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Koen Olaerts: “Auctions are an indispensable part of the horse business”

For over twenty years now, auctioneer Koen Olaerts has played an important role at many live auctions in Europe. Although he will always give the credits to the organizing auctions itself, it’s undeniable that the Belgian horseman creates a special atmosphere which has already encouraged many people to raise their hands. After all those years, Koen still enjoys his job to the fullest and sees auctions as an indispensable part of the horse business.

Koen Olaerts was raised at a farm and has always been surrounded by horses. “My dad owned some horses and as a little boy it was my dream to earn a living with horses. Especially the trading part, always caught my interest. And luckily, I succeeded in that.” Koen’s days are filled with horses, he attends many competitions, auctions and spots horses at stables and breeders. “I really like to be on the road from early morning until late night. To find the right horses and clients is what I enjoy the most. The trading has changed a lot over the years, nowadays you really must do your homework at the computer beforehand. The results are transparent and very important when you want to sell a horse, most clients from abroad first ask for the track record and videos before they want to try a horse. As a horse dealer, you need to be aware of how things work and what the clients ask for. So, although the traditional trading still fulfills me the most, you need to deal with all the developments and changes. And I am always open to new initiatives. That’s also why I like the Barnbridge auction platform. It gives a perfect overview of all auctions and especially for the people who want to invest in foals and horses, it is a very valuable tool. You can easily compare and filter horses and auctions.”

Auctions and evolution
Since around 2000, Koen Olaerts is inextricably linked with auctions. “It was more or less by accident that I made my debut as an auctioneer. Michel Spaas was organizing the BWP Horse Auction Belgium and their auctioneer cancelled at the last moment. We were drinking beers at the bar, you know how it goes, and in a slightly overconfident mood I agreed to replace him. That was the first of many auctions and they have become an indispensable part of the horse trading. I think around 85 percent of all foals in Belgium and the Netherlands are nowadays sold through an auction. Besides that, there is still some traditional trading and through advertising on the internet. I think this will always be the case. Partly due to the Covid, the number of online auctions has increased a lot. Nowadays, there are auctions for all segments: high, medium and low.” Despite the enormous increase in auctions, Koen is involved as an auctioneer in less auctions than before. “In my peak years I did about twenty auctions, which is now about half. I am totally fine with that and wouldn’t like to see it any other way. When we started, we only had Dirk Zagers and me to do the auctions in and around Belgium. Now we have a new generation of auctioneers with people like Frederik De Backer, Chris de Heer and Louis De Cleene. I absolutely enjoy my job as an auctioneer, but it feels like I am in the autumn of my career. I just go with the flow and enjoy everything that comes across.”

Create the atmosphere
This seasons main auctions for Koen Olaerts are the Dutch Sport Horse Sales and the Limburg Foal Auction, both organized by the Hendrix family. “Those are two totally different auctions, but both are challenging in their own way. I am always looking forward to the auctions and don’t prepare in any special way. Until a few years ago, there were always over a hundred foals in the Limburg Foal Auction, both dressage and show jumping bred. That was like a marathon! Nowadays they offer only show jumping bred foals, but that still brings high numbers. As an auctioneer, you must try to get the attention of people by creating a good atmosphere, entertainment and, at least in my case, approaching the people in different languages. But when you have to sell over 80 or even 100 foals, it’s impossible to have the crowd’s attention all the time. That’s something you need to accept. Not every auctioneer is very keen on doing auctions with a lot of foals. I have a lot of interest in breeding myself, so for me it’s always something I look forward to.” But Koen, you seem to be able to create a good atmosphere in every situation, whether it’s a two- or a ten-hour auction. What is your secret? “The success of an auction all stands or falls with the preparation of the organization. They need to make an extra effort to select the right foals or horses as well as attracting the best clients. That’s also one thing I like in working for the aforementioned auctions, since the Hendrix family always does their homework well. When the preparation is good, my job is pretty easy.”

The right horses and clients

Since there are so many auctions, it’s a challenge for them to be able to select the best foals or horses and draw the attention of an international network of buyers. “Especially in this time, it is really important that an auction can stand out and distinguish itself from the rest. Your auction brand has to be strong and of course a long list of references and happy buyers contribute to that.” When all the preparations are done well, it’s your job to put the icing on a cake as an auctioneer. How do you prepare yourself? “For me it’s not the most important thing to know if there is offspring of -for example- Comme Il Faut or Diamant de Semilly in the auction. Bloodlines are one thing, but my job is more to keep the crowd involved and of course to feel if a bidding is real or fake. That comes with a lot of experience. I dare to say that I have a special sense for that, after doing so many auctions. You will always see breeders trying to push prices to higher levels, but eventually it’s in everyone’s interest that the foal or horse gets sold, that’s why you need to feel in what kind of game you are involved. Of course, it would be an illusion to think there are never games being played at an auction. That’s literally part of the game, but if you gamble you can lose or win. I enjoy the thrill that auctions bring”, concludes Koen Olaerts.

In collaboration with Koen, we are offering our readers the chance to find the best foals and horses on Barnbridge with a 50% discount on a membership. Enter koen50 at the sign-up process to claim your offer. Click to become a Barnbridge-member.

*The promo-code is only valid for two weeks after the publication of this article.

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