March 18, 2013
The Facts about Horse Auctions
An unthinkable fate can await horses sold at auctions
What are horse auctions?
In the United States, the local horse auction, usually held weekly or monthly at county livestock markets, is where people conduct the commercial trade in equines.
Hundreds of horse auctions are held each year, in virtually every state. Thousands of horses are auctioned each year, including healthy pleasure horses and ponies, former race horses, draft horses, donkeys, mules, and even wild horses.
Watch an undercover video from a horse auction in Ohio.
Who buys auction horses?
While some people looking for inexpensive riding horses and ponies purchase them at auction, the majority of horses sold at auctions attended by HSUS staff were purchased by "killer buyers" who represent or sell to horse slaughterhouses.
Do horses purchased by killer buyers go directly to the slaughter plant?
Most do, but not all. Some horses are purchased by middlemen who take them home, fatten them up, and send them to slaughter weeks or months later. Some horses end up traveling from one auction to another, changing hands numerous times, before they end up at the slaughter plant.
Because killer buyers are paid by the pound for the horses they deliver, they look for healthy horses in good body condition, as well as horses in poor condition who can be fattened up.
Currently, there are no operational horse slaughter plants in the U.S, but horses are still being shipped across our borders to brutal deaths in Canadian and Mexican plants.
What conditions are auction horses in?
Some horses are in excellent health, with beautiful coats and well cared for hooves. Others have been trucked to auction by haulers from farms where they received little to no care. Often, these horses suffer from extreme neglect. Starvation is the most common and obvious affliction.
In fact, it is difficult to visit a horse auction and not discover horses with hip bones and ribs so visible that the animals look like skeletons. Also seen are horses with systemic infections such as pneumonia and strangles, wounds, and serious foot problems that make it exceedingly difficult and painful for them to walk.
How do horses end up in this condition?
The reasons are varied. Some people do not realize the responsibility, cost, or time involved in caring for horses. The winter months are particularly bad for neglected horses because they are not able to graze on pasture and may not be fed adequate amounts of hay in its place. These horses are often shipped to auction for sale to the killers.
Are horses treated inhumanely at auctions?
Some auctions are better than others, but horses are routinely whipped and prodded as they are driven to and through the auction ring. Because horses at auction seldom receive even water, they may be severely dehydrated. Crammed together inside unbedded, dirty stalls and pens, with no consideration given to their compatibility, horses often kick and bite one another.
Aren't auctions regulated?
There are no federal laws specifically addressing horse auctions. While many states have vague laws regulating the operation of livestock markets, few address the care or treatment of horses at auction or even require that they be provided food or water.
In Virginia, rules require a state inspector to be present at each livestock auction to inspect all animals and then "make proper disposition of all sick and diseased livestock." However, HSUS investigators have never seen any action taken when seriously ill horses were found at a Virginia auction.
Why emphasize auctions when the owners are neglectful?
Auctions provide the only public place where humane agents can observe sale horses' condition. Auctions indirectly promote neglect by providing outlets for the sale of abused or neglected horses. Without auctions, irresponsible horse owners and unscrupulous dealers would have no place to sell their horses.
Can conditions of horses at auction be improved?
Yes. With the adoption of better state regulations and upgraded enforcement, owners will realize that they can no longer neglect their horses and expect to sell them at auction. Without a way to market these horses, unscrupulous dealers and owners will be driven out of the trade.
Cracking down on auctions is the first vital step toward ending the many abuses to which horses are subjected.
What can owners do to protect their horses?
Every horse owner needs to plan for the entire life of his or her horse. Carefully locate a caring home for your horse, if you can no longer keep him.
A horse who can no longer live comfortably due to age or illness should be humanely euthanized rather than suffer the hardships of auctions and a trip to the slaughter plant.
More helpful tips and information can be found in our book The Complete Guide to Horse Care.