When we visit Amish Indiana, it’s often for a long weekend. If I’m there on a Friday morning, any time of year, I like to watch the horse auction. The Shipshewana Auction building is on the main north-south street in town (Route 5). Every Friday is horse auction day.
You enter the auction pit from the upper level, and below you are wooden platforms and a few scattered chairs. The first thing you notice is the smell! Horse auctions are not for the squeamish—it does smell like a barn. The crowd is mostly male and about half Amish, half “English” on a typical Friday morning. I learned how easy it is to place a bid one morning when I swatted at a fly and saw the auctioneer point at me and take my “bid.” I frantically started motioning “No, no!” and the auctioneer just laughed and remarked (over the microphone), “Looks like the lady was just swatting a fly!” Tack (harnesses, etc.) is auctioned off first, and then later in the morning, the horses—the big draft horses, the relatively smaller buggy horses, and the ponies.
Most of the draft horses used for field work are Belgians; two of them are shown here, hitched up for a day of work. They are huge animals, but very gentle. I asked an Amish friend one time, why Belgians instead of Clydesdales? He said, “We like the way the Belgians look.” The Percheron is also used; I saw a Percheron wall calendar in the kitchen of one Amishman who prefers that breed.
The buggy horses are mostly quarter horses and mostly brown. I was surprised to learn that many of them come from Canada. Racehorses which are not fast enough to compete on the race track may end up going south to Indiana and becoming Amish buggy horses. Horseback riding is rare there, though, although one of my Amish friends used to enjoy it when she was younger, before she married.
Ponies are common on the farms and are used with little pony carts. It’s a great way for Amish children to learn the horse-and-buggy skills they will need as adults. It also can be their transportation to and from school. My niece Be used to love riding around in a pony cart with the children of my Amish friends.
Anyway, getting back to the horse auction:
The main entrance is on the south side, and there is a sign there that says “no photographs.” This is because of the many Amishmen who attend the auction. (The Amish don’t like to have their photograph taken, considering a photograph to be a “graven image” and therefore a violation of the Second Commandment.) But I stopped by after the auction one day and asked if I could take a picture of the auction pit, and the auctioneers had no problem with that.
Side doors lead to catwalks from which you can wander across the “off-stage areas” from up above and look down at the animals yet to be sold. One Friday morning while wandering around back there, a friend and I saw a pen of horses who looked especially old, tired, and lame. We asked a man about it, and he said, “Oh, that’s the kill pen.” My tenderhearted friend turned quite pale—but farm animals can outlive their usefulness.