Horse Auction Operators Deal with Down Market

In a glutted market where some horses can be had for as little as $2, auctioneer Tim Jennings is trying to convince horse owners it's still a good time to sell their animals.

"We're telling people to compare how much they're spending on the horse with the potential sale price," said Jennings, president and director of marketing for Professional Auction Sales, Inc., a consignment sale firm in Berryville, Va. "It's a marketing campaign for us."

Jennings' pitch is just one way horse sale operators are coping with a downward spiraling market.

"The high cost of fuel, and cost of living, and the end of the slaughter market is just killing us," said Joyce Youngker, co-owner of the Youngker Quarter Horse Ranch in Perkins, Okla. "There are some lower-end horses in the marketplace that would have gone to slaughter that you can't even give away. Also, people can't afford to buy even inexpensive horses because they can't afford to feed them. Those who can, can't afford to haul them to shows."

Horse auction holding pens

Sale operators report that the going price for horses is falling.

According to Bret Stossel, auctioneer associate for Triangle Sales Company, a consignment sale firm in Shawnee, Okla., prices of lower-market horses have fallen dramatically--from $800 to often less than $20, and mid-range horses from $1,500 to $500. He attributes this to soaring fuel and feed costs. In response many sale operators must either scale back or shut down altogether.

"Some 'Saturday Night' stock sales aren't even happening anymore," he said. "We've been concentrating on high-end horses, and even our sales are down 50%. There just are fewer horses coming up for sale."

That's because many owners of good mid-range and high-end horses are refusing to sell until prices rise.

"We just canceled a sale at the Boystown Gateway Classic horse show at Lake St. Louis, Mo., because we couldn't get enough good horses," said Tim Folck, president and general manager of National Equine Sales in Springfield, Ohio. "We used to do five major sales a year. This year we're only doing one."

Folck plans to beef up his sales via an Internet site to connect his clients with prospective buyers. "It eliminates the cost of hauling the horses to sale, and the cost of the catalog, and the venue and the ring staff," he said.

According to David Anderson, MS, PhD, an associate professor and Extension economist in Texas A&M University's Department of Agricultural Economics, the horse market is sensitive to several factors, including everything from the way weather affects the feed market to trends in equine usage. But the biggest market driving factor is the economy in general.

"Whatever else happens, horse markets won't stabilize until the overall economy improves," he said.

But even that won't solve the problem of low or no value horses, said Terry Geiler, owner of Rolla Horse Auction in Rolla, Mo. "We've had 15 to 20 horses nobody would buy and that sellers wouldn't take back," Geiler said. "So we had to find homes for them among people who were also at the sale."

The incident doesn't surprise Tim Jennings.

"It's just a sign of the times," he said.

About the Author

Pat Raia

Pat Raia is a veteran journalist who enjoys covering equine welfare, industry, and news. In her spare time, she enjoys riding her Tennessee Walking Horse, Sonny.

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