Tips For Sport Horse Buying at European Auctions

Lyle Ellerbee

We began our journey approximately 1 year prior to the purchase of our Hanoverian gelding. At that time we were primarily shopping in the U.S. for a young dressage prospect. Our goal was to find a horse with potential that we could enjoy developing and furthering to the fullest of his abilities.

Living in the Southwest we found that there were few breeding farms in our areas dedicated solely to developing dressage horses. Thus, our search began by extensively visiting local stables, exploring local word of mouth and sales ads, and exhaustively researching online. While we found many beautiful horses we didn’t find our “dream” horse. We were looking for not just a fancy mover but a horse that was bred for dressage with exceptional athletic ability and most importantly intelligence and a desire to work. Like many people shopping for horses we found it exceptionally difficult to find a horse with the desired movement, as well as a horse with the desired intelligence and work ethic, to have such a horse pass a vet test, and finally to keep within our desired budget. So we began our European journey not because we couldn’t buy in the U.S. but because after several months of searching we decided to alter our methodology which would hopefully improve our success rate.

Growing up I rode at a dressage barn that frequently had German judges, trainers, apprentices and most importantly German Horses visiting. While I loved my Thoroughbred I developed an appreciation for the German horse breeding industry and based on this background we decided that we’d alter our search to take us to Germany for the dream buying experience of our life. As I often tell friends, “this was our one crazy moment!” So we were by no means experts in European horse shopping and certainly not horse brokers. Therefore, we had to become thoroughly educated prior to our visit. I found to my disappointment, that there were few if any helpful guides on the internet and basically only brokers offering to find a horse for you.

The first step in our horse search was to find and develop a relationship with a local dressage trainer. We chose Gintara Slavinskas because of her kind nature and desire to not push a young horse but to encourage that young horse to develop to his best with only positive reinforcement. Therefore, we consulted extensively with Gintara on our decision to shop in Germany and in short order we were all very excited and ready to hop on the next plane. Common sense took over however, and we decided to wait a few more months while we developed some contacts, chose a Verband or horse auction to attend and basically educated ourselves.

In this process we learned that most of the German warmblood registries offered several auctions throughout the year and luckily they are all now offering online viewing and information on the selection for the upcoming auction. We settled on researching the Oldenburg, Westfalen, and Hanoverian registries. All of their web sites can be found at and be sure to select the small British Flag below the menu on the left for the English version of the page. After finding hose-gate we then explored all the Verbands we were interested in. At horse-gate these are found under the auction menu item. Select this button and you will find further options for Hannover, Holstein, Oldenburg, Wastfalan, and ESI

So once we chose our breed (Hanoverian) we began watching the online auctions and results for that breed. The Hanoverian Verband has 12 auctions a year so we had the opportunity to monitor a few prior to our visit. The auctions are all a little different in the field of horses offered and quality/pricing of these horses so I suggest you explore their web site early to determine what auction is best for you.

We opted for the July Summer auction and were able to monitor the winter and spring auction results. For all the auctions the selection of horses are listed and numbered, most of the horses will have still photos and several will have videos. Now the auctions are also offering a live video feed showing a presentation of the entire selection. All of this allows the buyer to get a good sense of the quality and type offered. The auction houses do offer bidding and buying by phone but I personally do not recommend buying based on just the web information as we found that seeing these same horses in real life drastically altered our favorites. Indeed, we had examined all photos and watched all videos easily 100 times prior to attending and had a short list with the strengths of each horse, but at the moment of arrival we tossed the list and stated making a new one based on our live impressions. There is just nothing to beat seeing and interacting directly with the horses. For online viewing you can also search the archives and view the after sales reports and learn information such as how many horses went to each country, the average sales price in addition to the high and low sales price. The site even breaks down how many horses were sold in each price range. I encourage you to view these stats and then to remember that they are not in dollars but in Euros so please convert for your price in Euros. And remember to get tissue out for this experiment because the current conversion rate is definitely not in our favor.

For the best fares we arranged our flight tickets well in advance and as this was “our crazy adventure” we opted to fly first class. We found that by shopping online and shopping early we were able to get first class tickets at an almost coach price. So I encourage you to search the online fares to save money for the auction.

