NEW HOLLAND, Pa. —There are many reasons why horses are put up for sale at auctions. Often it's due to difficult and unforeseen circumstances — job loss, illness or death of an owner — which can leave few options for finding their horse a new home in a short amount of time.

There are risks involved in sending a horse to auction including injuries during shipping, and possible exposure to disease and injuries from other horses. There is also the risk that the horse will be purchased and shipped to slaughter in Canada or Mexico.

Rescues have tried to work with the auction houses to buy the lower-priced horses — those most at risk of going to slaughter but that has often proved to be a difficult and time-consuming process. Buyers or at least proxy-bidders, have to go to the auction to bid on horses in person which are often held during normal working hours.

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Melissa Harper, started a Facebook Group to bring attention to horses going through the New Holland  auction. The group now has more than 21,000 members. Horses are listed on Sunday and they sell on Monday.

More recently Harper decided to offer another option — she started to help sellers find buyers nationwide while the horse stays safely at home. 

Unlike a live auction, prospective buyers can be screened in advance of bidding.

“I used to try to just educate people as to the dangers of auctions...illness exposure, injuries, stress, and of course the kill buyers and auction circuit flippers. Now I also add the fact that our website is available and offers them an alternative,” Harper said.

According to the website: The purpose of the website is to help horses, and in turn, help the buyers and sellers. Sellers will be able to find a buyer in under a week, while keeping their horse safely and inexpensively at home. Buyers will be able to see horses all over the country from their own computer or cell phone, prepare for buying and transporting properly without the stressful time crunch, and bring their new horse directly home if they choose.

Some rescues have met resistance from auction operators when they try to get photographs or videos of horses they want to save or network. In one case, a staff member even tried to stop a winning bidder from taking a picture of the horse she had just bought, Harper said.

Harper also has many stories to share:

Ruby, “was being bid on by kill buyers. I'd met the owner who was between a rock and a hard place and had to sell her. I just couldn't let her get on their (the kill buyer’s) truck,” Harper said.

Later someone recognized the mare on Harper’s Facebook post. “Turns out, she came from a high end western pleasure show barn where she was born and extensively trained,” Harper said. She is also registered with both the Paint Horse Association and the American Quarter Horse Association.

There was a frightened paint mare with a very large, hernia type bulge. A buyer drove 20 hours to get her and now she is safe in her new home.

One grey gelding bore striking resemblance to one of the most famous of rescued horses, Snowman, who was purchased for a mere $80 off of a truck that was headed to the slaughter plant. Once a plow horse, Snowman went on to be a world champion show jumper. His life is documented in the feature film, Harry & Snowman.

Harper said of her Snowman look-alike, “This gelding literally spoke to me. Put his face next to mine, his nose to my ear and tried to keep me next to him.” He now lives a pampered life in Florida, she said.

Not all horses that end up at auction are “unwanted.” The owner of a black and white pinto mare who was "lost" had been searching for her. Facebook followers recognized the horse after Harper posted a picture. “She'd been on the auction circuit for weeks and lost at least 200 pounds. We notified the original owner and she bought her back from the kill buyer who was flipping her in his broker program after buying her at New Holland,” Harper said.

A Tennessee Walking Horse mare was brought in by a dealer who lets Harper post photos of horses before the sale. A Facebook group member saw her picture and the dealer “no-saled” her at the auction. A few days later she as picked up and on her way to her new home. Otherwise she would have likely been taken to another auction within the week, Harper said.

There are risks involved in buying a horse — or mule in one case — without being able to thoroughly evaluate them before purchase. One member contacted Harper to keep a look out for a female mule, and one day there was one at the auction. She “ended up being a little too much for the buyer,” Harper said. Rather than give up on the mule, the owner sent her to a trainer who has a great deal of experience with mules, Harper said.

Auction horses may also come with ailments that need veterinary treatment. One Belgian mare came in with canker in all four feet. Canker is a difficult to treat infection of the frog. When left untreated it can be debilitating. Harper questioned the person who brought the mare to the auction, and was told that they simply didn't care.

A Friesian found a home when a woman “saw him on our page, changed her plans, drove to New Holland,” and made an immediate connection, Harper said. .She “Calls him ‘my heart horse,’” Harper said. .

Harper also helped a draft rescue save a mare named Autumn, from the kill buyer who had bought her at New Holland. The sale was over before the rescue volunteers saw Harper’s post. “But we knew where she went and got her back for them. Sadly, her life after this was good, but short. She had to be humanely euthanized a couple months later,” Harper said.

Harper is hoping for many more happy endings for horses through the website.

To sign up to sell or buy visit

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