The heart and soul of horse sales are people

Jan 26, 2018 Jennifer Caldwell/

The different types of horse sales was the topic of conversation last week as the last installment of our Kentucky Derby 101 series, but that only grazed the surface of auctions.

While attention is focused squarely on the four-legged equines who make their way through the sale, the number of people it takes to hold a successful auction is staggering. From the buyer to the seller to the spotters to the auctioneers, a myriad of individuals are working behind the scenes.

First up, you have the consignor, who enters the horse into the sale. This could be the actual owner of the horse, but in a lot of cases it’s a person or company hired by the owner to handle all the details. And there are a lot of details, from extra care given to each horse’s appearance to dealing with various veterinarian exams.

Just as the consignor might not be the owner, the individual bidding may not be the person who ends up footing the bill. Buyers sometimes hire agents, including top trainers, to represent them at sales.

These bloodstock agents , or at least the good ones, know horses from top to bottom. Conformation (the degree of correctness in regards to skeleton, musculature and body proportions), pedigree and value are just a few of the features they evaluate when inspecting a potential purchase. Bloodstock agents also take care of the pesky details, such as obtaining credit approval from the auction house and travel arrangements for any horses purchased at the sale.

In terms of the sales company itself, two of the key positions are auctioneer and bid spotters.

The auctioneer is, obviously, the person behind the microphone talking a mile a minute. He announces the hip number, pedigree and name, if already given, of the horse in question, and sometimes extols an equine’s accomplishments both on track and off. Then a dollar amount, usually large, is thrown out and the bidding commences.

At this point bid spotters come into play. All the sale houses are architecturally differently, but no matter the design the auctioneers can’t keep track of every person surrounding the sales ring. Bid spotters are exactly what their name implies, keeping careful watch on certain sections of the audience for any minute gesture that indicates someone bidding on a horse. They then signal the auctioneer in some form and the process continues until no more bids are offered.

A few more important terms in regards to horse sales will bring this subject to a close.

Hip numbers are just that, a sticker with a number placed on the hip of the equine. The order in which horses sell is determined far in advance, allowing for a catalog with information about each individual to be made up and dispersed, either in physical form or online.

A horse consigned to a sale but removed from selling consideration before the auction takes place is called an out.

While auctions are all about the highest bidder, the sellers can still place a pre-determined value on their horses. This reserve is a minimum that must be bid for the sell to take place. For example, if an owner sets a reserve of $100,000 and the bidding only reaches $99,000, then that horse is considered an RNA, or reserve not attained, and is not sold.

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