Because we didn’t know anyone in Germany and of course didn’t know the city we called the Verband (they are extremely helpful for their guests) and went with their recommendation of Haags Hotel NiedersachsenHof. We found this to be a reasonable priced and lovely hotel with loads of European charm. Their contact number is 04231/666-0. While this was a lovely hotel the primary advantage is that it was just a brief walk from the auction house allowing repeated visits throughout our stay. The Hanoverian Verband and auction house are located in Lower Saxony Germany in the small town of Verden. The nearest airport is Bremen. A few other hotels are available in the town of Verden but will require a short car or cab ride to the auction.

For our transport we used a cab from Bremen to Verden because we didn’t want the hassle of driving in a foreign country. The rates are good and cab accommodations are clean and new with courteous drivers. We requested a pick up time and date from our cab driver and he showed up promptly as scheduled. Rental cars can also be used but I encourage further research prior to renting.

Okay, so timing of arrival is also important to allow maximum time for viewing and trying of the horses prior to the actual sales. The regular auctions make the horses available 2 weeks prior to the auction and the Elite 1 month prior to the auction. We attended 1 week ahead of the auction but would have appreciated and enjoyed the additional week. Also, many international competitors will attend the first week when it isn’t as busy and not as many eyes are watching their picks.

The protocol for the auction is a presentation or training of each horse in the morning and prospective buyer and training trying in the afternoon. They also will offer a formal presentation of all horses under rider at least once or twice prior to the auctions. Dressage horses are worked in dressage and jumpers are jumped. Each horse is assigned one trainer that will be with him through the journey and this individual will be a valuable asset to you. I encourage you to talk to the groom and trainer of your favorites to get a better feeling for the horse.

We arrived the morning of the formal presentation which began at noon and went well into the night. The auction we attended had 142 horses offered for sale and it took some time to view them all. We were fortunate to have a contact with a frequent buyer of auction horses, Melissa Mulchahey of Rose Lane Sporthorses, through our trainer and she offered her assistance at no charge. Although, the brokers do get a discount on the auction fees as well as some other perks from the auction house for their contribution to the event. So we met with the Melissa that night and found her to be pleasant, informed and a valuable asset in learning auction protocol.

Initially, we found it very difficult to form a short list as all the horses looked beautiful on first impression. However, mid-way thorough the presentation we saw a lovely black gelding with 3 white socks, blaze and sabino markings enter and ‘float’ around the arena. He was named Latin Lover and for me it was love at first sight but my trainer and the Melissa did their duty well and examined all possibilities. An interesting note is that Latin Lover did not have an online video or picture so he was not originally on our short list. By the end of that night we were all asleep on our feet with jet lag and crawled into bed.

The excitement of the auction had us up early and after a very quick breakfast we walked over to the barns and enjoyed visiting each horse while he was munching breakfast in his stall. One of our short list horses was a Hessen called Russian Fox and he was one of the few we kept on the list after visiting in person. As a side note the Hanoverian Verband recently bought out the Hessen Verband and now all hessens are registered Hanoverian and offered at the auctions. The Hessen was a lovely chestnut of average size again with sabino markings socks and blaze but most importantly free and lovely movement. We visited him while he was having breakfast and all agreed that he was lovely and well put together. We then visited the black horse that also turned out to be one of the 2 Hessens in the auction and found him amidst all the auction chaos laying down for a snooze. However, he quickly got to his feet when we greeted him and gave us all a nuzzle. At that point we all agreed he was a Teddy Bear but that we wouldn’t make any decision until we had formed out short list and tried several horses. But, he was definitely on the list.

A word on the auction chaos, it is definitely stressful for these young horses to attend the auction and was actually more stress then I originally expected. However, all the horses are treated with great care and love by the verband. Everything was about the horse and if a horse was determined to be tired or stressed a no visiting sign was placed on his stall and he was not take out or tried during this time. Another unexpected finding was that many of these young horses developed minor upper respiratory infection. Looking back I believe this was to be expected as the auction mixes many horses of young age from many different farms – much like kindergarten. The most common finding of this URI was slight nasal discharge and any affected horse was examined and treated by the in house veterinarian.

