I want to start from the beginning, which means there will be a couple day lag until I have time to get caught up fully. There will probably also be a few long posts, both due to my long-windedness and the sheer volume of info I feel is important.
T-Minus 3 Days to Auction
So picture this – It’s the Wednesday before the Mustang Million adoption in Murfreesboro, TN. I have just re-read the rules and found that I do not, in fact, have to compete with a horse I adopt at this auction. Seeing as how my horse will be located in metro Atlanta and the competition is in Ft. Worth, I had decided that I would not adopt a Million horse simply because I didn’t want to have to subject it to trailering that far in a couple months. Because I hadn’t read the rules carefully enough, I thought all horses from this adoption HAD to compete and got auctioned after. I want to keep my boy and didn’t want to pay for him twice if I didn’t have to.
The logistics:. I had discussed with a very accommodating local barn my intentions but gave them a more realistic timeline of the end of the month. They graciously agreed to let me set up a round pen and use one of the shelters on the property to build a pen for my potential horse.
By the time I re-read the rules and found out I could adopt without competing, it was the Wednesday before the Saturday adoption. I had no round pen, no trailer and no time off work. Thursday, I called a few people on Craigslist about trailers and round pens. All the round pens would take a week or two to get to me but I did find a trailer that worked beautifully. I reserved it for the weekend and went about trying to locate a round pen. I found one at a local feed and seed and bought several panels and a gate to complete the pen Smokey has come to inhabit.
T-Minus 1 Day to Auction
I took Friday off from work to run errands – go buy a halter, pick up and set up the round pen, pick up the trailer and pack up for a rainy four hour trip to Tennessee. By Friday night, I was all set. Trailer was hitched up to my woefully small truck, paddock was secure, bags were packed, and a passenger was procured (Thanks, Dad!).
Loaded up and truckin.
We had originally decided to go up for the Friday preview, but were going to miss that by the time we had the pen set up, so we planned to leave promptly at 4 on Saturday morning .
After checking the forecast for our trip, we were displeased to find that we would be travelling both ways in monsoon-like rain that wouldn’t stop until…well…later today. Smokey’s paddock isn’t ideal for wet weather type footing and he’s currently slipping and sliding around on wet Georgia clay. Hopefully today we’ll get some sun to help dry it out for him. More on that later.
Day 0: Auction Day
We pulled out of the driveway at 4:10 and made it to I-75 right as the rain began. I have towed tons of trailers and am very experienced with non-livestock hauls but this was my first horse haul. I was pretty nervous with an empty trailer and was dreading the moment we pulled out with my new baby inside.
We arrived at The MTSU Livestock Arena at 8:30 EST. Luckily for us, we had forgotten that Murfreesboro was CST and were actually a half hour early rather than late.
The pens were densely packed and several people were watering down shavings and tending to the water buckets in each pen. The horses were quietly munching on hay. It was surprisingly quiet and calm when you think about the fact that it was about 80 wild mustangs in pens all together. A second barn was also filled with several pens containing the remainder of the 150 horses. I strolled around the outer pens taking pictures since the pens weren’t open yet. My nerves were pretty high knowing that I’d probably be taking one of these guys home later in the day.
The first look
We talked to the MHF and BLM folks working the tables and asked about the auction (the were immensely friendly and helpful) – it would be a live auction done much the same way as other livestock auctions. They would give us an hour this morning to walk around, then bring each pen out to the sale ring so we could see them move, then give us another hour to walk the pens and make final decisions. Auction would begin at noon.
A handful of the adoptable horses
We walked around to each pen, I noted all the horses I was interested in (probably about 2 per pen). These were exceptional horses. I was expecting much less and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. There was no horse at the auction I would have been disappointed to have. There were several pens of yearlings and 2 year olds and tons of mares. I was enthralled by a few of the mares, but overheard a conversation from some other potential adopter saying he had adopted a mare once and several months later had two horses on his hands. I am just not ready for that! So while I found some mares I would have brought home, I was focused on the geldings.
Moving around the sale pen.
After seeing the horses move through the sale pen, I had narrowed it down to my top five. 5577 was #1 followed closely by a couple other grays and a surprising bay I liked.
As they prepared for the auction, I tried to keep calm and follow the cues of the experienced folks I had seen walking around. I was a mess. First auction, first horse I’m buying myself, first trailering experience. It was a bit much.
That’s him on the right, 5577!
Out of the first two pens of horses, three had been sent back to the “pool” where you could go adopt them for $200 without any auction shenanigans. All three of these horses were ones I had kept an eye on as potential take homes. I was very pleased that I could go pick out a horse should all my bidding attempts be foiled.
We watched as a several horses went for $300-400 and then a flashy mare went for $4,000. This was shortly followed up by a gorgeous chestnut gelding who went for $2,500. I started to worry.
5577 was in pen 6. His turn arrived much sooner than I anticipated and we got to work. His penmate, a similarly built gray and white paint from the same HMA, went for $900. I had agreed with myself that I wouldn’t pay over $1,000 for 5577. Bidding started of fast with two people bidding a couple times. As the pace slowed, I put in my bid. As the auctioneer moved on to another bidder, I started to lose hope. But there was confusion. The other guy hadn’t bid! 5577 was sold to me!
It was a surreal moment, but it was also awesome. I had a horse! I signed paperwork, bought the MHF hoodie I had promised myself IF I adopted one and proceeded to the pickup area with my truck and trailer.
Around back, I pulled up and had to wait as another truck and trailer loaded in their adopted kids. As we sat there, several other trucks lined up behind us. We lucked out that we took an early horse! When it was our turn, I backed the trailer up to the chute (not very well since I was so excited). 5577 REALLY did not want to leave his friends (who can blame him?), so there was much commotion to get him into the stock chute. Once in, a BLM staffer put my halter on him. They then opened the chute and tried to usher him onto the trailer. Once again, it was a small fiasco. He finally hopped onto the trailer and immediately began pawing.
Dad pulled the truck out of the loading area and parked a little ways down the road to wait for me to finish getting transport paperwork. It was pouring rain. We pulled out into the parking lot so I could say hi to 5577. I felt like I didn’t even know what I had in my trailer. I hopped up on the wheel well and poked a hand through the bars. 5577 did not care too much about anything other than missing his friends. He turned his head away and stayed on the opposite side of the trailer.
Sorry, bud. Gotta take you home now.
He pawed for about five minutes, but once we got moving, he was very quiet for the remainder of the trip. He stood backwards, facing out the back of the trailer and stared.
We narrowly avoided disaster on I-24 when we hit dead stopped traffic and had to back on the shoulder about 300 feet to an exit. That was trailering by fire, I think. I bought two scratch-off lottery tickets and some peppermints at a gas station, the first of which was a success – winning $3. The peppermints were a bust. 5577 was not interested. He was still starting out the back and avoiding us. Not spooking, just avoiding.
We arrived home at the barn around 7:30PM and set up a chute to get a now tentatively named Smokey into the paddock. We opened the trailer door, fully expecting him to bolt, but he stuck his head out, sniffed the ground and very casually hopped out and walked into his new home. It was almost a letdown, except that it went so smoothly.
We threw him some hay and pretty much packed it in for the night. He wasn’t interested in people and clearly just wanted to be left alone. The rain was still coming down in buckets and I was exhausted. I said goodnight and headed home.