How to Sell Your Horse at a Trail Horse Sale

This weekend I attended the Great American Trail Horse Sale in Lexington with my friend H. A sold some horses in it last year, so (other) A and I wandered over to watch some of it between preparing halter horses for their classes at the ApHC show across the horse park. H had not been to one, so in spite of our lack of a need for a trail horse (and lack of funds with which to purchase one…) we went for the entertainment of it.

Friday evening was the actual competition with the finals being held on Saturday morning prior to the sale that began at noon. H and I watched both rounds of the competition and picked our favorites/the ones that we anticipated would sell high. We were mostly right. The horse who won the challenge (and 1K) brought 12,500. More surprising was the palomino quarter horse who sold prior to the winner who wasn’t even in the finals of the competition-he brought 14,500, but the owner wanted 16k for him (spoiler alert: he did tricks).


Competition course: turns in box/sidepass over log; bridge; carry stuffed dog from one barrel around another and replace; weave through trees; walk through campsite with fire; walk through brush box; ground tie with rider in outhouse; load into trailer.

So what does it take to bring five digits at a trail horse sale?

  1. Your horse must be broke (mostly, some exclusions may apply*) It helps if your horse has been in a big coliseum before so it doesn’t look batty.
  2. Be Friesian. He wasn’t even in the competition part, but someone sure fell in love with him…likely for his looks. He was broke well enough, but wouldn’t have brought $9700 had he been a chestnut AQHA with the same skill set. (He almost brought 5 digits, so he’s still included in this list…)
  3. Your horse may sell better if he’s a finished breed show pleasure/ranch horse. (Though someone may also choose a random grade horse who lays down on command instead.*) There was one in the finals who placed tenth and was a super nice dual registered APHA/AQHA gelding, but since he was lot 84 out of 87, I’d be willing to bet he was taken home by the people who brought him. The buyers generally buy early on even if their “plan b” horse sells before the “plan a” horse. Waiting sucks.
  4. Your horse must somehow be able to slip inside the brains of both the parent shopping for a horse and the child that the horse is intended for. Mind tricks are everything. We saw a fairly nondescript grade Appendix mare sell for $9700. She basically walked/trotted around the pen while being sold and ran into the perimeter once. Her owner was very charismatic and promised the tack would go with the horse! Who can pass up a deal like that? A saddle that may not even fit you-for free if you buy an overpriced unpapered mare with few notable jawdropping qualities. She must’ve ridden nicely outside the ring to have been purchased for the young girl for that amount.
  5. Tricks! Can your horse lay down? Sit up like a dog? Stand quietly despite the cracking of a bull whip? Carry three children under 5 simultaneously in a busy coliseum? Instant $$$.

The most intimidating obstacle- a stuffed dog on a barrel.

What would I encourage you NOT to do in order to sell your horse at this sale?

  1. Trotting horses do better than gaited. The lowest selling horse that we saw (we only stayed for the first 20 lots, so this may be very skewed) was a Rocky Mtn horse for $700. We saw some other gaited horses sell, but they rarely broke the 3k mark and were often no-sells who went home with the original owners.
  2. Once again-get your horse in a coliseum of some sort. I know trail horses are seldom in coliseums, but it looks a lot better for your trail horse to not be afraid of things that people who show horses think of as common place. One older QH gelding looked like a Saddlebred because he maintained an alert, startled looking headseat/eye the entire time he was in the coliseum.
  3. Prepare for anything. The obstacle that stumped the most horses was a stuffed dog on top of a barrel. Something that seems so simple may be a bigger deal than anticipated. I’d also school with some loud things like bull whips…if you don’t crack one someone else will and you don’t want your horse to show fear at something someone else is showing off their prowess with.
  4. Your horse should have some sort of wow factor. A horse who just walk/trot/lopes around the arena is nice, but doesn’t stand out in a crowd of horses who know how to lay down on command or do quasi reining spins. Taking a good horse home because it lacks a beauty pageant level talent would be disappointing.
  5. Presentation may not sell the horse, but it certainly draws the eye. A couple of the horses looked downright bedraggled in the competition Friday night as if they’d been braided a couple weeks ago and not groomed since. If you’re slacking on grooming when trying to present a horse for sale at this level, what are you slacking on behind the scenes that may have bigger implications?

Finals course: Stop; pick up both left feet; remount; trot poles/walk poles; bridge with railings; sidepass over pole towards the stuffed dog; weave through three trees backwards; lope on left lead to small bridge in midst of campsite with fire; stand in brush box and ring bell; drag log around outhouse.

A couple of other passing thoughts:

  • Being up to date on farrier work/vaccinations is not a selling point. If your horse is for sale these should be a given. Including them in the bio of the horse makes me wonder if you lack good things to say about ole Spot.
  • Consign early and bribe them to get in a good spot in the catalog (I have no idea if the bribing is a thing or not btw). Being in the early middle part of the sale is where you want to be. The first 15 lots sell pretty low and the last ones get downright pitiful. Despite the quality of your horse, the number of people will dwindle drastically by the end of the sale.

*Horses that may seem to be the best buy aren’t always what the bidders at these auctions purchase. From watching some buyers with their new horses post sale, it is painstakingly obvious that several of the buyers may more money than sense and buy based on pretty or novelty tricks more than the horse that actually suits their riding discipline or skill set.

9 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Horse at a Trail Horse Sale

  1. Ummm.. That’s crazy money for trail horses. I want to take Dijon there and sell him. He could do all of that stuff. And he’s gorgeous. He is gaited, but I bet he could clean up at an event like this.

    • I thought about you because they had a few nice mules (even one dun I loved)! Also, I can’t comment on your blog for some reason. I think my pc hates blogger.

      • That’s weird. You’re the second person to complain about that recently. I need to finish switching over to my own domain. I’ve been avoiding it because of the work involved, but I guess I should finish it.

      • Yeah. I know some wordpress people make a blogger profile just so they can comment on blogger sites.

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