Buying a Horse At Auction (Helpful Tips & How It Works)

How to Buy a Horse at Auction

If you’re on a budget and looking to purchase a horse, you should consider buying a horse at auction. Horses tend to go for lower prices at horse auctions because the price is often determined by the highest bidder. Buying a horse at auction can also be a great way to save a horse from potentially going to slaughter, as many kill buyers tend to purchase horses from auctions as well.

So, how do you buy a horse at auction? Here is a general run down about what the auction process looks like and things you should know when you go to purchase a horse at auction:

  • Come prepared; bring a trailer, hay, and water to the auction in the event that you do purchase and leave with a horse
  • Know the limit you’re willing to bid on a horse; have cash in hand as some auction houses only accept cash.
  • Register as a bidder and get a bidding number.
  • Before the auction starts, walk through the stabling area to view the horses up for auction and decide which ones you want to bid on.
  • Once the auction starts, you’ll bid on the horse you like once they come into the sales ring.
  • If you place the highest bid, you will give your bidding number to the auctioneer and go fill out paperwork to officially purchase your horse.
  • Once you sign the paperwork, the horse is officially your responsibility. You’ll need to see to its transportation and care.


With all that said, purchasing a horse at auction is usually an all-day endeavor. Knowing how it all works ahead of time can help you feel confident and bold as the highest bidder. To learn more about buying a horse at auction, keep reading!

What To Bring With You to Purchase a Horse at Auction

Even if you go to an auction to casually look for a horse, you may still come out with a new equine friend. For this reason, it’s important to always come prepared. If you’re not prepared, you may bid and buy a horse with no way to get it home, no way to feed it or give it water, and no cash-in-hand to actually pay for the horse! Here are some things you should always bring with you if you plan on purchasing a horse from an auction:

Horse Trailer

Once you purchase a horse at auction, the horse immediately becomes your responsibility. This means you’re also going to need to find a way home for it. Be sure to bring along a horse trailer to the auction so you can transport the horse home. If you don’t have a horse trailer, see if someone you know will be at the auction and ask if they could potentially trailer the horse home. Sometimes, auction houses even have transports you can pay to drop the horse off.

Whatever you do, just make sure you plan it out ahead of time so you’re not having to figure it out the day of the auction. This can cause unnecessary stress on both you and the horse.

Hay and Water

If you do purchase a horse at auction, you will be responsible for providing them with sustenance while they are at the auction house and on the way home. Most auction houses will have spigots and water, so at least bring along a 5-gallon bucket that you can fill up with water. You can bring 1 bale of hay to provide your new horse with something to eat while you make arrangements.

Halter and Lead Rope

When trailering a horse, it’s always important to have an extra halter and lead rope on hand. While most consignors often send horses off with a halter and lead rope, it’s nice to have one if you need one. 


If you plan on bidding and purchasing a horse at auction, it is vital that you have a form of identification with you. You will need to show it to register as a bidder and also to sign the final bill of sale for the horse. 

Cash or Other Payment Method

Before you go to a horse auction, it’s important to figure out what you’re willing to bid on a horse. Even if you’re just going to casually look at horses, have cash on hand, as you may find something you like. Not all auction houses will take alternative payment methods to cash. I know the small local auction house close to where I live only takes cash. You can call ahead to see what payment methods will be accepted.

How to Register as a Bidder at a Horse Auction

If you’ve never been to an auction, figuring out how to actually bid on a horse can be confusing. Here is how you can register as a bidder:

Find The Sales Office

Firstly, once you get to the auction grounds, you’ll want to find the sales office. This is where you can register as a bidder. The sales office is usually quite easy to find, as people want you bidding!

Show I.D.

When you get to the office, you’ll need to present the staff with a valid I.D. Depending on the auction, you may be required to show proof of funds as well. (Although, every auction I have been to has not required that. If you attend high-end auctions where the horses can sell for $50,000, this may be required.)

Get a Bidder’s Number

Once you have shown your I.D. and filled out the appropriate paperwork, the office will give you a bidder’s number. You’ll get a sign with your number that you can hold up when you want to bid on a horse.

Find the Horses You Want to Bid on At Auction

If you plan on purchasing a horse at auction, it’s important that you arrive at the auction yard early! The purpose of this is so you can view all the horses that will be up for sale. Sometimes, you can even register the day before and start looking at the horses then. The time you have to look at horses and talk to the sellers can help you decide which horses you want to bid on. 

Read the Horse’s Information Sheet

Depending on the auction you go to, it can be hard to get honest information from the consignor, if at all. Some of the horses you’ll find at auctions are just there to be sold so the consignor can make a quick buck. That being said, you can usually find general information about a horse on an information sheet that will be hung on their pen. This sheet usually includes the horse’s general medical information and what type of training they have.

Look at the Horse’s Hooves, Teeth, and Eyes

When you look at horses at an auction, try and get a good look at their hooves, teeth, and eyes. These areas can tell you a lot about a horse. If you can pick up the horse’s hooves, look to see how concave and shaped their feet are. If a horse has flat feet, where it looks like it would be walking on the sole of its hoof, this can be a sign that this horse will need shoes and may have other problems relating to its feet later on.

While the horse’s age will usually be on the information sheet, I don’t like to take a consignor’s word for it. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve walked away with a horse to discover it was actually older or younger than it was. When you look at a horse’s teeth, try and notice the angle of the teeth. If a horse has a straight line through the top and bottom teeth, then the horse is very young. The older a horse gets, the more angled its teeth will get.

Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon to come across a drugged horse when at an auction. These horses often have a glazed-over look in their eyes, and their head may hang low and their lower lip will be loose. Consignors may drug their horses so the horses appear calmer than they really are.

To know how to recognize whether a horse is drugged, check out my article How to Tell if a Horse is Drugged (Read Before Buying a Horse.)

See if You Can Ride the Horse or Watch Someone Ride

While you should try and stay away from some consignors, others will very helpful when it comes to seeing whether you and their horse are a good fit. If you ask to ride or see someone ride the horse, they’ll do their best to make it happen. In auction houses there is usually limited space, so you may only be able to ride a horse up and down the drive outside. Either way, that’s better than not test riding the horse at all.

How to Bid on a Horse at Auction

When it comes time to bid on your horse, it can be overwhelming. The auctioneer is talking so fast, you don’t know what he’s saying. People and handlers may be yelling back in forth in the crowd. The horse in the arena is probably wide-eyed and nervous as everyone watches. When it comes time to bid, you need to make sure you are focused and ready to go. Here’s what you need to know:

Be Present at the Sales Ring

To bid on a horse, you must be present at the sales ring when the horse comes up. Usually, bids can only be placed when the horse is being presented in the arena and once the auctioneer starts the bidding. 

Raise Your Sign to Place a Bid

To bid on a horse, you’ll raise your sign up so the auctioneer can recognize your bid. The auctioneer will usually have an assistant who points out the bids. Keep your sign up until the assistant or auctioneer points at you. That means they have recognized your bid.

The Auctioneer Usually Goes Up By $25 Per Bid

This point is entirely dependent on the auction. At most low-level auctions like the ones I have attended, the auctioneer only goes up $25 at a time. This means if someone bids $350, he’ll then look for the next bid at $375. This may be different for higher-level auctions where horses can go for thousands and thousands of dollars.

How to Know If You Just Bought a Horse at Auction

The way you’ll know that you just won the bid and bought a horse is the auctioneer will say SOLD! Then, the auctioneer or the assistant will ask for your bidding number. Yes, they can read it on your sign, but they’ll often verify with you just to make a point of contact. Once this has been done, you can go claim your horse.

How to Claim Your Horse When Purchasing a Horse at Auction

You just won the bid and you’re going to claim your horse! You’re probably full of adrenaline; however, now is where the legal fun comes in. Here is how you claim your horse at auction.

Go to the Sales Office and Meet with the Consignor and Auction Representative

Once you have won the bid on your horse, the auctioneer assistant may give you specific instructions on how to claim your horse. Usually, you’ll first have to go to the sales office where you’ll meet with the consignor and auction representative to sign paperwork. The auction representative acts as the agent of the sale just to make sure everything is understood between both parties.

Sign a Conditions of Sale and Bill of Sale

You will be asked to sign a Condition of Sale and a Bill of Sale. The Condition of Sale often states things like the horse is being sold “As-Is” and the auction house can’t be held liable for anything that happens with you and your new horse. The Bill of Sale will be handed over by the consignor to show the official transfer of horse ownership.

Collect Your Horse and Be on Your Way

Once you have signed the necessary paperwork, the consignor will take you to collect the horse. From this point, you can just take the horse, trailer up, and go home. Once you officially own the horse, it usually has to be removed from its pen as soon as possible. 

Buying a Horse at Auction Tips

Auctions Are Hectic; Most Horses Will Be Nervous

Auctions are usually very hectic; there are hundreds of horses and people, tons of noise, and a lot of commotion. It would be no surprise if even a generally quiet horse acted nervous and anxious while at an auction. Keep this in mind as you look at horses, and keep the current situation in mind too. At lower-level auctions, most of the horses have been handed off through auctions many times. This is your chance to give one of them a good home.

To learn the signs of a nervous horse, check out my article Signs a Horse is Anxious, Nervous, or Stressed.

Look Past the Horse’s Current Condition

We once bought a young Haflinger pony at auction for $125. He turned out to be a very talented and quiet pony. Likewise, my old horse Pepper was originally found at auction. Little did they know that she would turn out to be a 1st flight foxhunting horse and a 4 ft jumper. When you attend auctions, especially ones where you’re trying to find a good deal, it’s important to look at a horse’s potential rather than its current state.

Most horses at auctions tend to be underweight and need their hooves trimmed. Most of them also have auction-cough, which is just like a cold. Don’t let these conditions phase you in finding the right horse. Sometimes, the horse just needs some TLC.

Have an Experienced Friend Go With You

Auctions can be intimidating; you’re buying a horse as-is without a proper trial ride or vet check. This can be a scary process if you’ve never done it before. For this reason, I highly recommend trying to find an experienced horseperson who is also experienced at horse auctions to go with you. They will be able to guide you through the process and point out horses that they think would be a good match.

Quarantine Your Auction Horse

Most horses that have been run through the auction circuits develop a virus that is much like a cold. They will usually have a runny nose, dull coat, and a fever. While just about every horse can get over it with time, it’s important to not turn your new horse out with other horses until they are over the cold.

Quarantine your new horse for 30 days to give them time to recoup. Be sure to put them in an area where they can still see the other horses, they just can’t come into contact with them. Have your vet out as soon as you can to get antibiotics, assess the horse, and give you guidance on care.


Buying a horse is a big undertaking. It’s important to know everything that goes into owning a horse before making that commitment. To help you make the decision, visit my article Should I Buy a Horse? Complete Decision Guide.


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