I think attending low level auctions helps to keep things realistic. Some people that that nothing but junk goes through auctions, and sometimes they are right. Some people think that nothing but fancy horses goes through, and sometimes they too are right. I have seen very very nice horses pass through the sale barns. They appear to be sound, young, nice looking horses. I have also seen very lame or very dangerous horses. When you think of the large variety of horses that pass through auctions, and how many will pass through, you begin to realize that the horse slaughter issue is a problem that can't be fixed by lots of luvs and cuddles.
I would NEVER suggest that someone purchase a horse at an auction unless they really knew what they were doing, it's easy to get something rank or lame. I think that "pasture pets" are your best bet, nobody's been on its back to muck it up in the mind or make it lame. If you're looking for an OTTB those show up quite a bit as well, but you don't have the benefit of a PPE. You do have the upper hand because the folks at Rushville don't take kindly to TBs. Having papers doesn't really mean much. They do like palominos, paints, and pretty much anything gaited no matter how ugly it is.
The price for horses has been about the same, closure of plants in the US has not reduced the number of horses or the prices by much. At Rushville anything going to slaughter aways goes to the auction house owner under the same number each week. If you're there and something pulls on your heartstrings you can always wait and see if someone in the crowd buys it, or if #7 does, then you can buy it (for an additional fee of course) later.
This year was a very small sale and most of the horses were in good condition considering the weather. I managed to take some pictures and get the prices so here is what I saw.
Bay 12yo Paso Fino mare, grumpy next to other horses. Very rideable but lots of go $135
16 hand Chestnut OTTB 10yo ridden western, very ribby, $50 to the killer
Black 14hand pony mare 7yo $125 to the killer
15yo Bay Gelding enormous ugly head but had a nice head set and lope, someone finished him out well $170
5yo 10 hand paint pony (almost mini sized). Could not bear weight on one hind leg, someone said he'd been kicked by the paso mare. $20 to someone who felt sorry for him
Nice looking palomino gelding, sold out back under the table for $750
6yo paint mare, very flashy, nice looking horse. Ridden in $140
Welsh type bay pony gelding probably a "medium" , last horse in, broke to ride $40 to the killer
4yo registered halflinger mare (Mr J RH as the sire?), did not ride but said to be green broke to drive double. Owned by an older man who said she was too green. Very nice sport horse type mare. Had been in shoes all around but had one remaining shoe on one hind foot. $400