Speak Up for Horses

Attending a breed auction

The 2004 double decker wreck in Southeastern Indiana which killed approximately 30 of 51 horses left a lot of unanswered questions for Shelly and me. I decided to attend the nearby horse auctions frequented by the horse traders involved in the wreck so I could see for myself how gorgeous looking horses ended up on slaughter trucks. I girded myself to stay focused and not intervene in the process but rather simply observe and take notes. That proved very difficult to do.

Until that wreck, I like many people, thought slaughter-bound horses were the old, unsound and used-up. How wrong I was.

Many of the horses on the double decker which overturned had come from breed auctions in Minnesota. So I identified a couple breed auctions close to home where the same horse traders were sure to attend. What I uncovered shocked me.

Here is an account of one such breed auction.

I received a catalog in the mail prior to the auction. Many of the horses at the front end of the catalog came from the breeder who organized the auction. Many were young green stock, touted as ready to show and sired by a well advertised stud. Others were broodmares confirmed in foal to the same well advertised stallion.

When I arrived at the auction I was surprised to see many out of state license plates, many from several states away. The majority of trailers were two horse trailers. There were some very very nice looking horses in the holding pens. Several had braided manes, leather halters, and polished hooves. Pedigrees, photos of the sire and dam were pinned to the stall boards.

Several slaughter buyers and middlemen traders were present, standing in the corner of the ring, rather than sitting in the stands. The first horses through were all bought by bidders in the stands, often times outbidding the traders in the ring for decent and sometimes high sale prices. After the majority of the horses from the breeder who organized the auction were sold, the bidding suddenly slowed. The traders started buying, and many of the horses were selling for less than $300.

A fine young stud colt was led into the ring by his owner/breeder. When the bidding stopped at $250, she no saled him. She started crying in the ring as she led the colt away. I followed her back to the holding pen. She then explained.

She and her husband had come all the way from Virginia with her homebred stud colt and a fine young filly in a two horse trailer. She had met a handler at the summer shows showing young stock sired by the well advertised stallion. The handler had told her how this auction was a great place to sell her homebred babies for good money and pick up finely bred broodmares for a very reasonable price. Based on that, they came, and they bought a broodmare at the front end of the auction. Her husband told her that regardless of price one of the two they had brought to auction had to sell since they only had room in their trailer for two horses. Since she had no-saled the colt, the filly would have to go regardless of price. She was devastated at selling either for so little, and she tried to undo the broodmare purchase but she was unable to do so without losing money. The filly sold for a mere $175 to the trader's brother, who was also a middleman slaughter buyer.

Reminding myself of my no intervention promise, I did not tell her a slaughter trader had bought her filly. I urged her instead to find out all she could in the office when she completed the sale paperwork. When I saw her later, she told me the office had described the purchaser as a well-known horse person who lived on a large farm nearby, and that he had a wife and kids, and lots of family close by. She left the auction thinking her filly was safe. Not so. I felt terrible.

More of the same happened throughout the auction. Many of the horses, but none of those owned by the local breeder who organized the auction, were bought by the slaughter buyers or horse traders.

Toward the end of the sale, two identical black older broodmares were offered by the same owner. One went to a couple in the stands, but the other was purchased by the same trader who bought the young filly.

At most of the previous auctions I had observed the traders were the last to load and pull out. Not this time. They were loading before the last horses were auctioned. I had come to be friends with one of the stockyard workers and commented about the hastened loading of the traders. He told me it was because they were headed to another auction that night. That sweet young filly who had already traveled hundreds of miles was loaded to begin her sad journey to still another auction that same day.

The black mare was the last to be loaded by the slaughter buyer. She did not want to leave her buddy in the pen. They dragged her down the aisle and both mares screamed to each other. They had to whip her to load her. They continued to whinny to each other as the distance between them lengthened. The mare in the pen whinnied one last time, and when there was no answer, she swallowed one more whinny, and then stood restlessly in the far corner where she and her friend had last stood together. My heart heaved for her loss, but at least she had a chance for a new life with the couple who seemed quite excited about their new horse.

About a week later, the filly's former owner called me. She told me she couldn't sleep. She worried so much about the filly that she finally had convinced her husband that they needed to buy back the filly. She had found out the purchaser was a horse trader and that he no longer had the filly. He would not tell her to whom she had been sold. We intervened through another trader, but we could not find the filly. She had been no saled at the second auction, had then been no-saled a week later in West Virginia, before she was supposedly traded in the parking lot of the auction for cash. To this day, she has not shown up as a transfer with the breed registry.

The filly's former owner complained to everyone she could. Sadly, most of those to whom she complained were friends with the organizer and with the slaughter buyer. Later I found out there had been an out of court settlement on a similar situation which had occurred the previous year.

I thought back to the Minnesota horses. How many of those horses left behind owners like the Virginia lady?

My conclusion? If you care about your horse, do not sell it at auction. You might as well be selling it for 30 pieces of silver.

SaddleUp For Storytime

Can you imagine growing up not reading horse books like Black Beauty and My Friend Flicka?

Lots of children do. Speak Up For Horses wants to change that. We donate both new and gently used horse books to under-funded libraries. 

How can you help? Financial donations to Speak Up For Horses can be earmarked for the purchase of horse books simply by noting that on PayPal or on your check. You can also send us new and gently used books from your bookshelf, and books you find in a bookstore, or at a garage sale etc.

If you know of a library you would like to help, please with the library name and contact information including the address, phone number and the librarian's name.

If you would like to nominate a specific horse book that made a difference in your love for horses, please . We are always looking for new suggestions. We are focusing on horse books which speak to responsible ownership and the unique importance of horses to people.

Sing and Alex

Sing and Alex, the charming story about a boy and a horse, the power of love, and believing in one's self. Your purchase of this book helps us raise money. Use PayPal and specify you want a donation sent to Speak Up For Horses. You will LOVE this book. Give it to the young children in your life or donate it to your local library.

Horse Auctions

Get the Facts on Horse Auctions

Attending a breed auction