Rural Heritage Sale Barn

Preparing Your Draft Horse or Mule for Sale
by Charles Underwood

At a recent sale where I had the top selling single draft mule, I couldn't help noticing how many people were ill-prepared to sell. Successfully selling a horse or mule entails six important activities:

Groom. The more you brush and comb and fuss over your animal, the better he will look to you and to anyone who is interested in buying him. A clean animal with a lustrous coat and a mane and tail that isn't full of tangles is always going to get more appreciative looks and bring a better price than one that just rolled in the manure pile and dusted off with shavings. You needn't bathe the animal every day, or even at all, but the liberal application of a brush and comb and the shedding blade, and the use of much sweat and toil on your part, will pay big dividends at the cashier's window.

Groom the sale animal with every bit as much care and attention to detail as you would groom a show animal. The desired effect is best attained with frequent grooming over time. No way can you do only on sale day all the grooming necessary to make your equine look his best. Think of the buyer who is apt to give a little more for a pretty horse or mule than for one in rough winter shape.

As the auction date draws near make a list of things to take to the sale with you. Basically, take whatever feeding, grooming, harness/tack, etc., you would need to go to a show. If showing isn't what you do, then take everything you own that looks or smells like it has been near an equine. You'll find it much easier to bring back a lot of stuff than to need a hoof pick and wind up using a screwdriver because you forgot yours.

Fit. The word "fit" in reference to an equine usually refers to his overall body condition. Old-timers say that the best color to have on a horse at sale time is fat. Having the animal in top shape does not, however, mean that all you do is feed him free choice corn and alfalfa. Any number of feeding programs will give your animal a wonderful bloom. Ask your vet or feed mill or someone whose judgment you trust to advise you regarding what and how much to feed.

The second part of "fit" is to condition the animal through work and exercise to be in top physical shape. If the only amount of time you can allot to this endeavor is 10 minutes a day on the longe line, by all means do so. Don't neglect it. Better that you should get a little wet from exercising your equine in the rain than have him spend all his days standing three-legged looking over the corral fence.

The third part of "fit" is parasite control, which again is a long-term affair. Don't expect to achieve wonderful results in two or three weeks. Worming is essential. Whether you use paste, pellets or tube, develop a program that suits your budget and your herd, and stick with it.

Trim. The horse's feet, legs, mane, tail, and teeth are all part of the "trim" equation. Whether you do your own farrier work or hire it done is not nearly as important as making sure it gets done. Here the importance of regular handling becomes apparent. If you must go to war to pick up a foot and clean the frog, then you need to do it more often. One of the most damaging things to the price of a horse or mule is the animal's reputation for being a striker. If this trait is your reason for selling the animal, then you can move on. For the rest of us, handling the feet is essential—do it often and it pays off big.

Never show the buyer a horse or mule that needs a 30-minute clip job. Most of us would not go for a job interview with a beard stubble. Clippers can shape up an otherwise unsightly area on many parts of the coat. Look for these and work on them as you get ready for the sale. The mane should be roached completely, or at least have a bridle path.

Check to see if the teeth need to be floated, as do the teeth of nearly all horses over two years of age.

It's customary for the seller to furnish the buyer
with a halter and a lead rope; even when it is not
required by the sale barn, it's a nice touch.

Work. If you are representing your animal as being broke, then he should be broke. If he is anything less than that, say so. To do otherwise is to put your reputation as a seller at risk. One misrepresented animal can ruin your good name for all time.

Most horse people are kind and forgiving, if an honest mistake has been made. But anyone would have a hard time justifying the sale of a positive Coggins horse as healthy. In the same light, if you say your animal is broke to work, then be prepared to demonstrate it to the satisfaction of all who wish to see.

If you are selling a weanling, no one expects him to step into the left lead slot of a six-up hitch. Even weanlings, however, can be taught to lead, stand calmly, and be handled by the feet. They can also be expected to remain calm when removed from the presence of familiar herd mates. None of this happens in a twinkling. Start training the animal long before you see the first buyer.

Bombproof. The old saying is that "there ain't no horse that can't be rode and there ain't no cowboy that can't be throwed." By extension the equine has yet to be born that won't spook at something or other, at some time or other.

Many articles have been written on how to bombproof a horse or mule. Suffice it to say here that you need to acclimate your animal to whatever surroundings he will encounter, and be sure he is ready to accept the situation before you attempt to sell him. You wouldn't take a animal that had never been off your farm to a rodeo and expect him to remain calm under all circumstances. It stands to reason that you should give him the time and opportunity to examine all the potential hazards before you ask him to accept them.

Promote. Nothing is quite so unsettling to me as a buyer than trying to do business with a so-called seller who is apparently uninterested in the sale. If you have a horse or mule to sell, then by golly by gosh let's get in there and sell him. Be a shameless shill for the virtues of your animal. Don't shy away from his flaws—all of us have a few warts. Just don't dwell on that part.

Sometimes it's useful to teach your equine a little trick. I once taught a mule colt to pick up his feet on voice command and by right and left, front and back. It wasn't useful as a working attribute, but was as impressive as the dickens. You might teach your animal to take just one step at a time, which is useful when bunching logs. Whatever the trick might be, if you have a promotional gimmick, you will be recognized as a seller who spends time with the animals.

Ironically, you must sell yourself as much as the animal. I once sold a man a weanling filly. The same man just brought that now-grown mare to my stallion to be bred. Whether you sell on the farm or at a sale, gain a rapport with anyone who is interested in your animals. This is the only part of selling in which the animal plays almost no role. It is entirely your responsibility.

Okay. You and your equine are about to enter the sale ring. How should you present him to the bidders? My thought is that you should show the animal doing what he does best. If he is a work mule, harness him. If he is a walking horse, let him stroll. In short, present him much as you would if you were in the barn lot at home. Above all, relax and have fun.

I suppose there are as many successful ways of selling horses and mules as there are people. The steps outlined above work for me. I have sold at home and in the sale ring. I don't always get as much as I want, but I almost always get a good price. I wish you the same good luck.


Charles Underwood of Sumrall, Mississippi, is secretary of the Mississippi Draft Horse & Mule Association. This article appeared in the Summer 1999 issue of Rural Heritage.

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29 April 2012 last revision