Takeaways & Rookie Mistakes
My plane touched down back late yesterday (technically, very early this morning), and I made it to my own bed around 1am.
Point being, my experience at the Cowgirl Cadillacs horse sale in Wickenburg, Arizona is still fresh in my mind — so let’s get into it!
Girl Power on Display
As I mentioned in Cowgirl Cadillacs Horse Sale: What to Know Before You Go, this annual horse sale exclusively features women consigners.
This year’s sale brought together 50 high-quality horses, and attendees saw an inspiring level of horse(wo)manship. The proof?
Bidders delivered big-time with nearly 1.2M in total sales for 42 horses.
Note: Six horses were “no-saled,” meaning their consigners chose not to sell them for the final bid price.
Making the Grade
No event is perfect, and there are always things that exceed expectations and other things that need some serious TLC.
Because I arrived on Thursday night and was there assisting one of the consigners, I got a behind-the-scenes look at Friday’s “soft preview” and dinner at Rancho de los Caballeros, Saturday morning’s official preview and afternoon sale, as well as post-sale activity that evening.
The Concept // Grade A-
There should be far more opportunities to showcase talented women trainers and riders, so Cowgirl Cadillacs gets top marks for the overall idea of sale horses “from ladies, for ladies.”
Promoting a high-end auction of well-broke, sane horses that can attract a lot of attention from buyers and sponsors helps everyone. (“High tides lift all horses?”)
So why didn’t I didn’t award an A+ for this category?
Yes, all the consigners were women — but not all of the training was done by those women (or women at all).
Finding out that some horses had been primarily or partially trained by men was rather disappointing. That said, many of the horses were 100% trained by women — and that’s worth celebrating.
I also loved seeing how many of the buyers in the audience were women!
The Ladies // Grade A+
There are a lot of strong personalities in the industry, and it’s not uncommon to find some pretty prickly horse sellers. I wasn’t sure what to expect from a group of all-female consigners, but I was pleasantly surprised.
The female consigners were among the most kind, hardworking, resilient, and helpful group of equestrians I’ve ever met.
The weather Saturday morning was, in a word, atrocious. Pouring rain, wind, cold, and I didn’t hear a single woman complain.
They cowgirled-up, got to work, and rode their horses as though it was the most beautiful day on earth.
I was also impressed by the amount of female camaraderie on display.
Women helped each other, promoted each other’s horses, recognized jobs well done, and pulled together when things got tough.
Even if you didn’t get one of the horses at this year’s sale, I encourage you to get in touch with these ladies and see what else they have cookin’. You might find yourself with a new trainer, an equally high-quality horse, or simply a new friend!
The Horses // Grade A+
When it comes to showcasing a wide variety of well trained and beautiful riding horses, this sale did not disappoint.
The vast majority of horses I met were versatile, athletic, kind, and well trained.
Buyers had their choice of 50 horses of different breeds, colors, body types, ages, movements, disciplines, and personalities.
From reiners to cow horses, versatility prospects to trail partners, there was truly something for everyone.
What I found most impressive, though, was how calmly the horses handled the chaotic sale environment. No matter the weather, other horses, spooky umbrellas, and other distractions, they pressed on and did their jobs.
The Logistics // Grade B-
Promotion: There’s no denying, Cowgirl Cadillacs was well promoted.
From the website to social media to press releases, this sale generates a ton of interest.
Their social media channels were super active leading up the sale, and that helped buyers get really excited!
Previews: The preview and sale schedule were well thought out. Potential buyers could watch the horses for several hours on Friday in a “soft preview” and again in a Saturday morning in a horse-by-horse preview.
Especially for folks who weren’t able to travel to meet/try horses prior to the sale, the previews offered two more chances to evaluate and find their dream horses.
Weather: Of course, the sale can’t control the weather. What organizers can control is having a “Plan B” in place for bad weather.
The Saturday preview took place outdoors in an uncovered arena that quickly became a mud pit. Unfortunately, there was no shelter for buyers trying to watch the horses either, which dampened (pun intended) attendance.
A backup plan for tents or moving to an alternate indoor arena for the previews and sale would have helped everything run more smoothly.
Sale horses were also housed in open-air pens, which wasn’t ideal given the downpours. The majority of potential buyers didn’t walk up to the pens to see the horses or chat with the women because of the weather.
Sale: The sale ring setup was beautiful, with plenty of lush grass, bleachers, flowers, and sound equipment. By some stroke of luck, the sun decided to come out about ten minutes before the sale was set to begin.
Given the amount of rain we’d had, though, the grass in the sale ring was slick enough for several horses to slip.
The auctioneers were experienced, but support staff struggled to communicate phone bids in a timely fashion. (More on that later.)
Communication: Directional signage was adequate, and sale programs were available with additional information.
During the soft preview, adding an emcee could have offered attendees additional information about the horses, sale schedule, and created some structure for riders in the ring.
I’d like to see sale organizers bring on a dedicated consigner coordinator who could be the single point-of-contact for the sellers and ensure they have a positive experience before, during, and after the event.
The consigners are the heart and soul of the sale, so they should always be treated well.
There also needs to be clearer communication around the post-sale process, including exactly who is responsible for caring for and feeding the horses once they’re sold Saturday evening through Sunday morning.
There was some consigner confusion around whether to feed extra hay, be involved with transportation, figure out who bought their horses, etc.
The Technology // Grade D
This is where things went noticeably wrong.
The sale heavily promotes the ability for buyers to bid by phone or online — so it needs to work.
Consigners also pitched these options to potential buyers who reached out and expressed interest, but couldn’t travel to Arizona in person for the sale.
