Examining a horse at an auction

When a pre-purchase examination cannot be performed by a qualified equine vet, following these guidelines for examining a horse at an auction.

Unlike buying a horse privately, where you can view the horse and then make a decision after careful thought over the course of a day or two, buying a horse at auction can require a fairly quick assessment before deciding to bid on it.
Horses at auction are usually “sold as seen” with no vetting or warranty, which means it is your responsibility to check the horse yourself before the auction starts. Don’t rely on information you are given by a seller unless they can give you proof.
This factsheet assumes you are purchasing a horse “sold as seen” and gives you some guidance on how to assess the horse before making a bid.
If it is your first time buying a horse at auction, it is probably wise to take an experienced friend, instructor or trainer with you so you have a second opinion before making the final decision to bid on a horse.
Some auctions do offer some form of warranty that confirms the horse is as described, sound and/or fit for a particular purpose. If this is the case the buyer is usually entitled to return the horse to the seller within a certain timeframe if the horse if found not to be as initially described. However, warranties can be ambiguous and the onus is usually on the buyer to prove that the horse is not as described.
Sometimes, a vetting is offered as an option to be carried out at the auction by vets in attendance after you have committed to buying a horse. If you chose this option it is advisable to be there when it’s your horses turn to be vetted. If the horse fails the vetting you have no obligation to buy the horse, however, if the horse does pass the vetting, you are then obliged to complete the sale and buy the horse.
Some higher end auctions have all horses vetted before the auction beings, including x-rays; the cost of this is usually added to the final price of the horse which is paid by the buyer. Potential bidders are able to view the vetting results and discuss these with the vets before the auction starts.

Stand back and observe the horse first:

  • What is the horse’s appearance and attitude like?
  • Does the horse look relaxed or uptight, happy to be handled, or nervous around people?
  • Look at the horse’s general body condition, hair coat, foot quality and muscle development; these observations should give you an idea of the general health of the horse, indicating the type of care that the horse has received.
  • Is the horse’s weight appropriate for his or her size and frame/build?
  • Is the horse’s muscle development normal and equal on both sides of the body?
  • These qualities indicate the amount of exercise and training the horse has received recently.

Examine the horse from nose to tail:

  • Does the horse have a clean nose and bright eyes?
  • Do the horse’s teeth look normal?
  • Note any areas that are swollen or warm compared with other parts of the body.
  • Run your hand down all four legs and compare the appearance and feel of the left legs with the right legs. You may detect a bowed tendon or a fluid-filled knee that may later develop into arthritis in the joint.
  • Try to test each joint for flexibility.
  • Keep an eye out for other lumps and bumps such as sarcoids or melanomas, or old scars that could indicate previous injury or surgery.

Observe the horse at walk, trot and canter if possible:

  • Is the horse comfortable when moving or are the ears pinned and is the tail switching?
  • Is there a head bob or hip hike, suggesting lameness?
  • Does the horse make a louder than normal sound when breathing?

If possible, observe the horse when he or she is being saddled up; this will provide information about the horse’s soundness and general attitude.

When going to an auction, even as an observer, remember that the horses come from all over the country and possibly abroad, and have been handled by lots of different people. It is sensible to change clothing, footwear and disinfect your hands, etc. before handling any other horses to prevent the possible spread of infection.