We continued our excursions that day by visiting each stall repeatedly and speaking with all the grooms and trainers. The groom of the chestnut agreed that he was a very lovely mover and well balanced for such a young horse and the groom of the black advised that he had a lovely character. The other horses we investigated included both mares and geldings with ages ranging form 3 to 6 years old and height from 15.2 to well over 17 hh. When exploring the barns if we were particularly interested in a horse we would request that the groom take him out for closer examination and inspection of movement in hand. This was very helpful for determining potential conformation faults and character. Some of the horses were clearly not people horses and would stand with rear end facing their gate and others would nicker and welcome all new visitors.

Later that day the training began with each trainer riding their group of horses. We found it helpful to keep the sales list of the entire selection handy to make quick notes in the margins as each horse was shown. Each horse was ridden by the trainer for about 15-20 minutes and there were 4-5 horses present in the arena at any one time. When the trainer was done riding he, or she, would take the horse to the end of the arena and dismount waiting for prospective buyers to emerge from the audience and request a ride to try the horse. This was an interesting and sometimes entertaining methodology as most of these horses were very green and had little if any steering or breaks. And anyone could try the horse regardless of their ability or lack of ability. The Verband trainers of course make each horse look like an advanced mount but it was eye opening to see some armature riders on the same mounts. We witnessed a few rider falls and run aways during this time. When trying these horses it is best to have eyes in the back of your head to look for the unexpected run away or inattentive rider. Caution is strongly advised. It is helpful to talk first with the trainer of the horse so you can get an understanding if you should use caution with that individual mount.

For both our top picks (the chestnut and black) the trainers were relaxed and willingly handed over the reins. Both horses were well behaved beyond their years, and marvelous movers. Other horses tried were very anxious and while perhaps lovely movers had aggressive or frightened characters. Often the trainers of these horses would advise a word of caution prior to handing over the reins. Out of respect for these hard working horses it is recommended that your rides be kept short with just enough time to get an idea of the way of going. Most people abided by this but a couple didn’t and were universally frowned upon.

One interesting rider was an older gentleman who appeared an expert rider and tried a nice bay. After dismounting the rider gave the horse a big kiss on the nose. It was nice to see after all the stress of the day.

When trying a horse I recommend that you follow your picks back to the barn. During this time you can watch the horse move on a straight line from behind and see how he responds for the untacking and bathing or grooming.

We eventually formed our short list of about 5 horses but the black and chestnut were top 2 picks and the black my own favorite. Once we had our short list we visited the house veterinarian and requested information about the vet check. He was very helpful and would actually show the digital x-rays for those interested. We found that the chestnut has 2 chips and the black no chips but 1 missing molar tooth. As a small animal veterinarian I found the vocabulary of chips interesting as they sound like a benign nothing but in reality chips referred to OCD lesions or cartilage lesions that could potentially cause lameness later in life based on the location of the chip. They also graded these chips as 1-3 with the highest being the most problematic. I recommend meeting with your equine veterinarian prior to attending the auction and discussing what type, if any, OCD lesion would be acceptable to you.

So we were very disappointed with the 2 chips on the chestnut but decided to keep him on our list as the chips were low grade and could be removed later if needed. The missing tooth was not of great concern in the black but did mean that he would need regular floating of his teeth and good dental care. Various other issues were found on the other horses on our list. Basically every horse will have something identified in the vet check and it is your job to use your team of veterinarian and trainer to determine what is acceptable to you – prior to the actual auction.

After meeting with the vet we took one horse off our list for grade 3 chips and added one other, but kept the original 2. The job now, was to prioritize the biding for each horse and determine if we would bid on all of the short list until one was won. We found that the chestnut would be sold and presented early on auction night and the black later in the night. This raised a dilemma because we had to determine if we waited for our first pick (black) or started biding early. We also had to determine how high we would go for each pick. In the end we decided to bid on our two favorites and keep those sold at the end of the list as our back-ups.

