By John Kline
TOPEKA, Ind. — When it comes to the status of the local horse trade business, the phrase “all work and no play” has taken on a whole new meaning.
According to Dallas Martin, longtime manager of the Topeka Livestock Auction, while sales of work horses remained fairly strong for 2007, sales of pleasure and riding horses have been experiencing a rather dramatic drop-off.
“The riding horses are selling really cheap,” Martin said. “It costs so much to keep them these days that a lot of people have stopped buying them.
“The economy is just not as good as it was, and people just don’t have the extra money to spend on pleasure horses,” he said.
Martin indicated that one of the main reasons behind that big drop-off is the skyrocketing cost of hay, a staple food for horses especially during the winter months.
“The hay prices have caused a lot of the prices of pleasure horses to decline,” Martin said, noting that a widespread freeze in early April of this year coupled with the ensuing summer drought played havoc with the nation’s hay supply.
“A lot of guys barely got a first cutting this year, and didn’t get anything at all on the second due to the summer drought. With that lack of supply, the cost shot up, and it’s pretty much that way all across the country,” he said.
While the drop-off of pleasure horse prices may not be in the best interests of breeders, Martin said that for those in the market to buy a pleasure horse, the time couldn’t be better.
“This would definitely be the time to buy one if you want to buy a pleasure horse,” Martin said.
On a more positive note, Martin said that sales of draft and work horses, especially the fancier hitch horses, have remained strong over the course of the year.
“The sales of pleasure horses are not like the hitch horses, those big hitches that go around and do shows. There are several different companies that have six- and eight-horse hitches,” Martin said, noting as an example the famous Anheuser-Busch Clydesdale hitch team. “Those horses have to be pretty fancy, and they’re kind of hard to come by, so the demand is still there for them.
“When you get into those real good horses, we just recently had a mare bring $31,500,” he said.
On average, Martin said that sale prices of work horse mares have been slightly down when compared to previous years, but noted that sales of geldings have actually increased.
“I think our mares have been a little bit cheaper over the last year or so, but our geldings and some of the show horses have maybe even been a little stronger,” Martin said. “With your average bred mare you’re probably looking at paying around $2,000 to $2,500.
“Several years ago your mares would have been a little higher than that, but overall sales have been real good,” he said.
With only two big sales a year to gauge the climate of the horse trade, Martin said that participation and performance at the Topeka auction has remained vigorous.
“Our auction is strong, as far as we had a good horse sale overall,” Martin said. “A lot of people said we had a better sale here than a lot of other places did this year.”
One of the biggest problems Martin said he is encountering at the auctions is the growing number of older horses that are now flooding the market.
“Our biggest concern right now is the amount of old horses that we have, because there’s no place to get rid of them,” Martin said, noting how in March 2007 a ruling by the United States District Court declared the slaughter of horses in the United States as illegal. “When you get into our old horses, there are horses you can’t hardly get a bid on. They’re wore out, but you have no place to take them to get butchered, so people aren’t buying them.”
With the auction’s next sale set to begin on March 11, 2008, Martin said that while work horse sales are predicted to remain strong, only time will tell if the prices of pleasure horses will turn around.
“It really depends on the economy and the feed situation — the price of hay and other feed,” Martin said.
Overall though, Martin said he is looking forward to another year of good sales in the horse trade business.