By Jessica Martini
In July, the Consignors and Commercial Breeders Association announced it was endorsing the American Association of Equine Practitioners protocol on pre-sale video scopes as the organization sought to create uniformity and increase buyer confidence with the hope the technology would become more widely utilized at auctions in the U.S. Three weeks ago, Keeneland announced it was encouraging consignors to add video scopes to its repository–and veterinarians to make use of the videos–ahead of the upcoming September Yearling Sale.
The TDN sat down with CBA President Gray Lyster ahead of the Keeneland September Yearling Sale to discuss reactions to both announcements and expectations for the use of video scopes at the two-week auction, which begins Sept. 9.
TDN: The CBA announced it was endorsing the AAEP protocol on video scopes in early July. What was the initial response?
GL: There were immediately a lot of people who were cheering the cause and the trend towards, hopefully, decreasing the amount of scopes on the sales grounds. There have been a lot of people who have been quietly hoping this happens, or at least becomes an opportunity.
Overall, the reaction has been positive from both sellers and buyers. It was really nice to see an immediate reaction from a few buyers who said, 'We're going to support this initiative. I may still scope some horses, but I really like where we're going and there is no reason not to use this technology.'
There were also people who had reservations, who said, 'What the heck does this mean?' 'Can we trust these?' and 'Are we going to be forced to have to use them?' And my response to that is, 'Absolutely not.' This is about a trial period to hopefully have as many people as possible become comfortable with them. Because, frankly, as sellers we've got to know how to produce the proper videos for the buyers. So there is going to be dialogue.
TDN: Why is this initiative so important?
GL: The most important reason we are doing this is animal welfare and safety. While scoping is not an invasive horrible procedure, for some horses, repetitive scoping can trend in that direction. For some horses it's the third scope, for some horses it's the 10th scope and I've seen other horses that aren't bothered at all, no matter the number. People need to remember that many of these yearlings have never been off of the farms where they were born and the entire sales process is a stressful and nerve-racking experience. Once a horse starts 'fighting the scope,' the risk that they hurt themselves, the vet or handler increases during each subsequent scope. Consignors and sellers really don't want to force this on anyone uncomfortable with the videos, but we already know that some people are willing to use them, and if we reduce the number of scopes by even just a little, we all win.
TDN: There have been two major yearlings sales so far, the Fasig-Tipton July sale and the Fasig-Tipton Saratoga sale, which gave buyers the chance to try out the video scopes. How did they go?
GL: We were actually surprised with how well things went. We had more usage than we thought we'd get. If I was using round numbers, I would say that the majority of buyers' vets were asking to scope horses and also to review videos to have dialogue with consignors about them.
There was a smaller percentage of vets who used the videos without scoping horses, if they were satisfied with the video. And then there was another small percentage of vets who were not interested in using the videos. And those vets' opinions were respected and they were able to scope the horses.
There was also a group of vets who watched the videos and, if they had any questions, if it wasn't to their satisfaction, then they asked to scope the horse. So there were some who viewed the videos and then used that to tell whether they needed or wanted to scope the horse.
The bottom line is that have already seen a small reduction in scoping.
TDN: What percentage of horses at the July and August sales would you say had video scopes available?
GL: I would guess that at the August sale, there were close to 50% of the horses who were accompanied by videos.
TDN: And what are your expectations for the Keeneland September sale?
GL: My expectations for Keeneland September are somewhere in the same realm. I think we might see a majority of horses in Books 1 and 2 accompanied by videos. I expect less will be used in the last two-thirds of the sale, but still a significant number.
TDN: The AAEP protocol calls for horses to be scoped within 10 days of a sale. Is that an issue, logistically, for consignors?
GL: The 10 days is a suggestion from the vets through the AAEP, as well as consignors, purely for logistical reasons. I think the majority of people have hoped that the videos can be produced as close to a sale day as possible, but when we enter the ship-show-sale time frame of the Keeneland sale, it gets a little tricky to try to be producing potentially 400 videos in a morning for a horse that is selling the next morning. A few people are saying, 'I need to do these on the farm or a few days before they ship, just really to make sure, logistically, we get it right.' Or, 'My vet can't handle having to do so many on the grounds, because he has so much other work to do during the sale.'
Some of the people who have produced videos on the farm, actually said at the Saratoga sale that a vet didn't want to use the video that wasn't done on the grounds. But a couple of the popular horses started to 'maybe not scope as well,' and seeing a scope that had been done six or seven days prior, gave the vet the confidence to pass a horse. Maybe it was a scope that was done on the sales ground, but on the first day the horse shipped in, and then four days later, the day before the sale after being scoped multiple times, the horse was potentially not scoping 'as well as it could.' And having the video was reassuring to the vet.
TDN: What types of concerns or questions have you been hearing from both sellers and buyers?
GL: A concern for sellers is the cost of it–sometimes it is more than double the cost of a regular scope. And when you're dealing with a high volume of horses, or even lower-priced horses, additional expenses add up. So people wonder if it's only going to be used a little bit, is it worth the financial cost? Others are worried that it might be a little bit of a confusing process in the first year and they want to see how it plays out before they use it. But, overall sellers are really excited about it. Everybody is just a little nervous to try something new with something this important. Nobody wants to decrease buyers' confidence in any way.
I think the biggest concern for buyers is that no one wants to be forced to use these videos. As sellers, I believe that everybody understands that. The more I've spoken to people about this and the more I've relayed to people we don't want to turn people away from scoping our horses, I've realized for buyers, all this is is an extra tool. I really don't think that they lose anything. If they don't want to use the video, they do not have to. And they can continue the buying process as they have in years prior.
TDN: What sort of opportunity do the videos provide people who are interested in shopping for horses in the back walking ring just prior to selling?
GL: There may be opportunities in the back walking ring, when a horse is 30 minutes away from selling, where previously buyers had to use a scope report with a grade on them. Now they might have access to a video that might bring more confidence then just relying on a letter grade.
TDN: For the first time this year, vets will have 24-hour remote access to the Keeneland repository. What will this mean to buyers and sellers?
GL: Last year, Keeneland opened the repository online after sales hours, so vets had the opportunity to review X-rays in the evenings and first thing in the morning over the internet when the sale was not in session. Now, 24 hours a day, the vets who check in at the sale are going to be able to read X-rays and view videos online, at a moment's notice, even if the vet is not physically in the repository.
From my perspective, I'm going to encourage back-ring buyers to use this opportunity to ask their vet to review X-rays and scope videos. The buyer's vet may be at their office at a clinic, or at barn 49, but they will be able to view them on laptops or iPads wherever they are. I really think that is a huge bonus to the 'back-ring buyer.' And being an occasional back-ring buyer myself, on a lesser level, I would certainly prefer to have my vet review a video, than use a consignor's scope report with a subjective grade.
Oftentimes we are in the back ring with X-ray reports and we are having trouble explaining some of the terminology to buyers on these reports. And in the end, if the finding is a big deal or not?–it's difficult for a consignor to give that explanation to a potential buyer. Now we have the opportunity to encourage them to have a vet review those at a moment's notice, if they are uncomfortable or if it's a confusing finding. I think it's a huge advantage that their vet has quick online access.