The largest animal auction east of the Mississippi River is banning photography and videography on its grounds following complaints from horse owners and buyers who are worried about footage showing up on social media.
The move by New Holland Sales Stables, whose auctions are routinely staked out by animal welfare advocates, is being portrayed by its owner as a clash between the new world and old, between technology and a culture that shuns much of it.
“We have a lot of Amish that come to the sale, and they don't like their pictures taken to begin with,” said Ryan Kolb, part owner of the sprawling operation on West Fulton Street in New Holland.
But critics are raising questions about the new policy and wondering if it is in response to the recent death of a horse at the auction and the posting of video footage on social media.
Others who work to rescue horses from being purchased by meat buyers, often termed “kill buyers,” say the ban on photos will hinder their efforts to post images to the web and quickly find other, more humane buyers.
“I have people that want me to look for specific things in horses at auction. I'm assuming this means we can't even give them info about a horse that may fit their wants/needs..?” Kaley Pannone, who attends the auction and posts information on rescue sites, wrote on Facebook.
Kolb defended the policy and said it is not an attempt to control who buys horses. “We're an auction company. We want to get the best prices," Kolb said.
He said the new rule is merely an attempt to address concerns from those who buy and sell horses there. “During the last two months, the entire sale was getting videoed and put online,” Kolb said. “We got tons of complaints from sellers and buyers who didn’t want their horses’ photos posted online.”
The policy will become official as soon as signs are made and posted.
Attorney Randall Wenger, an expert in constitutional law, said he does not see any legal problems with the policy because the auction is private property.
“Constitutional law deals with what limits government can place on us as citizens,” he said. “Those limits on government don't apply the same way to private entities. For instance, our right to free speech doesn't mean we have the right to hold signs on private property.”
Kolb said the auction company has always discouraged photography out of deference to the Amish. He said the number of complaints over the past two months, however, has forced the auction company to make it a policy.
“It's their horse they're putting up for sale,” Kolb said. “They have a right to their privacy.”
The policy comes in the wake of several disturbing events at the auction. Kolb said auction officials will direct violators to leave the premises if they do not follow the rules.
In late 2016, three mutilated horses were found there, and a veterinarian who works for the auction said a caustic substance such as acid was used to obliterate identifying tattoos on the inner lips of the thoroughbreds.
In perhaps the most sensational case of cruelty, a gray mare named Lily was abandoned at the auction last March undernourished, half-blind and stained with marks from what veterinarians said were more than 125 shots from a paintball gun.
Kolb declined to speak about specific cases of neglected and abused horses that have shown up at his auction. But he said the auction strongly discourages owners from bringing sick or injured horses there.
“We have a vet here and he checks the horses, but we get our hands tied behind our back if someone just drops one here,” he said.
In a discussion of the policy on Facebook, Amanda Manown wrote: “I'm not sure but if that is what they want I will abide by it. I have a feeling that New Holland is tired of dealing with the fallout of those situations on social media. Maybe a few bad eggs ruined it for everyone else.”
Begun in 1923, the sales stable is the largest animal auction by volume east of the Mississippi, according to operators. Live auctions of goats, sheep, cattle and horses are held Mondays and Thursdays.