November 20, 2013
Last Thursday at about 5:00 pm the last hammer fell at Keeneland and with it came the conclusion of the 2013 breeding stock sale. It was an amazing eleven days. For Mill Ridge we sent 57 horses to Keeneland to sell this November and brought two back to the farm. One failed to meet her reserve and one was withdrawn after her owner sold another mare so well she wanted to keep the second…said another way 56 of 57 horses brought to the sale grounds were sold: what a sale.
It’s an amazing study in commerce, logistics, communication, and strategy. Watching the dance as a horse arrives on the grounds to the hammer falling, it’s really quite something. Over the course of 11 days we setup and tore down our consignment 4 different times. Keeneland has 49 barns not nearly enough to handle the number of horses sold, thus each barn is used about four times during the 11 days. Each barn is turned roughly every three days, with new horses arriving en each stall every 72 hours.
The horses in the sale amaze me. They arrive on the grounds typically in the middle of the afternoon. Mares will take these new surroundings in stride, while holding their neck high they look around, listen, smell, offer a few neighs, and then walk with their groom leads them.
We try to set up these temporary homes to be as familiar as possible. Mares from the farm are fed the same feed and hay, while horses who meet us at the sale often arrive with their own food and hay packed. No matter how comfortable, they will take a few circles around the stall to smell the surroundings, grab a mouthful of hay, and stand by the door to acclimate themselves.
After they have settled down we will take them from their stalls and walk them around the show ring. Introducing them to this show area where they will be paraded the following day. At this time we give them a good bath and let them graze to settle any remaining nerves.
The following morning they are led out to the parade ring and walked around while a groom cleans their stall. This first morning most horses feel pretty good because their typical exercise of field turnout has interrupted with the change of scenery. Having stretched their legs they are groomed and returned to their stall to await prospective buyers to come inspect them. When a prospective buyer arrives he or she uses a request card to select the horse(s) they would like to see. We will lead each horse to them and allow plenty of time to walk around the horse and make notes and hopefully falling in love.
When faced with a new environment horses swell with confidence. It’s remarkable. They carry their head’s high, their eyes and ears on alert, not afraid: willing.
After a day of showing we will lead the mare othe “back ring” to begin her warm up for the big moment. Again facing a new environment many will hesitate to absorb the chaos of twenty strange horses in the back ring led in various directions. With confident encouragement by her groom the mare will walk into the back ring and begin the parade to the auction ring.
“Out back” is a great time to sell your horse. At this central location most buyers intered in the horse will converge an ask any final questions:
“Is she tough to get in foal?”
“How is her weanling doing?”
“About what do you expect her to bring?”
A mare will parade “out back” for about fifteen minutes as she makes her way upto the sale ring…while just on the auction stage for a few minutes, we anticipate she will go to a good home who will take care of her like she is on stage the rest of her life.
Click here to see Havre De Grace "on stage" as a yearling.
Now we begin the process of recruiting next year’s sales class: hopefully, we will have similar good fortune for our clients.