I buy horses at auctions. Lots of them. I buy and sell horses for a living, and unlike those who view auctions as nothing but dumping grounds for other people's problems, I see them as time-saving venues for seeing and comparing a wealth of choices in a single location. They're also great place to see how a horse handles himself in an unfamiliar environment. That's valuable knowledge if you intend to do anything with a horse besides keep it in your backyard forever as a yard ornament. If I'm able to buy at a wholesale price (often the case at an auction), so much the better.
That doesn't mean I let myself get carried away and buy horses on impulse like so many do-----far from it. I have a methodical system for shopping and buying via auction. "Work" is the operative term here, because it takes just as much effort to make a satisfactory buy at the auction as it does from a private party.
When I talk about buying at auction, I'm not thinking about your everyday local, open-consignment auction of uncataloged horses. Those are high-risk, buyer-beware situations that I don't recommend. I do my buying at the cataloged sales held in conjunction with high-level breed events, or the major shows of specific disciplines. Besides being run by reputable equine-auction companies, these sales serve as showcases for top breeders, owners, trainers, and competitors. With their reputations resting in part on the caliber of horses they consign, sellers bring good stock to these venues.
I have good reason for shopping at these sales. They are my first line of defense against getting so caught up in the moment that you end up with a horse you don't really need or want and regret buying. In my case, I'm either attempting to fill an order from a customer, who's hired me as a purchase agent, or looking for horses to go into my resale inventory for a clientele I've developed over many years. I always try to think of myself as the customer. I have a budget, a list of the aspects that I can and can't live without and my intended use. This may seem like nothing more than common sense, but you might be surprised at how often people skip this important pre-attendance step. That's how they end up with a horse that doesn't have quite the breeding they wanted, or the training, level of soundness, conformation, desposition, ect.
Once I've decided on a sale to attend, I request a catalog as far in advance of the sale as possible. Ideally, I'll have it in hand well before the sale dates, the better to study it, make initial selections, go on-line for complete pedigree and performance records, and contact consignors for extra information on horses that interest me. Because I live in the third largest state in terms of the equine industry, where many of these horses are located, I may make appointments to go see their consignments before they're taken to the sale. I also visit consigning ranches in other parts of the country when I can. This gives me a chance to see not just the horses themselves, but the people and environment that produced them. You can never know too much about any horse you intend to bid on.
I adhere to the same philosophy at the sale grounds. I like to arrive as soon as the grounds open for arrival of consigned horse, so I can watch them as they're unloaded and taken to their stalls. Like any other buyer, I don't want to end up with a horse that's bad-tempered, hard to handle, or unsound, and this on-arrival viewing can reveal a lot in those departments.
Next, I go the the sales office to obtain a stall chart that shows which consignments are assigned to which stalls. Not only does this save me time in locating the horse I want to inspect closely, it also keeps me from getting distracted by horses that don't fit my specifics. But that's not to say that I don't look at any other horses other than those that are highlighted in my catalog. I'll go back through the barns after seeing my initial picks, looking for horses that catch my eye, and I have a good eye, at least when I can see through them. I'll also look at horses discovered by people who, with cell phone in hand, work as spotters. In fact, I started out as a spotter. With many hundred of horses consigned to a typical big sale, it never hurts to have extra, trusted eyes to help you locate that gem. Boy-howdy did I spot one! I did not come home empty-handed.
That's him in the photos. I plan on keeping him for myself, at least for awhile. I have given him the handle of the Dark Wraith, in honor of his darkness and high stepping ways. I took him for a spin today and he's like riding a million dollars without the tax. All and all, I think you can see why I say it takes some work to make a satisfactory buy.