What You Need to Know About Horse Sales (and Where Your Money Goes)
It’s fall horse sale season, and everyone’s excited…
by Lisa Whinfrey // by Claire Buchanan
…but, have you ever wondered where that consignment fee goes? Do your sale catalog picks always bring way more than your budget (…or salary)? Let The Sale Horse help.
Professional horse sale manager and sales consultant Jill Swanhorst gave us all kinds of tips on How To Horse Sale. Read on for a behind-the-scenes look at how a horse sale is run. Plus: we found a little bit of top-secret advice about finding a bargain…
So, where IS my consignment fee going?
It’s not making the sale any money, if that’s what you’re wondering.
Advertising is, by far, the sale’s biggest expense. It is also a necessity for attracting buyers.
A digital ad campaign costs less than print, but “horse people like to see stuff in print,” Jill explains. “Running an ad in a big national magazine is going to cost as much as a couple thousand dollars per issue. A big sale’s advertising budget can be more than $100,000.”
Other major expenses include facility rental and catalog printing. Then there’s the cost of employees. A sale requires office workers, a vet, a brand inspector, ring men, the pedigree man, an auctioneer, set-up crew, and more.
Someone has to be available to unlock stalls for consigners as they arrive with their horses before the sale, office supplies need to be purchased, and countless other details must be managed.
Jill estimates it costs as much as $500-$1200 per horse to put on a sale. Catalog fees generally cover some, but not all, of these up-front costs. Sale companies make their profit on the commission, which is generally around 10% of the final bid.
Why would I want to sell my horse on a sale?
Jill is quick to encourage would-be consigners to sell their horses privately if they’re able.
“If you’ve got a buyer that’s ready to give you full price for your horse today, sell!” she says. “You may or may not get that price at an auction. You’ll have the added expense of feeding the horse for several extra months.”
Add on consignment fees, travel to the sale, a couple more sets of shoes, and you may wind up wishing you’d sold ahead of time.
If you don’t have a buyer lined out, a sale may be great choice. The professional team that makes up an auction company is going to know the horse market better than anyone. They will also have access to a large network of buyers.
This team is the greatest benefit to consigning your horse. Jill prides herself on knowing the horse market inside and out. She knows bloodlines, the intricacies of each discipline, as well as years of history of prices.
You can call her up, describe your horse, and she can give you a pretty good estimate of what he’s going to bring and if he’s going to be a good fit on a particular sale.
This expertise is what you’re paying for when consigning a horse.
Sale companies usually can’t guarantee any information about specific horses consigned to their auctions. However, the sale’s reputation as a place to consistently find quality animals is what attracts buyers. As a consigner, you get access to a network of people that already trust the sale–something that’s hard for an individual to do.
Jill describes the relationship between a sale and a seller as a partnership. “We all are after the same goal,” she says. “We all want that horse to bring as much money as possible.”
Sales for Career Opportunities
If you’re a breeder, trainer, or other professional, a sale can be a great way to advertise your program and cement your reputation of making nice horses.
“I recommend picking your best horse and putting him on a sale,” Jill says. “You may take a little hit on price over selling privately, but you’re out there showing off the best thing to come out of your program. That’s something buyers remember and seek out year after year.”
How does a consignment sale pick their horses?
“I’ve missed out on a lot of Christmas card lists because of that,” laughs Jill, explaining that part of her job is having to tell people no. “A lot of nice horses don’t get accepted as consignments, and people take it really personally.”
A sale committee has to know ahead of time what their buyer market can support. Jill says, “For example, in most places, you can’t have 10 pro-rodeo caliber finished calf horses on one sale and have 10 sellers go home happy with the money their horse brought.”
These types of high-end horses require a very specific buyer with pretty deep pockets, and it’s unlikely most sales will have a whole room full of these people.
Because of this, Jill explains, a sale committee may have to reject an exceptionally nice horse from a well-qualified seller. She says, “I’d rather you be mad at me because your horse didn’t get in the catalog than because your horse didn’t bring enough on sale day!
Common Red Flags
If you’re not looking for a project horse, avoid catalog descriptions that say “can go all day” or “for experienced riders only.”
Jill says, “It’s not that these horses don’t have a place or won’t be great for someone. But, if you’re looking for a laid-back trail horse, don’t bid on those.”
Another warning sign is a writeup on a horse that only describes pedigree. This provides no information about what the individual animal has accomplished. Babies, however, are an exception to this rule.
The best policy is to call the consigner. That way, you don’t have to worry about trying to read between the lines and you’ll be able to ask questions directly. Even if the number isn’t listed, try asking the sale office for the seller’s contact information.
How To Make Realistic Picks for Your Budget
Decide how much you’d like to spend first. Then, read through a sale catalog and do some online research on horses similar to your top choices. You should be able to begin to get a picture of what your kind of horse is worth.
Still not sure how much a horse may bring? Jill says, “auctions love showing off their results. Go on their website and look at what horses brought the previous year.” You can also call the sale office to get some insight. Many sellers are happy to tell you what they hope to get for their horse.
“Most purchases at horse sales are impulse buys,” Jill says. “I would say that more than half of the time, the high bidder didn’t wake up that morning planning to buy a horse.”
If you want to avoid these impulse buys and get a clear picture of how much horses will cost, you’ll need to start well ahead of time.
Finding A Bargain
“Sales–especially big name sales–have market value prices,” Jill says. “We’re talking retail, not wholesale.” People are becoming more and more willing to pay top dollar for a really nice horse on a reputable sale. This may make it harder to find a gem for an outlet mall price.
Jill suggests being observant at the preview. If there’s a horse you think is going to sneak through and not bring much money, but its owner is surrounded by people asking questions, you’re probably not the only one with that thought. Look for a seller that doesn’t seem to be getting much attention and ask them about their horse.
You can also look for horses that haven’t been groomed as perfectly as others. A horse that’s a little thin and has a giant chin beard and a long coat isn’t going to be as much of an eye-catcher in the ring, but may be as broke as anything else on the sale.
Horses that seem a little out of place can sometimes be a good buy. For example, on most ranch gelding sales, the ideal body type is a bigger-framed horse with good bone and foot. A finer-boned mare consigned to that kind of sale may be a great fit for your program and could potentially bring less than her market price.
What sales are you excited about this fall?
You can post events and advertise consignments on The Sale Horse.
Jill’s passion is horse sales. Her experience includes a 14 year stint managing the Black Hills Stock Show Sale, where it grew from a regional ranch horse sale to a highly respected two-day event with top 15 sales averaging over $20,000. Jill now works as a freelance consultant and sale manager, assisting with the organization of such prestigious sales as the Fulton Quarter Horse Sale.
The Sale Horse is an easier experience for finding performance and ranch horses for sale. We are a listing service for selling your horse and advertising consigned horses and sale events. We provide an online platform for buyers to find horses for sale.