Horses sold at low-end auctions throughout the country face unknown fates.

Photo: iStock

I watch horse auction sites from throughout the Pacific Northwest online. Mostly with a heavy heart. The story is always the same.

Horses go to the sales yard. It smells of cattle. Cattle that just the day before stepped onto trailers much like the trailers here for the horses today.

Auction workers and volunteers, women with kind hearts and tough skin, take photos and post them. They share what they can. Their time is short. The internet connection weak. “This one broke to ride.” “This one picked up its feet.” “Tried to catch this one, but he walked away.”

That horse doesn’t stand a chance. But if I were a horse, I’d walk away too.

More often than not they’re broodmares. Their common characteristics mark them as related, even when brands don’t. A breeder with a stallion and mares let nature take its course. The results in the crowded pen: A mare, a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and yearling at her side. A baby at her bag, a baby in her belly. All worth $0.40 a pound.

And the discussions online start. “Wish I could save that one.” “Can you help me buy one?” "Who has a trailer?" Hearts bigger than wallets. People cry over the skinny ones and pity the old ones. The sick ones get saved. Healthy ones don't get noticed.

But some do. The pretty ones. Grullas, palominos, and pintos. Big hips, big eyes, strong backs. Not too old, not too young. Papers. The promise of a saddle horse.

People are mad. Mad at the buyer who fills his trucks, heading north or south. Mad at the owner who left her horse to go  through the sale loose and alone. Mad at the old rancher in a nursing home. Mad at his kids for selling his herd.

But hay is expensive. Board, too. And farriers. And gas. And vet bills. And mortgages.

In the middle horses get squeezed. Out of our budgets. Out of our backyards. Out of our lives.

My horses are fancy. Trained. Expensive. Collectors of points. Winners of ribbons. Pedigrees boasting famous relations: German bred. Raced Affirmed, lost by a nose. A leading sire of youth horses. But my horses in the sales yard would look like any other. Two chestnuts and a bay. One stiff with arthritis. One young and unstarted. One scared and grumpy, his ears laid back.

He’d walk away too.

And then, where would he go?