Phone bidding: Simply put, it wasn’t reliable. Some people signed up to bid by phone weren’t called. Others reported having told the sale contacts on the other end of the phones to bid more — but those bids weren’t placed.
The result? Consigners lost money, bidders weren’t able to participate, and there were complaints.
Online bidding: Unfortunately, the backup option for virtual buyers — online bidding –was also unreliable.
The sale’s live feed was spotty, and there was no sound on the feed for a portion of the event. In addition, online viewing went down several times, meaning virtual buyers couldn’t see or bid on some of the horses at all.
The Venue // Grade A
Rancho de los Caballeros was a truly beautiful facility. The luxury golf resort and dude ranch has lovely architecture, friendly and capable staff, a stunning golf course, and delicious dining options.
Don’t miss out on dinner at the ranch — it’s beyond tasty!
There was a nice big round pen set up near the sale horse pens, and the pens themselves were nice. Riders could also use a larger arena down the hill, though the footing wasn’t great.
The town of Wickenburg is a short 90 minutes from Phoenix and is well known for team roping. Downtown mixes historical architecture, fun little restaurants and shops, and a Best Western Hotel.
Down the street, you can find a Tractor Supply Co. and National Roper’s Supply (NRS) store for equestrian shopping.
Can’t go a day without your Starbucks? Don’t worry — theres’s one inside the Safeway!
Lessons for Next Year…
- Bring a support system: Whether it’s a spouse, friend, or family member, bring someone along to help you at the sale. From horse holding to grooming, pep talks to snack runs, there are plenty of things you’ll need help with over the weekend.
- You can no-sale: Remember that you do not have to accept the final bid for your horse. If bidding doesn’t hit your minimum price, or if you simply don’t feel good about the sale for any reason, you can choose to no-sale once bidding ends. (Note: You must do so right then in the sale ring — not later.) There is a financial penalty for this decision, but you can take your horse home.
- Desensitize a LOT: Make sure your sale horse has been there, done that. Take them to different locations, expose them to different circumstances, and train your steed how to handle pressure in a healthy and dependable way.
- Overpack: Better to have all your rain gear and clothes for all temperatures than wish you had them.
- Mentally prepare: This is an auction, and that means you have no control over who bids on and wins your horse (unless you no-sale in the sale ring). If you choose to sell a horse at auction, you must mentally prepare to say goodbye and make peace leaving your horse behind. In fact, you may not even know who bought your horse unless the buyer contacts you. Don’t underestimate the stress this may cause you and/or friends and family who love your horse.
- Eat and drink: It’s critical to stay hydrated and eat healthy food during the sale so you can perform at your best.
- Bring a ring bag: Things like Kleenex, chapstick, sunscreen, water, snacks, polish clothes, etc. should all be easily accessible throughout the event.
- Prioritize safety: I saw several sale videos featuring dangerous behavior (e.g. young children unsupervised around horses, riding without helmets). Impressionable buyers of all ages and skill levels watch these videos.
- Don’t be afraid to wear a helmet: I didn’t see a single helmet at this sale. It could’ve been a great opportunity to model safety to other riders and buyers.
- Do your homework: If you’re able, visit your frontrunner horses and test ride them prior to the sale. If you’re not able to do so, make sure you arrive in time to watch both previews, talk to the sellers, visit with the horses onsite, etc.
- Overpack: Rain gear, cold and hot weather clothes, bring it all.
- Stay focused: Know your budget, find horses that align with your priorities, and remember why you’re there — to find your dream horse. Too much socializing, alcohol, or sleep deprivation should be avoided.
- Be early: Arrive for everything early — you’ll get better seats, be able to talk to more people, see more of the horses, and avoid the stress of running late.
- Stay at the ranch: If you can, book a room at the host ranch. It’s SO much more convenient.
- Plan for transport: Don’t wait until you’ve won to figure out how to get your new horse home.
- Smile: Even if you’re nervous heading into the sale ring, remember to smile. Sellers who looked like they’re enjoying the experience created a more confident picture.
- Consult tech experts: Phone and online bidding HAS to be reliable. Bring on expert staff to ensure it is.
- Plan for bad weather: Book an alternate indoor/covered arena just in case and provide shade and wind cover at the primary location.
- Label horse pens: Add a sign to each sale horse pen with the lot number, horse name, and seller’s information. This would help avoid having bidders wandering around trying to figure out which horse was which — especially after the sale when people are trying locate which horse to take home.
- Compensate for issues: I would’ve liked to see consigners compensated in some way for lost income due to unreliable phone and online bidding systems. It’s amazing how far a genuine apology and kind gesture can go.
- Specialize: Hire a dedicated consigner coordinator to act as the single point-of-contact for consigners before, during, and after the event. Ideally, hire a woman!
- Have a post-sale process: Buyers and sellers need to know exactly who is responsible for horse care and transportation once the gavel drops. There also needs to be someone from the sale team who ensures all horses are comfortable, fed, and cared for until they’re loaded for transport Saturday or Sunday.
I’m so happy I got to attend Cowgirl Cadillacs and see this cool event for myself!
There were a lot of things that went well, and the quality of the horses and consigners far exceeded my expectations.
That said, there were also some big issues that negatively impacted the experience of buyers and sellers.
P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to:
- Cowgirl Cadillacs Horse Sale: What to Know Before You Go
- 60 Questions to Ask When Buying the Horse of Your Dreams
- How Much Horses Cost & How You Can Afford One
- I Want a Horse But Can’t Afford One (Now What?)
- Beginner’s Guide to Equine Insurance
- Keep Calm & Ride On: Meet the 3 Calmest Horse Breeds