VEEDERSBURG, Ind.—With hay and grain prices running high, and domestic slaughter effectively shut down, the times they are a changin’ for the U.S. horse market. Todd Yundt, owner of the Veedersburg Sale Barn in Fountain Co., Ind., is trying to adapt to the new economic climate by diversifying and finding new ways to promote his sales. “A lot of places like mine have closed down,” said Yundt. “Some have tried to reopen but don’t last six months. If you don’t promote and advertise you’re not going to last long.”
The sale barns that used to be a mainstay of rural, small-town America have been hit hard by the economy, and Yundt, who has traded in horses and livestock his whole life, said the price of feed is his biggest concern. “Horses are as cheap as I’ve ever seen them. You have more in hay and grain in a month than the horse is worth,” he said. “A lot of people sell their horses, their saddles – they sell everything and they’re out of the business.”
Yundt has held horse and tack sales at the Veedersburg Sale Barn every third Saturday each month since he bought the place in 2001. For the first few years, sales averaged 150 head per month. But the closure of the last three remaining horse slaughter facilities in the U.S. in 2007, the stock market crash, the recession and the high grain prices dealt a big blow to the horse market, and gradually caused the number to plunge to 50 head per month. In order to stay on top of the market, he added another sale ring for used equipment and diversified with a monthly sheep and goat sale, and a twice-monthly sale of small poultry and miscellaneous household items.
“Friday is what we call our chicken sale. But really, if it has feathers on it we’ll sell it,” said Phyllis Yundt, Todd’s mother who helps out with the business. “The first Wednesday of every month is our sheep and goat sale. We have three big buyers that come from out-of-state and buy loads. Prices have been good so far.” The biggest sheep and goat sale to date boasted 600 head. On horse-sale days, Phyllis Yundt said auction-goers come from all over the state and Illinois. “Sometimes people call and ask if we have horses with specific bloodlines. We sell any breed; grade horses (horses with no papers), quarter horses, Arabians, draft horses, ponies and, on occasion, a Mustang or Paso Fino.”
On a recent Saturday night, auctioneers Brian McDaniel of Wheatfield, Ind., and Tanner Lewis of Lafayette, Ind., were hawking used and new horse tack, brushes, gate latches, muzzles and horse-themed household items like tempered-glass chopping boards before the start of the horse auction. Meanwhile, trailers were pulling up in the crowded parking lot to unload horses or hay, which is auctioned off outside the building. Cathy Klopfeustein of Monticello, Ind., and her friend Linda Brisbin were sitting in the bleachers in the main ring looking for deals on new tack. “I really enjoy it,” Klopfeustein said about the auctions at the Veedersburg Sale Barn. “I come for the used saddles. They have lots of supplies like buckets, brushes and useful everyday stuff.”
Brisbin, who runs a saddlery in Burnettsville, Ind., said she likes to see what people are buying, and how much they’re paying. “This is a really nice place to come, especially for families. There aren’t too many horse sales around anymore,” she said. Noting the declining market for horses, she added, “Because of the economy we’re seeing a lot of what we call sale-barn horses, but a while ago there was an Arabian gelding that sold for $1,400. Had the market been like it was before, it would’ve sold for $5,500.”
This year, Yundt added a horse auction on New Year’s Day and had over 300 buyers turn out. “It’ll most definitely be an annual thing,” he said. But the economy is still making it hard to plan for the future. “It’s the big unknown,” he said. “In this business it’s either feast or famine. What bothers me the most is the high price of grain. It makes it more expensive to have chickens, and we’re seeing the same thing with other small animals. People sell their cages and their equipment and get out, just like with the horses. It used to be that there were always new people getting in, but we’re not seeing that as much anymore.”
BY LINDA McGURK