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Tom Hodgson taking in the sights and sounds of the Calgary Stampede (Racing Post).


The UK’s famous racing newspaper the Racing Post interviewed one of South Africa’s best up and coming auctioneers Tom Hodgson, who is a protege of SA’s renowned thoroughbred auctioneer Andrew Miller. 

Racing Post

‘It was like having to learn a new language’ – my bid to win an international auctioneer championship

Durban-based Tom Hodgson, an aspiring young thoroughbred auctioneer, represented South Africa on the international stage when he qualified for a competition at last month’s Calgary Stampede, a huge festival held in Canada every year.
My desire to pursue a career in auctioneering was first ignited when I returned to work at home on the farm with my father after my studies. We had attended many auctions together and hosted them ourselves, but it was only when my father suggested that it could be a prospective career for me that I gave it further thought.
We decided that if I was going to make a go of it then it would be best to attain some formal training and education so, in 2019, I attended the Missouri Auction School in the United States. Upon my return to South Africa, the Covid-19 pandemic hit and any aspiration of hitting the ground running fell by the wayside.
I later reached out to renowned South African thoroughbred auctioneer Andrew Miller,  who took me under his wing and I began to shadow him at stud livestock and thoroughbred sales, later bid-spotting for him. During this time I also joined In2Assets Properties, a company that specialises in the sale of commercial, industrial, and agricultural property by auction, where Andrew is a director and shareholder.
Auctioneering is a niche market and there are few opportunities to break into the space. So in order to grow as an auctioneer and generate awareness about myself, my father elbowed me in the direction of the South African Young Livestock Auctioneers Championship. I was fortunate enough to progress through the preliminary rounds and ultimately win the finals. This, through the kind sponsorship of Plaas Media and Toyota South Africa, afforded me entry into the International Livestock Auctioneering Competition hosted at the Calgary Stampede in Canada.
Tom Hodgson (left) on spotting duty at this year’s Cape Premier Yearling Sale (Credit: Wayne Marks)
Excitement quickly turned to nerves as I was now competing against some of the very best and established livestock auctioneers in the world. The Calgary Stampede is something like I’ve never seen before, the scale and extent of the event is truly remarkable. Over a million people go through the gates, with everything from shopping, theme parks, live music concerts, food stalls, agricultural shows and exhibitions, world-class rodeos and agricultural competitions. The Calgary Stampede is branded as the greatest outdoor show in the world, and it was certainly something to experience.
The day of the competition arrived and all the contestants jumped on a bus for the one-hour trip north of Calgary to a small town called Olds. It was here at the Olds Auction Mart that the competition took place, with nearly 40 competitors collectively selling more than 1,500 head of cattle in a live auction.
The Canadian and American way of selling cattle is very different to anything I am accustomed to. As the auctioneer, you are selling on a weight to dollar ratio, for example $3.65 per pound, which proved tricky at times, being more familiar with the metric system back home.
Additionally, the number you call as the auctioneer is the number you are asking for. I, as with most South African, Australian and British auctioneers, am more accustomed to announcing the number we have; it was like having to learn a new language. I had to very hastily learn the bidding styles and hand signals of bidders while they either halved or quartered the cent.
This, coupled with the nerves associated with a competition, was certainly a challenging experience. But, after watching the three contestants before me go, I told myself to just have fun, enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience, and take away as much as possible.
Contestants were tasked with selling six lots. Each was comprised of different types and quantity of cattle, from steers and heifers to cows. We were judged according to various different categories, which included appearance and presentation, knowledge of product, clarity and chant, ability to source and retain a bid, to name but a few.
Overall, the standard of competition was very high and, outside of the competition space, it was fantastic to sit and watch some of the very best do what they do best. Unfortunately I was not able to make it into the final top ten, a live auction held the following day in the Stampede Park for a $10,000 prize, but it was an experience I will never forget for all the right reasons.
It’s funny how things pan out, as a desire to become a cattle auctioneer has resulted in an opportunity in the thoroughbred racehorse industry. As Andrew said to me, there is a massive difference between an auctioneer and a number caller, so understanding the nuances and principles of selling is critical. Remain hungry for it and remain humble. You can and must learn pedigrees and bloodlines, everyone must, but the art of professional auctioneering is a specialised skill that takes time to perfect.
I hope that I am making progress in this respect and this is why I entered the competition – to test myself against some of the very best. Regardless, I continue to spend my time practising and learning. I’m chanting every day in the shower and in the car and I spend a tremendous amount of time learning different pedigrees.
My wife has learnt to just hit the mute button because, in her words, “it’s relentless”. You can never know too much but I’m going to make a good go of trying to learn as much as I can.
I have been extremely fortunate along the way, with individuals in the racing space who have been very kind and instrumental in my development. South African racing legend Michael Roberts has spent hours with me at sales and at his yard, looking at horses and discussing pedigrees and type. The team at Cape Racing have shown tremendous faith in me and continue to present opportunities for me to sell, Grant Knowles and John Koster from the industry have been encouraging and generous, while none of this would be possible without Andrew’s guidance.

My next auction is in October at the Cape Racing Ready to Run Sale, which I’m really looking forward to. I’m hoping to employ what I’ve taken away from my experience at the competition and hopefully I will continue to grow as an auctioneer.