5 Steps to Rescue a Horse from a Kill-Buyer (a Guest Post)

In the midst of other political issues, the roar over slaughterhouses and what to do with unwanted horses or wild horses has been dampened, but the issues are still relevant and important nonetheless.  Today I am so happy to have a guest post by Caroline Betts and Dr. Laure Ross, DVM of Southern California Thoroughbred Rescue to share how to purchase a slaughter-bound horse from auction, which as you will soon see, is not for the naive or faint of heart.

 A photo of TB "Louis" at Auction the day he was rescued.
Photo Courtesy of SCTR
“Our Hearts Were Bigger Than Our Wallets”

Can you commit the financial and physical resources, and do you have sufficient horse experience, to provide feed, veterinary, and farrier care, exercise and training for a horse whose health conditions and temperament are entirely unknown to you at the time of purchase? Will you provide lifetime care for this horse if you can never find an alternative good home for it? Are you emotionally and financially prepared to rescue a horse which may require immediate humane euthanasia by a veterinarian?
Yes? Then read on…

“We Got To The Auction And There Were No Kill-Buyers There!”

Every week, horse auctions occur across the United States and Canada through which hundreds of equines may pass in a single sale session. Auctions provide convenient, centralized outlets in which “kill-buyers” can accumulate in a few hours large numbers of low priced horses for the purpose of shipping them to slaughter.
However, not every horse auction serves this purpose, intentionally or otherwise, and not every horse at auction is slaughter-bound. Some auctions set minimum bid limits to deter the purchase of horses for slaughter. And at any auction, consignors can set reserve prices to protect their horse from selling for slaughter price.
Research your local auctions. Some have websites. Contact several reputable, organized equine rescues in your area ahead of any sale you plan to attend and ask them what the market served by that auction house is. Ask them who the bidders are that you legitimately compete with for a slaughter-bound animal. And ask them what price you can expect to pay in your local market competitively bidding for an otherwise slaughter-bound equine.

“I Just Rescued A Horse - Who Can Haul It For Me?!”

You have several hundred dollars in cash in your pocket, as well as a card accepted by the auction house and your I.D. You have a facility lined up ready to accept your horse, one at which the horse can be quarantined (effectively segregated from all other horses) since it has likely been exposed to illness or disease on the auction lot and its vaccination history is unknown. You may even have arranged a vet appointment to assess your auction horse within a day or two. And you definitely have your well maintained truck and trailer, your truck filled with gasoline - or that of a reliable friend - ready to transport your horse home from the auction lot in a timely manner. Some auction houses allow you to leave your horse overnight. Some don’t. Be prepared.

“I Didn’t Know She Was In Foal!”

There are no radiographs or ultrasound records or devices on a low end horse auction lot. Arrive several hours ahead of the start time of the auction to examine the horses. And before you begin, purchase your bidding card from the sales office which you need to be able to bid during the auction and which usually requires a cash deposit and your I.D.

Make a list of several horses that you are interested in helping find a safety net in your care, since other people may be interested in any one of the horses which therefore may not require you to rescue it from slaughter. While some horses are haltered for viewing, some are not, many are in large pens where it can be difficult to catch them to examine them physically, and you may not be allowed to enter the pens with the horses.  Take detailed notes, recording each horse’s hip number, and shortlist some horses. Do check the auction sales office for any paperwork and registration papers which are logged with each horse’s hip number. However, the latter may be completely inaccurate and the former may actually not belong to the horse they are supposed to belong to…

“It Was So Fast That I Had No Idea Who I was Bidding Against!”

Auctions are chaotic with sometimes several hundred people gathered into benches and standing rows deep around the auction ring.  Bidding usually takes 2-3 minutes per horse - it's very fast. The horses may not come through in “hip” number order, and many times the papers and the hip numbers are mixed up.  You must know your horse’s hip number, be ready at all times, and be seated or standing where the auctioneer and/or “spotters” can clearly see you bidding. Bid by raising your hand and calling out your bid if need be to attract the auctioneer’s attention. The auctioneer may briefly look at you to acknowledge your bid.

You have seconds in a very crowded room to figure out who is bidding against you. Again, contacting a local reputable rescue ahead of time to establish identities of local kill buyers and a practice or protocol for bidding against them is highly recommended. If a horse you planned to rescue sells to a kill buyer, you may have a brief window of time in which to retrieve it (repurchase it at a higher price than it sold to him/her for) but this probably requires the advice or intermediation of a local person or rescue familiar with the buyer. No horse in this situation is safe until it is on your trailer.

"Louis" after he was rehabbed by SCTR and adopted by his new owner.
Photo Courtesy of SCTR
Find more inspiring before and after pictures on the SCTR Facebook Page or @socaltbrescue on Twitter
(They have an excellent photographer who takes beautiful pictures of the rescued horses!)

Please remember that you are a customer of a legitimate business when at a horse auction, and a guest on someone else’s private property. The corollary – behave as you would at any other local business that you wish to frequent!

An alternative way to rescue a horse from slaughter is to ADOPT a fully rehabilitated and possibly even re-trained horse from an equine rescue. Adoptions free up the space and financial resources required for an equine rescue to take in an additional slaughter-bound horse.