Rise in UK elite horse auctions helping to show off ‘uncut British diamonds’

  • A rise in the number of elite horse auctions is providing a platform to promote British breeding and boost the UK sales market.

    New events have taken place this year including the Brilliance Horse Auction at London International Horse Show, the British Elite Sporthorse Talent (BEST) auction at Brendon Stud and the Scottish Sports Horse Auction at Rockrose Equestrian, in addition to existing sales at the Billy Stud and Bolesworth.

    At the Brilliance Horse Auction, founded by William and Pippa Funnell and Chloe and Shane Breen, 10 horses sold – totalling £1,695,000 – to buyers from Saudi Arabia, the US and Europe. The top lot was eight-year-old mare Billy Etna, by Billy Congo, who sold for £300,000 to Belgium.

    William Funnell, who started running the Billy Stud auctions in 2017, told H&H British breeding “has come a long way over the last 20 years”.

    “Auctions are a good way to show European buyers that there are a lot of uncut diamonds here. And for us at Billy Stud, it’s a way to get our breeding and horses into the marketplace,” he said.

    “For a buyer, the auction scenario is great because they can come and see 12 horses, they don’t need to pay for vettings and X-rays because it’s all done for them and if they don’t purchase, it doesn’t cost them anything.”

    William added that when coming up with the Brilliance Horse Auction – which will run a second edition at the Royal International Horse Show at Hickstead in July – they had to think about how to bring foreign buyers to the UK.

    “By having the London International as a platform, people could do shopping over Christmas and watch the World Cup,” he said.

    “It was one of the only ways I could see that we could get Americans or people from the Middle East to come to an auction here – that’s where we miss out, because in Europe anybody in Germany, Belgium, Holland or France can drive to an auction within three hours.”

    Shirley Light of the Brendon Stud told H&H the BEST auction, which will return next autumn, was available to stream online and they had bidders from Europe and the US.

    “I think auctions are brilliant for the UK horse market,” she said. “It’s about having an experienced team behind them and people trusting that team. For our auction, we had the horses stabled here for two weeks beforehand, so we made sure they were handled and exactly as described.

    “The Brilliance team did a great job in London. I think running auctions alongside events is definitely the way to go.”

    Sonya Cunningham of Rockrose Equestrian launched the Scottish Sports Horse Auction, which ran in September, because she believed the sales system in Scotland to be “broken”.

    “You might get the occasional dispersal sale where a riding school has closed down, for example, but to my knowledge there aren’t any auctions for competition horses in Scotland or the north of England – or places to go and see more than one or two horses unless you go to a dealer’s yard,” she said. “It’s difficult for private sellers and small-time producers to get people to come up here – the minute you put Scotland on an advert, everyone says it’s too far.

    “We’ve got some great horses here so I thought, ‘Let’s get them in one place and make it worthwhile for people to come and see them.’”

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