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A New Breed of Horse Traders


Horse AuctionBack in the early frontier days, when men were men and cars were horses, the horse trader got sort of a bad wrap. You could compare their reputation to that of the greasiest of the greasy used car lot vultures that we deal with today. Things have changed in the past 200 years. Now running a reputable horse auction is good business, and none give modern horse-trading a better name than brothers Mike and Tim Jennings.

The Jennings have owned and operated Professional Auction Services, Inc., out of Berryville, Virginia for the past 30 years. Together they organize, publicize and put on auctions all around the U.S., cataloging around 3,000 horses every year. To date they have grossed over $150 million in sales - to many happy customers and sellers. So, to give Southern States Customers who are interested in selling or purchasing a horse at auction the inside scoop on what to expect, we caught up with Mike Jennings at their Raleigh Spring Sale and asked him a few questions.

Southern States Cooperative: Now you are a professional auctioneer, and you and your brother run the bidding, but is this one of those slow and quiet auctions or are y'all the fast talking types?

Mike Jennings: Yes, the auctioneer's chant is what it's called, and that's what Tim and I do. We're the fast talking auctioneers.

Professional auctioneersSSC: How do you manage not to get tongue-tied?

MJ: You practice a lot. They actually have auctioneer schools around the country. All that fast talk is nothing but the numbers with filler words in between. We've practiced enough to where we can do the fast talk without thinking much, because someone will step up behind you while you're selling and want to tell you something while you're also trying to remember where the bid's at and what bid you're asking for. There's a lot going on when the auctioneer fires up and starts talking fast.

SSC: Can you give an example of filler words?

MJ: It goes something like "I'm bidding one. Will you go two? I'm bidding two," but it ends up coming out "Imbiddaone Willagotwo Imbiddatwonathree."

SSC: What do you do to try to help folks selling horses?

MJ: We've been horse owners and participants in the industry, and marketed our own horses at auction, so we understand a lot of the things that sellers go through. What we try to do is treat them like we'd like to be treated. We try to educate people. More than most auction companies, we send out information before the auction, telling sellers what to bring and what to expect. We also get sellers to meet the Friday before the auction, prepare brochures and catalogs prior to the auction, put information on the web site, and run ads regionally and nationally to try to attract buyers for the horses.

SSC: And what can buyers expect on Auction Day?

MJ: On Friday evening, prior to auction day, there's actually a lot of hustle and bustle. Many of the sellers bring in their horses and buyers can come to shop around early. We give each horse a hip number - a number which is placed on their hips and corresponds with a number in the catalog. Buyers can make note of the hip numbers they're interested in. Then, on the morning of the sale, we open the doors to the auction around 8:00 AM, with the demonstration of the horses, running like a little horse show, starting at 9:00. Once the sale actually starts, we usually have two auctioneers who change off every hour so neither of us gets tired. Tim and I usually do that.

Horse up for auctionSSC: How many people are on staff at an auction?

MJ: At one of these sales we'll have 25 to 35 people. There are auctioneers, announcers, bid spotters who watch for bidders' signals in the crowd, a clerk in the box to write the price, ticket runners who go up to buyers to get their information and certify sales, handlers, barn personnel, and an office staff.

SSC: Have you ever mistaken a wave for a bid?

MJ: Oh yes. In a big crowd somebody will wave to a friend or move their hands in conversation, and a spotter will pick up on that and sometimes shout it in as a bid. But we're not in the business of selling horses to people who haven't bid on them, so we sort it out and it ends up just being funny. But yeah, I've seen some surprised faces on folks who didn't intend to bid on a horse.

The Jennings' Grandfather Rupert Kincer owned a Southern States store in Wytheville, VA in the 1940s and 50s, and Mike and his wife have fed Southern States feed for over 20 years. They will only give their show horses Legends® Performance from the Southern States Loudoun County Co-Op in Purcellville, Virginia.


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