Use these tips to plan and manage a successful ranch auction. Journal photo
Putting on an auction can seem like a big chore. But for many AQHA Ranching Heritage Breeders, it’s the best way to get their horses in the barns of new owners.
In Part 1, we got some advice from the Four Sixes Ranch in Guthrie, Texas, and Weaver Quarter Horses in Big Sandy, Montana.
Here are some additional factors to think about when you’re deciding whether to put on a production sale.
Getting the Horses Ready
Sale week is a 24-7 operation for the Weavers, who rely on family members for all of the work, but sale prep starts much earlier.
“We get our weanlings in around the first of August and start halter-breaking them,” says Stan, Weaver, who is also a member of the AQHA Executive Committee.. “We’ll start graining them with their mothers so they’re eating grain. It puts a little bloom on them. Then we’ll work them five times. The first time, we’ll just rope them, face them up and get a halter on them. The second time, we put a butt rope on them (to teach them to lead). The third time, we’ll Coggins-(test) them. The fourth time, we’ll freeze-brand them. And then the fifth time, which is usually sale week, that’s the week we clip their ears and brush them a little and get the cockleburs out of their tails.”
At the Four Sixes, cowboys make sure the weanlings are halter-broke before the sale, and the foals stay with their mother until they go through the sale ring.
“About 60 days out, we make sure all the horses are carrying enough flesh, and if they’re not, we’ll put them on a diet to put a little more on or take it off, if need be,” says Dr. Glenn Blodgett, AQHA president and horse manager of the Four Sixes, which hosts an annual sale with ranching partners Pitchfork Land & Cattle, Beggs Cattle Co. and Tongue River Ranch. “Broodmares don’t require a lot of grooming. With a yearling, you try to get them as slick and shiny as possible and get them out of the sunlight so their coat is good.”
The growth of the Internet means the growth of a new way to market horses. Professional Horse Services Inc., formerly Professional Auction Services, only conducts online auctions now, says owner Mike Jennings.
“With an online auction, we can help more people in more parts of the country at less expense,” Mike says. “You take some ranches a long way away from cities with good hotels. They’re not easy to get to. I would recommend taking (the sales) all online.”
The ranch could host open houses and previews, he says, for buyers who wanted to examine the horses in person.
Sellers who choose online auctions will need to set aside an even larger portion of the budget for good photography and videos to go online, he says. And even if you choose to host a live auction, you need to have a strong online presence.
“If you have a group of horses you want to sell, you have to have something for buyers to see,” Mike says. “If they go to your website and you don’t have a preview or your catalog available, then you spend a lot of your time on the telephone telling people why you don’t have a preview or your catalog available.”
Your pictures and videos should do part of your marketing job for you, he points out.
“We get pictures of a horse eating grass in a pasture, and I tell the owners, ‘Buyers can’t shop from that,’ ” Mike says. “Your picture should make a buyer say, ‘That’s a good-looking horse. I want to see more.’ ”
Reference photos of your stallions or siblings of your sale horses that have performed well are also valuable additions to your website, and good photos are essential in any advertising of the sale.
If you choose a live auction, it’s still possible to have Internet bidding, Steve says. “It’s a way to catch some serious buyers who are unable to make the trip,” he says. “It’s like everything else in a sale, though. You have to weigh the expenses vs. the benefits.”
Make the process of buying your first horse as smooth as possible with AQHA’s Buying and Owning Your First Horse report. This handy guide is full of information to help you through the buying process.
Getting the Word Out
Before you schedule your ranch sale, you have to set up a budget with a good chunk allocated for advertising, Steve says.
“Everybody has to have a budget.” he says. “We’ve done horse sales where the advertising budget can be anywhere from $7,500 to $20,000, maybe more.
“I still highly favor magazines,” he adds.
The idea, Steve says, is to spread the word and not concentrate it, putting the same ad in the same mailbox a dozen times. Many ranches have mailing lists and email lists that are good places to start.
“We advertise in trade publications,” Dr. Blodgett says. “We’ve got a reputation now and word-of-mouth disseminates the information.”
A consistent date helps buyers find your sale, and a party atmosphere with flags and tents and good food makes it fun for buyers to return year after year.
“We’re usually the first of October or in late September,” Dr. Blodgett says.
Social media is another way to spread the word about your sale and your horses.
Weaver Ranch’s page Facebook has more than 22,000 likes. “It blows us away,” Stan says. “Once we start foaling, we put pictures of colts and different horses that will be in the sale. That’s how we get the most interest.”
Reputation is the best way to build a long-lasting customer base, he adds.
“We have a 100 percent guarantee,” Stan says. “We have taken horses back if they don’t work out for the new owner. I think buyers are comfortable with our policies because 84 percent of our horses go to repeat buyers. We have a lot of people who buy a colt and like it, so they’ll come back and buy a full sibling in two or three years. Stuff like that makes you feel good about being in the horse business.”