Highest Bidder: Morgan County hosts state-sponsored horse auction
Story by Kathryn Schiliro
Photos by Angelina Bellebuono
Oprah sold for $100 Saturday.
No, not the television host. Oprah, the 7-year-old gaited mare, formerly a state-impounded horse.
The sad truth? Aside from two Clydesdales, $100 was about the average bid at the Georgia Department of Agriculture's Equine Auction, held this weekend at the Morgan County Agricultural Center.
But more than money, the auction brought awareness.
Those in attendance—through the work of state employees and local 4-H'ers alike—were exposed to the direct effects of horse abuse and neglect. The horses themselves, the before-and-after pictures on their stalls, the presence of equine rescue organizations served as reminders of the suffering of these "gentle giants."
Loaded up and pulled away in horse trailers, bound for what should promise to be a better life, victory is realized.
• • •
The Department of Agriculture hasn't held an auction of its impounded horses in Morgan County prior to Saturday.
Why start now? That answer can be boiled down one local 12 year old's 4-H Demonstration Project Achievement entry.
Summer Stevens' winning DPA project called local attention to horse abuse and neglect and had an impact on fellow 4-H'ers, especially following a field trip to the state's equine impound facility in Mansfield, where Summer did the research for her project.
With that, 4-H members decided they wanted to help. Asking what they could do, the idea to host a state-sponsored auction of impounded horses—standard procedure when it comes to the equine impounds—came up. The 4-H mobilized, the idea was pitched and the decision to hold the auction in Morgan County was made.
Further, Stevens and her mother, Sherry, began—and still are—working to change current state legislation involving horse abuse and neglect, pushing for harsher penalties for those who mistreat the horses that then end up in state impound facilities. Their connections at the state capitol, coupled with the Mansfield impound and 4-H's involvement in the equine community, brought publicity—not to mention big names—to the event.
"When you've got 4-H behind you, you've got the best network in the state," Department of Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Gary Black said
Long-time agriculture commissioner Tommy Irvin was present Saturday. Asked of his feelings for the work of the mother-daughter team, he admitted being impressed.
"Wonderful," Irvin said, of their efforts.
Black, set to run for state agriculture commissioner this year, was also on hand to watch the proceedings, coming from events in Atlanta. Asked how he heard about the auction, Black said he was approached by Sherry and Summer while having lunch in Atlanta; at the same time, he heard Summer's story.
"She's a good example of someone taking initiative at the local level to help solve a statewide problem," Black said.
• • •
Therewere hundreds present at Saturday's state-sponsored auction, but not all were there with the express intent of purchasing horses.
"It's a social event; it's a family reunion for non-related people," Mary Elizabeth Shoptaw, local farmer and co-leader of the 4-H Hay Bale Gang—members were working the event and came back Sunday to clean out stalls—said.
But there were people present interested in purchasing horses.
"It was the largest crowd we've ever had, the best turnout by far," Robin Easley, Mansfield-based Department of Agriculture equine health field supervisor, said. "But the average [sale] price of the horses was below normal."
In total, 35 horses—coming from state impound barns in Decatur, Pulaski and, locally, Mansfield—were auctioned, and 34 were sold. According to Easley, the money raised through the auction—"in the ballpark of $10,500"—will go back into the impound program. (Two Clydesdales—Teeny and Tiny—brought in $2,600 and $1,900 respectively.)
"That $10,500 didn't cover 25 percent of the cost of rehab [for those 35 horses]," Easley said.
The average cost for rehabilitation of a horse in a state impound facility comes to $1,000—an upward estimate of more than $200 a month for four months, the average amount of time a horse stays in the impound. Speaking of funds raised, the concession stand at the event brought in more than $1,000.
"Even though this is a state program, there are no state-appropriated funds that go to the impound program," Easley said. "[The impound program is funded by] money from selling [the horses] and donations from the public."
As for Summer, she felt the auction was a success, monetarily and in reference to raising awareness.
"I think we did pretty good," Summer said.
"Summer has definitely raised the bar on awareness in her community and has helped spur other young people to get involved and see that they can do something to help animals," Easley said. "As far as from a department employee point of view...[this proves] there are people who care about what we do and are willing to volunteer their time to help this program. It really gives us a second wind. You go through the legal motions of getting horses in custody, you go through the sweat, time and tears of rehabbing them, then you get $25 for one. Why do we go through this? Because there are people who care."
Even though the state impound sold more than 30 horses this weekend, their work confiscating and rehabilitating abused and neglected horses isn't near over.
"While we sold 34 of them Saturday, there's two and three times that waiting for a space to come into the barn," Easley said. "We're never empty."
Want to make a donation to the state equine impound program? Call 404 656-3713 or visit www.agr.georgia.gov.
Printed in the March 3, 2010 edition.