Bidding cards

To bid on any horse in an auction it is necessary to obtain a bidding card before the auction starts. This can be obtained from the office at the auction and requires a form to be completed with your name and address, etc.

Viewing of horses in stables/pens

Prior to the auction horses are tied up or placed in pens or stables so that they can be viewed by potential bidders before the auction starts. The lot number is usually indicated on the stable, pen or on the horse itself by way of a sticker on its hindquarter.

At auctions where horses are sold as seen it is necessary to check any horse over carefully as bidders shouldn't rely on anything other than their own observations. Check the horse's teeth to assess its age, check for any injuries or signs of illness, check legs for any heat, and check the feet for any heat or abnormalities. If the seller is close by then ask if you can see the horse trotted up to assess its movement and check for any signs of lameness. If a horse is tacked up ask to view it without its tack on - this will help to assess its conformation more closely and it should also be borne in mind that a saddle could be hiding a loss of use (L) brand that the seller has no obligation to disclose.

If the seller can be found, ask them if there is a reserve price on the horse. Some will tell you if there is and what that reserve price is, others may be relunctant to say and some may even state there is but change their mind before the horse goes into the ring but it is worth asking the question as it will give an indication of what price the seller is hoping the horse will sell for.

Trial rides of auction horses

Although at local market style auctions there are no facilities to view horses being ridden or have a trial ride, at more specialised auctions there are often facilities for the sellers to show their horses being ridden or loosed jumped, giving the opportunity to see the horse being worked.

Some auctions also offer trial rides so that potential bidders can try the horses themselves before the auction starts. If this is the case it is necessary to attend the auction in suitable riding wear and take a riding hat.

It is best to arrange a trial ride as early as possible so that you can see how the horse behaves before it has become tired by being ridden by lots of other potential bidders. It can also be useful to watch other people trial ride the horse and see how it copes with different riders doing different things on it and this often gives a good indication of the horse's temperament. Often several horses will be ridden in the trial riding area at the same time so it is important to watch where you and others are going to avoid any collisions as you may find not everyone sticks to the ettiquette of left shoulder to left shoulder rule of an arena and some horses may be unpredictable.

Bidding on a horse in the auction

Select your position or seat before the auction starts and ensure that if you are intending to bid that you are in a position within the auctioneer's view.

As each horse comes into the auction ring the auctioneer will usually start by asking for a high starting bid, then when no one bids he will reduce the bid being asked for, and will repeat this several times before someone bids. Therefore don't bid until someone else starts or it is clear the auctioneer is not going to lower the bid asked for any further as otherwise this could mean paying far more for a horse than is needed to be successful.

Once bidding starts there are often several people bidding, but after a while only 2 or 3 remain. If the horse is not out of any spending limit by this stage, this is usually the best time to start bidding. Make any bid obvious by raising the bidding card in the air to catch the auctioneer's attention - at busy auctions it's easy for an auctioneer to overlook a subtle wave of a bidding card especially if he's looking at bidders in a different direction so shout to grab his attention whilst waving a bidding card high in the air if necessary!

The auctioneer will usually decide the bid increments so it important to listen and work out the increments so when you do bid you know how much you are bidding. On low value horses the bids could go up in £50 increments and on higher value horses £500 increments or more. There is always the option to shout out another price as you bid though if you want to bid less than the next increment.

The auctioneer will alternate between those bidding to ask for the next bid increment and it is important to pay attention to who else is bidding on the horse, as auctioneers can make up false bids, known as "off the wall" bids, or sellers may plant friends to bid on their horses to push the price up to the reserve price. If you suspect this is the case it may be best not to carry on bidding, but let the horse leave the ring unsold and see if you can negotiate privately with the seller afterwards.

Once the bidding has reached the stage no one wants to bid higher than the last bid made the hammer will fall and the auctioneer will either declare the horse sold and indicate the bidder, or announce the horse "not sold" meaning that the horse did not meet the reserve price set by the seller.

If the horse is declared sold then the auctioneer will ask for the successful bidder's number and the bidding card should be held up so that the auctioneer can see the number on it. After a short delay the office will be notified of each lot that has gone through the auction ring with the successful bidder's number and the horse can be paid for and taken home.

If the horse is declared not sold in the ring then there is always the option to negotiate privately with the seller afterwards. It should be borne in mind though that any sale negotiated outside of the ring will be considered a private sale and not subject to any warranties or protection offered by the auction house.

Removal of horses once sold

It is wise to check timescales for removal of horses sold before attending the horse auction particularly if the auction is not close to home. Often it makes sense to travel to the horse auction in a horsebox or with a horse trailer if there is even a chance that a horse will be purchased to ensure it can be removed within the timescales set. However, for some it can be easy to get carried away at a horse auction and having horse transport to hand shouldn't be an excuse for buying a horse that isn't really wanted or can't be afforded!

Arriving home from an auction with or without a horse

It should be borne in mind that at auctions there are a number of horses from various locations and backgrounds that may be incubating or have diseases that have been stroked and handled by a large number of people as they have gone from horse to horse at the auction.

Should any horse have been purchased at auction it is therefore best to quarantine the horse for at least a few days and change clothing, footwear, disinfect hands, etc before handling any horses at home to avoid the possibility of infecting any horses at home.