What is it all about for a foal auction? The foals, of course. Often the selectors and auctioneers are mentioned, but do you know what a foal auction can also not do without? The handlers! They literally and figuratively run in the shadow of the dams to show the foals at their best. The more bids they receive, the longer they have to run around in the ring. The Dutch Dirkjan Leeuwis has a lot of mileage on his clock. Since 2002, he has been presenting ponies and horses and for ten years already, he has been assisting on video days and at the auction itself. A few questions for him…
This time we put the handlers in the spotlights! Like it?
“I do, it is a real good thing that people are shown behind the screens what it is that handlers do. I receive calls every week, asking if I will do the running on a video day or at an auction, but I have only one body. There will come a moment that auctions have a shortage of handlers. We all get a little older and there comes a time that you have to stop. I hope more young people get interested in the job, for they are the ones to take over. I believe it is wise for a studbook to determine who can be a good handler and then approach that person. But you have got to have the knack for it.”
What makes you and your colleagues willing to run so many laps?
“I love this work. You have to work with horses with different characters, you do not know them yet. I am a fighter and always want to win and I will do everything to get the best out of a horse. I train for it, you know, you ask a lot of your body at an auction. I do not go to a gym, but train at home, together with a pall. Back-, belly- and leg muscles and working on my condition.”
How do you feel at the end of an auction?
‘Shattered! I always need some time to recuperate. During the auction my adrenaline peaks and I keep running. You do not notice getting tired. That is very special about the body. I always hope for enough handlers at an auction, otherwise you have to work real hard to get it all done. You run short, fast rounds. You start from standstill and then open the throttle. Just when you have your breath back, because someone else has taken over your horse, you are wanted in the ring again.”
Do you have a favorite auction to work for?
‘’I like the Flanders Foal Auction. I love to work there. They select very good foals and they therefore go at good prices. They always have sufficient handlers. These have become a regular team; you know each other’s qualities. The co-operation goes very well, that is very important at an auction. The great thing about Flanders is that everyone helping at the auction is considered equal. Whether you are a handler, auctioneer or stable help. That is much appreciated and it makes me happy. We are a team together! You need everyone and cannot do without each other.”
At foal auctions you often have to lead surrogate mares that were far less handled than sport mares who produced the embryo. How is that for you as a helper?
‘’That is definitely an important aspect, because the surrogate mares are often totally green. That does not make it any easier. They often have never had a bit in their mouth. We solve that problem by fixing a rope or chain through the headcollar. Surrogate mares can run you off your feet in the ring. They are not used to hear music and find the environment very exciting. When they get panicky, you have to know what to do. It is easier to run with sport mares, but there are less and less of those as they are used for embryo transplantation.”
What are your finest moments in handling?
‘When you are presenting a horse or foal that you know beforehand to fetch a good price in the auction. At selections, it is a real honor to be the handler of a horse or pony in the champion’s round.”
What are your least positive memories?
‘’It can sometimes happen that a horse simply does not want to go. I have also had one who was extremely stressed and I really had to help it through. That is a nuisance. To relax them, I talk to them. Pat him on the neck, so that it feels that I am there for him. I do not like horses that have not been taught good manners. I had one stepping om my foot so hard that my shoe split.”
Do you have any advice for breeders wanting to visit an auction with their mare and foal?
‘When you have a surrogate mare with an auction foal, please, prepare her for the auction. Make sure that she knows a thing or two.’’
Photo: Wendy Scholten