A Visit to Camelot Auction
This is a relatively new aspect of the equine industry that I am exploring and I appreciate all feedback and comments you may have about the topic.
For the past year or so, I’ve had my eye on the Camelot Sales Auction horse sale results. I read Fugly Horse of the Day and her Washington (state) auction reports have piqued my interest in our local sales. Camelot is located in Cranbury, NJ.
This summer, I attended the auction a few times, visiting both the auction ring and the holding pens. All horses have shelter, feed, and unlimited hay and water. They are bedded on shavings and can lie down to rest. One night, I saw a tall, handsome grey warmblood type. This gelding knew his stuff, changing leads and taking jumps with casual grace. He sold for about $2,000. Another night, I saw a pinto pony sell for $750 but he looked like he was worth his weight in gold; he could jump the moon and was as game as could be.
The folks who bought these horses had a good eye for horseflesh and took home some quality animals. These horses were sound, attractive, and well-trained. Why are horses sold at public auction instead of through a private sale? An auction can be a good way to assess the market value of a horse. The horses are sent to auction for so many reasons, from an owner’s divorce to a retired lesson horse to a person who cannot afford his rent. With people tightening their financial belts and cutting back on luxuries, the horse population is undergoing big changes. Factors as basic as the time of year can lead to increased horses at auction in the wintertime due to the increased cost of feeding a horse. People who could afford to keep multiple horses a few years ago are struggling to keep one or two now. Some are getting out of the business completely. A barometer of the climate can be seen in the decline of public auction prices, all the way from the elite Thoroughbred sales to the local riding horse auctions.
At the lower end of the market, there is the added element of the feedlot buyer. Some sellers create a reserve price and if the horse is an RNA (reserve not attained), the seller takes the horse back. Horses without a reserve run the risk of being sent to slaughter. If there are no bids over the going rate for horsemeat, a horse can be sold for slaughter at a public auction.
The question of equine slaughter is a major hot-button topic among horsemen. I don’t know the answer but I’m doing my best to learn more about the subject. Some see equine slaughter as a necessary evil and as a means to control the horse population. Some see horses as livestock and find equine slaughter no more disturbing than the slaughter of cattle. Some see it as inhumane. Some see it as an end that is kinder than years of neglect.
As is the case with any controversial topic, it is quite difficult to get the whole story from either side. Slaughter is not the same as euthanasia, nor is it the same as rendering. At the heart of the debate is the actual treatment which the horses receive both en route to the plant and at the plant itself. Since 2007, slaughter plants in the United States have all been shut down so horses are now shipped to Canada or Mexico. A cursory Google search will provide some of the details of horse slaughter, but be warned, the videos and photos are quite graphic.
Due to the recent decrease in private horse buyers, there appears to be an increase in the number of horses sold at public auction being sold for slaughter. Within the past few months, a network of horse rescue groups have rallied around some large auctions, including New Jersey’s Camelot, and made an attempt to find a home for every horse intended for slaughter and relocate them to rescue groups, foster homes, or private owners.
Each week, the descriptions and photos of every available feedlot horse are posted online and distributed across the online horse community. For the past few months, the number of horses getting purchased from Camelot is high: virtually every horse has been privately sold/adopted from the feedlot. A lot of questions have been raised about these horses. Where do these horses come from? Who is benefiting from this process? What exactly are people rescuing? What happens to the horses who are rescued but have chronic health or behavioral issues? How long can this adoption streak keep up?
My mother, a friend, and I headed to Camelot last week to photograph available horses the morning after the auction. As a horse photographer, I’ve learned that a good photo of a horse can be what gets him a home. I figured that the more photos people can see of the horses, the better they can see conformation and personality.
From a photographic standpoint, I had to break all my usual rules in order to get the shots. Because the horses are close-up and indoors, I ditched my trusty telephoto lens and natural light and instead shot with a wide angle zoom lens and a speedlight (flash).
The process took about 45 minutes. The proprietor was courteous and had one of his assistants help us find all the horses on our list. Many auction proprietors do not allow post-auction purchases so we are fortunate to have this courtesy available to us in New Jersey. We walked from pen to pen, and eventually all 35 horses were photographed. It was a quiet morning, the only ruckus came from a stall where a miniature horse stallion was calling to potential girlfriends. Horses rested, munched on hay, or watched us. Some were shy, nervously walking away and some were friendly, nosing us curiously.
Only when I got home and began to edit the photos did the horses’ stories spring to life. I began to match up the hip numbers with the descriptions…
“Belgian Draft Mare, 16.2 hh, 15 yrs., droopy ears, looked ‘sad’, picked up feet. Purportedly exposed to Mammoth Jack. So could be pregnant for a Mammoth Mule.”
“Bay Pony Mare, 14 hh, 4 yrs old, a little head shy in the pen, Green under saddle, probably never ridden before tonite . . . . $150.00 NOT FOR A BEGINNER.”
“Palomino Gelding, 15.2 hh, 5 yrs old, looked gaited. Ridden thru, not much info. $225.00”
“Bay mare, Looks like a mule, but possible illegible lip tattoo (or pigment) maybe Standardbred if NOT a mule, 16 hh. 15 yrs, let thru, very, very thin – -we’re talking about 200+ lbs. . .. $150.00”
“Palomino Mare, 15.3 hh, 15 yrs., Very nervous/worried, but cute. Was a backyard mare, people ran out of money, led thru quiet but said to be broke to ride . . $100”
“Sorrel/roan Grade/App Gelding with an enormously swayed back. Led thru, but is supposed to be a games horse, intermediate+ rider . Find a Saddle for this guy! . . . $100.00”
“Very, Very thin Black/white pinto Gelding. 6 yrsl, 16 hh, went thru very quickly, think the price was $100.00 – -just led thru.”
“Mule – Belgian Draft-X, Mare, 16.1 hh, they didn’t announce age, was worried in the pen, picked up her feet. Snotty nose – – from Tenn., led thru but announced that she rode and drove. A pretty liver chestnut color . . . . $450.00”
I posted the photos online on Thursday night. By the weekend, every horse had been purchased to be sent to a private home or to a rescue.