28. February 2020

Australia | Echuca, Victoria | Horse auction

The auctioneer, accompanied by several people, walks on a bridge above the horses.

A horse panics as people crowd around him.

A trotter mare has a serious eye infection.

The emaciated thoroughbred mare “Appleholic” is sold under the counter.

The horse auction in Echuca is where kill buyers purchase their horses. Kill buyer Peter Loffel, whose assembly centres we have been observing in the previous days, also buys horses at this auction. Equipped with hidden cameras, we are going to the auction as a team of three. The auctioneer moves from pen to pen above the horses. His roaring voice coming out of the loudspeaker frightens the horses. Some whinny repeatedly, others stamp the ground or kick against the rails.

We check the condition of all 165 horses that sold on this day. Many horses are very thin, some of them are severely emaciated and should therefore be deemed unfit for transport according to Australian animal welfare standards. One thoroughbred mare is in such a poor condition that the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), who are responsible for animal welfare at the auction, intervene and stop the sale. An RSPCA inspector shouts: "She could be going to Queensland!" He means the Meramist abattoir. The inspector is concerned that the mare is too weak to survive the 1,500 km long transport to the abattoir. We later find out that the mare was sold under the counter.

About one third of the horses sold today are gallopers and trotters. Many racehorses end up at auctions like these, while others are sold directly to kill buyers by breeders and trainers. The average price that a kill buyer pays for one horse is between 150 and 400 Australian dollars (85-230 euros).

After the sale, we see kill buyers forcibly load the horses onto trucks, using electric prods and plastic pipes.