely handled and needed a lot more training and a knowledgeable rider to turn it into a safe, well mannered horse.

3. May May Have Vices or Other Issues

Horse chewing stall wall
Image: K. Blocksdorf
Vices such as cribbing, weaving, stall walking, refusing to load on a trailer, biting, kicking and a myriad of other undesirable behaviors may not be apparent in the sales pen of an auction. At an auction, the seller often does not have the same obligation to disclose vices as they would through private sale. Many vices are dangerous or destructive.

4. Horses May Have Health Issues

Pinto Pony
Image: K. Blocksdorf
I know of a pony bought at auction that appeared healthy. After purchase the pony showed signs of heaves. It had been medicated to mask the symptoms. The pony required costly medication and during humid weather couldn’t be ridden.

I also know of an OTTB sent to auction looking perfectly sound despite irreparable bone damage. It was bought by a young family. Imagine their despair on discovering the horse was permanently and painfully lame, with no chance of recovery.

5. Little Chance to Try before You Buy

Image: K. Blocksdorf
If you are buying your first horse the one thing you will want to do is ‘try before you buy’. It’s essential to find out if the horse you are buying is safe and fun for you to ride or drive right away. When you are buying you will want to try a horse out more than once and perhaps compare several that you are considering. At an auction, you probably won’t have a chance to ride a horse and if you do it can be in a very confused and dangerous environment.

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