Consumers are comfortable buying nearly anything on the internet these days. Equestrians seeking sport horses or ponies for the show ring are no different. Popular for quite some time in Europe, online auctions have more recently been gaining traction in North America, giving purchasers on this side of the globe another option beyond traditional private sales or even face-to-face auctions to find the perfect mount.
“There are limited studies on the prevalence and factors affecting sport horse discipline sales,” said the University of Tennessee’s Maddie Ashburn at the 2021 Equine Science Society Virtual Symposium last spring. An animal science department undergraduate researcher, she was part of a team comprised of members from both her school and Illinois State that investigated factors that influence online auction sales for “horses and ponies trained in sport horse disciplines including hunt seat, show jumping, dressage and eventing.”
Offering some background, Ashburn explained, “Our current understanding of market sales, prices and trends are based on minimal studies aimed to assess the determinants of stock-type horses sold at online auctions and the influencing factors for the sale of Quarter Horses, ranch horses and racing horses.” For example, previous studies indicate (not surprisingly) that genetic traits, pedigree and performance all influence the sale and price for Quarter Horses. What is somewhat surprising is that both Quarter Horses and ranch horses selling at the beginning and end of an auction went at a lower price than those in the middle. Colour and sex were significant factors for ranch horses as well. Meanwhile, research shows bloodlines and the month foaled have a significant impact on racehorse prices.
The team’s hypothesis for their own study was that physical characteristics, disposition and training will influence sale outcome and bid prices.
Data was collected from 75 auctions that took place on the website Professional Horse Auctions LLC, a leading auction management company located in Virginia, from 2012 to 2020. Researchers gathered the following identifying characteristics from each lot:
- horse’s name, breed, sex, colour, size;
- disposition (i.e. stall manners, how they got along with other horses);
- health and prior conditions, including soundness;
- riding and training information (i.e. disciplines, professional training level, etc)
- genetic information (i.e. dam and sire).
If included in the sale description, the type and number of pictures and video count were also collected.
Statistical analysis showed that of a total 2,452 horses, only 1,024 (41.7%) were sold. The average sale price was $5,164. According to Ashburn, the following variables affected bid price and sold outcomes.
The month in which the auction was held had a “significant effect” on sold outcome. Horses were more likely to sell in March, June and September. Despite this, horses sold in March brought the lowest prices (the lowest being $4083.16), while those sold in September yielded the highest (main bid $6,626.40.)
Of 92 breeds and crosses represented, researchers focused on ten with the greatest number of observations (Welsh cross, Welsh pony, Oldenburg, Thoroughbred, Crossbreed, Hanoverian, Pony Crossbreed, Dutch Warmblood, Warmblood, American Quarter Horse). A Dutch Welsh Pony commanded the highest bid at $19,750. The remaining bids were all warmbloods, ranging from just under $19,000 to $550.
Registry within a breed or riding association tended to be a driving factor to ensure a successful sale; however, registered horses did not differ noticeably in price.
Black and bay horses yielded the highest price, while dilution and dun coat colours yielded the lowest. Ashburn said this result contrasts with studies of stock horse sales where palomino, roan, tobiano and overo horses sold for the most money. She added that stock-type breeds were less represented in these sport horse auctions, and warmblood breeds tend to be black, bay, brown or grey.
The size of the horse impacted the final sale bids across both stock and sport horse listings, with larger sport horses commanding a higher final sale price.
Number of photos
Horses featured in six to 10 sales pictures sold for higher prices compared to other photo number ranges. Once the pictures numbered more than 11, the bid price declined, suggesting additional images didn’t help increase sale price.
Number of videos
Bid price increased along with the increase in number of videos from zero to four. Horses with four videos sold for the highest mean price at $7,946.
Professional training and horse’s level of experience
When professional training was indicated in the lot description, the bid price increased but sale outcome wasn’t affected. Sellers could also note the horse’s experience on a 10-point scale (one = least to 10 = most). Horses with lower levels of experience (those scoring from one to five) were more likely to sell; however, these ratings did not affect bid price. Ashburn said the results may suggest sport horses sold in online auctions are still early in their training and more advanced athletes are sold through other outlets.
The number of disciplines a particular horse was involved in was not a contributing factor to sale price; however, if listed, specific disciplines such as dressage and jumping resulted in a higher sale price.
Contrary to the researchers’ hypothesis, disposition didn’t affect sale outcome or bid price.
Ashburn concluded by saying the horse industry could use the results of the study to assign objective values based on data to horses in auction or private sales.
“Buyers can benefit through understanding the price they should expect to pay for horses with their desired characteristics. It will help the seller in understanding trends and getting a realistic understanding of their horse’s value,” she said. “Overall, the data from this study will be helpful in the sport horse sector of the industry in determining the factors that influence the price of horses sold at online auctions.”