Historically, some British buyers have been reluctant to buy through horse sales. But the recent growth in continental-style “select” or “elite” auctions has seen British buyers grow in confidence and numbers.

So if you’re thinking about attending one of these more popular horse sales to find your next equine partner, what do you need to know before you go? Horse&Hound’s experts are here to guide you through some critical dos and don’ts before you start bidding…

Pre horse sales homework

Take the time to research your auction trip thoroughly and make a shortlist of potential purchases. This is critical to the chances of success once in the sale room.

  •  Register and order an auction catalogue through the auctioneers’ website. The catalogue lists the entries being offered for sale (known as lots, each lot having its own particular number). You can then have a look through the catalogue and make a note of possible candidates.
  • If you’re not confident, go and watch some horse sales before you take the plunge. This will help you to get used to the bidding process, such as how buyers signal their bids and the speed at which the auction moves.
  • Remember there will be commission to pay at horse sales. Charges vary but as an example, Goresbridge Go for Gold requests 6% commission of the sale price from the purchaser and the Monart sale requests 8% commission of the sale price from the purchaser. There will also be VAT, transport and insurance to add to your final bidding price, so budget accordingly. Most sales will accept all forms of payment (cash, card, cheque or bank transfer). All information regarding these extra charges and methods of payment can be found in the sale catalogue.
  • Be sure to turn up on the sale day well in advance of the likely time that your lot number is due to go through the sale ring. This will give you plenty of opportunity to inspect the lot you may be interested in as well as to register as a potential buyer. You may even be allowed to trial the horses before you bid so look out for information on the auction house’s website.

Top tips for novice horse sales buyers

If you’re keen to head to a sale or auction, but are unsure where to start and what pitfalls you should be avoiding, follow our tips for success.

1. Stick with what you know you want. Don’t be drawn in by vendors chatting to you at the sales. Follow your instinct – if alarm bells ring in the way a horse looks or goes, avoid it.

2. Buy at a reputable sale where there is a vet present. Vetting is strongly recommended no matter what your budget may be. All sales are fully warranted, so if your horse doesn’t pass its vetting immediately after the auction you can terminate the sale.

3. If you are looking for a specific breed, check that the horse or pony has a registered passport for that breed society.

4. Make sure you pull any lot numbers you are interested in out of their box before they go into the sales ring. This is to check for obvious problems in limb and body. Watch them trot up and check the vet’s certificate in the office. This way you can ensure the lot has good conformation, clean limbs, straight movement and signs of general good health.

5. Observe carefully when they are tacked up and handled, and again when they are mounted.

6. There are usually good, reliable transport companies present at a sale so you can get your purchase home – information is usually printed in the catalogue, but check with the auction house if you are unsure.

7. Look out for professional riders on a pony that you are considering for a child — there may be a reason for this.

8. Take an experienced person with you — two sets of eyes are always better than one.

10. Don’t get carried away on the day. Auctions are quite exciting places and auctioneers build up the atmosphere and push up prices where they can. Have a budget and stick to it. Remember to factor in any extra fees you will have to pay on top of the sale price.

11. Don’t expect to pick up star quality for peanuts – there’s nearly always money around for the best stock.

Expert advice when buying at horse sales

Some auction room professionals share their pearls of wisdom for anyone considering attending a sale.

Richard Botterill – auctioneer

“In realistic terms, the value of a horse is the price another person is prepared to pay. There are several areas to be addressed in valuation, but the end picture is an overall view of the horse and its suitability for its chosen discipline. One advantage of buying at a well-organised auction is the opportunity to assess a horse alongside a large number of others.”

Cathy Wood – producer

Cathy Wood has been selling horses successfully for many years, privately and at sales. “You have to look at your own stock with your eyes wide open – not through rose-tinted spectacles. I try to put a buyer’s hat on and ask myself how much I would pay. You can’t value a horse on what it has cost you — some will earn more than their cost, while others will be a bitter pill to swallow.”

Nicky Stephens – event rider

Former international event rider Nicky Stephens has bought literally hundreds of horses at auction. “The first things I look for are whether the horse has the conformation to do his job and if he has a kind attitude. Without these two things, you have nothing. Good breeding lines can also make a difference, but not to a horse with poor conformation or an attitude problem. A horse must live up to its breeding.”

Sport horse sales directory

Brightwells: holds three horse sales of elite prospective competition horses each year plus a range of other equine sales such as a Connemara pony sale and a Shetland pony sale. More information

Goresbridge: Pulls for British buyers are the Go for Gold sale in November which showcases Ireland’s elite young event horses in November, and the flagship 10-day sport horse sale in September, which sees nearly 2,000 horses offered for sale. More information

Monart: select sale of three- to six-year-old event horses in Ireland. More information

Cavan Equestrian & Horse Marketing Centre: international performance horse sales, youngstock, sport horse, Irish draught and Connemara sales in Ireland. More information 

Tattersalls: about 10,000 thoroughbreds are sold each year at 15 sales at either its Newmarket headquarters in England, or at Fairyhouse outside Dublin. More information 

Clifden: For Connemaras (and nothing else) head to the west coast of Ireland. More information