In the middle of the week Melissa took us for a drive about the country and on a visit to a beautiful stable (Dressurstall Kubelke) owned and operated by her trainer. We had a lovely visit here and were shown a couple of non-auction horses offered for sale including a beautiful 5 year old grey gelding. We decided to keep this horse as our back-up for after the auction as he was lovely.

After this we continued our daily viewing of the horses, training and presentation until the day of the auction quickly arrived. We all awakened early and were a mass of nerves. I’d done my math many times over the night before to determine how high I would bid in Euros. One thing I recommend having available for the auction is a printed spread sheet of U.S. dollars and the equal Euro amount. In the heat of the auction it is very helpful to glance down and know how many dollars you’re actually spending. As often as I reminded my self that we were bidding in Euros I kept thinking in dollars so keep that paper handy.

We were fortunate that Melissa was able to obtain ring side seats for the auctions at an excellent line of sight to the action & auctioneer . I recommend that you book your tickets early by contacting Mr. Malte Kanz @ ++49 42 31/6 73 50 the price for tickets range from 10-25 euros each.

Our bidding protocol was discussed ahead of time with Melissa and she offered to bid for us. This turned out to be a blessing as everything went much faster then expected once the bidding began. The auction started with the auctioneer starting at 5,000 Euros on the first horse and it quickly escalated from there. The auctioneer did present in German but a handy scroll board was available above him showing the current bid. Several young people were present around the arena to act as pointers and help direct the auctioneer’s attention to an active bidder. The actual bidding was done with a yellow card contained in the brochure and decorated with the Hanoverian logo. When the card was raised high a full bid was made when the card was presented horizontally the buyer was attempting to make a half bid which the auctioneer may or may not accept.

All of this was very new to us but we had a very enjoyable time watching the active bidders, the horses and the auctioneer. We found that immediately after a horse was sold the buyer was presented with gift from the Verband ranging from a Hanoverian logo mug to bottles of Champagne depending on how much the horse was sold for.

The enjoyment continued until our first pick arrived in the arena, the chestnut waltzed into the arena like he was floating and bids seemed to come form everywhere at once. I had set my max bid on him somewhat lower then on the black and we were quickly outbid. It was crushing and at that moment we wondered if we would be able to take any one of our picks home. The bidding ended with the chestnut going to Italy.

The black was in the last 1/3 of the auction and we had a long anxious wait until our next attempt. Teddy Bear, the black, (actually Latin Lover) marched out of the stable doors and into the arena like he’d been doing this all his life. He never hesitated or spooked but just floated around the arena. The bidding took off again and we were all very worried. Melissa had advised us that she would not bid until the last moment and to have patience but this was very difficult. She actually waited until the hammer was about to fall and then bid for us, immediately the people sitting behind us also began to bid! We bid back and forth several times until they hesitated and all went silent for what seemed forever. Everyone was waiting for their decision. Melissa turned around and stared at them waiting for their decision; I was near tears but couldn’t take my eyes off this spectacle. After a few seconds the other bidder withdrew and we thought we had won our Teddy Bear. Unfortunately our hopes were crushed when another person placed a bid from across the arena. I quickly did my poor Euro to Dollar calculation, realized I was already way over and decided to jump. We placed our bid and won our Teddy Bear!

When the gift bearers came with a few bottles of Champagne I realized that I’d gone way over budget but was still very glad that I had. We were all in tears due to the stress and excitement but they were happy tears and expressed great relief. I was overjoyed that the beautiful black Teddy Bear I had picked the first night was actually ours. It just didn’t seem real.

After we won the bid the reality quickly set in as the broker escorted us to the office to sign the sales agreement. No money was exchanged at this time and I learned that most people fly home on Sunday and then complete a wire transfer to the Verband for payment on Monday. But we had arranged a flight back later in the week and after advising the office of this found that they were very helpful and willing to work with us.

We returned to the arena and started to watch the rest of the auction but were advised again by Melissa that the protocol was to have the groom take the horse out for a photo and then return to the stable to enjoy the Champagne in the aisle with the former owners – a barn party of sorts.

