Auction market owner Wayne Johnstone pauses before answering a question about what’s happening with the price of horses in Canada.
“It doesn’t look good,” said Johnstone.
What Johnstone calls “plain horses,” or the bottom end of those that go through his Moose Jaw sales ring, sell for $50 to $150. Slightly better horses will fetch $100 to $200. Larger horses with some training sell for $250 to $600.
A flashy, well trained horse the owner can show off by riding it in the sales ring might bring $1,500.
“It’s certainly not very good for horses that need feeding,” said Johnstone, who sees more horses coming up for sale.
In previous years, he could count on a handful of buyers to take a few horses home from the sale, spend some time training the animals and resell them in the spring for a profit.
Not any more.
There doesn’t seem to be any guarantee the horses will be worth more after a few months of expensive feed and training.
Falling horse prices are a trend Ron Anderson has noticed over the past three or four years, especially with ordinary “blue collar” horses.
“If it’s a young horse of prospect age, it has to have the looks and the pedigree, or the consumer is not interested,” said Anderson, a Calgary-based horse trainer and horse sale colour commentator.
“What I’m seeing in the industry, in public sales, is horses that are older and have been ridden and have a job either on ranch or for novice riders have a strong market,” said Anderson.
The rest have a questionable demand. During a recent horse show, 70 head of mainly two-year-old horses sold between $500 and $10,000.
“Buyers know what they want and buyers do not want a blue collar horse. There’s too many of them.”
Anderson said the drop in prices began with the collapse of the PMU industry, with only a handful of horse barns remaining that produce pregnant mares’ urine for the health industry.
The second blow came with the closing of horse slaughter facilities in the United States in 2007. Horses destined for slaughter were trucked to plants in Canada or Mexico, forcing horse prices lower.
High fuel and feed prices combined with an edgy economic climate may push prices even lower.
“All of the costs of the horse world is disposable money. It’s recreational money,” Anderson said.
While horse lovers are still interested in buying horses, they want well trained stock.
“It costs the same to feed a poor horse as a good one. No one can afford to keep the blue collar horses around,” said Anderson, who recommends consumers spend the money on a good horse and bypass the cheaper ones.
Matt McQueen buys meat horses, or he did until recently when the Bouvry Export horse slaughter plant in Fort Macleod, Alta., got backed up with stock.
“I was told not to buy any more,” said McQueen.
He used to pay $200 for meat horses. Now, it’s not uncommon to pay $10, $20 or $50.
“Prices are down. No one wants them. There are too many horses ever since the shutdown in the horse slaughter plants in the states,” he said.
“With the closing of the plants, meat horses aren’t worth anything.”