We took Teddy out to the green for a photo and I could have stayed there all day but he was too quickly taken back to his stall where we met the former owners. They spoke broken English (a good things as I didn’t speak any German) and during our conversation they advised that they mostly raised sport horse ponies and Teddy had been their first endeavor into the bigger guys. The wife advised me that they bred their favorite mare to Latimer and dreamed of a tall black beautiful stallion with a star. When he arrived they named him Latin Lover. I was amazed at the close connection they had with Teddy, they were both crying the entire time. Later that night I learned that he had been their little daughter’s favorite and thus selling him had been difficult for them all. I thanked them for breeding and raising such a wonderful horse and for being willing to part with him. We then all decided to enjoy the Champagne and learned that Teddy loved to drink out of a glass but he was only allowed a sip. The barn party ended with our exchanging contact information with the former owners and promising to write and keep them updated.

We returned to the arena to see the last of the auction and saw the older gentleman who had kissed his mount on the nose, now bidding on and winning that same horse. After he won he hopped the fence and marched out to give the bay another kiss on the nose. For us too, It had been a wonderful night but there was still work to be done.

Our next step was to visit the gentleman in charge of the filming of the horses during training and the auction. For a nominal fee he collected all the video clips of our horse onto one DVD for us. You may also request a DVD of the horses radiographs or films which the verband will mail to you shortly after the auction.

We now had to contact the transport company to arrange a flight back to America for Teddy. Guido Klatte was our choice after researching companies prior to the auction we determined them to be the most reliable and experienced. The Klatte contact number is 49-4472 94007 – 0 . For the flight back the horses are placed into a box stall while still on the ground. The stall can be and usually is split into 3 individual stalls allowing for first class, business class and coach transport. Most horses fly 3 per box and the pricing at that time was approximately 7800.00. The box stall is filled with horses and then the entire stall is lifted and placed into the belly of the plane. A few seats are present in the plane and arrangements can be made to fly back with your horse. I didn’t realize this at the time so Teddy would have to fly without us. We scheduled his departure for the next Wednesday and we would still be in Germany for most of this time. This was a nice time to allow us to get to know Teddy over the next few days when the chaos of the auction had died down. It was interesting to watch all the “brender-up” style trailers pulled by Mercedes come to collect horses for rides to their new home. The barns quickly emptied to the few horses going to the U.S on the same plane out. The time for us to depart came too quickly and we kissed Teddy (now firmly his name) goodbye and left for home knowing he would be there shortly. Upon arrival we made the necessary wire transfer and then waited for his arrival to California LAX airport. Jet Pets is the receiving company and have to be paid for caring for the horse during the 3 day gelding quarantine. We were able to arrange all this through Guido Klatte including reservation and payment. Stallions and mares entering the country have to go to a separate facility called a CEM quarantine facility and have a longer stay.

Cost for mare quarantine is approximately $1950 and stallions are 4500 for the stay and testing. For geldings the cost is much less because they only need the 3 days with Jet Pets and all testing and paperwork can be completed prior to arrival by the transport company.

Teddy arrived in the U.S early in the morning and we received a call from Jet Pets advising us that he had arrived safe and sound. They would be taking his temperature daily to ensure he was not spiking a fever and if all went well they would release him in the expected 3 days. I was also able to get information on a local hauler from Jet Pets and arranged the hauling from LAX to Arizona. I received a call from Jet Pets daily regarding his status and on the 3rd day received a call that he had been picked up and was on his way home. We were overjoyed but had to continue to function as normal and work that day. After work I raced to the stable during a freak thunder storm and found that my trainer had already received him and placed him in his new stall. I entered the stall completely in awe that I was actually seeing him there and he turned around and presented his rear end to us! I wasn’t sure what to make of this as this wasn’t the Teddy we know and really he didn’t have his ears back or seen angry. I rubbed his tail while thinking this over and he leaned in for a good long scratch. Teddy liked to have his bum scratched! It is a habit that he continues to this day. Any available object makes a good bum scratcher but he still likes us to do it for him. He was finally home and was the Teddy we remembered.

Jill M. Patt, DVM

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