Professional Opinions

Everyone I talked to this year about buying a horse has been dead set on vet checks.

I’m fascinated by this development because I haven’t done a vet check on a horse in years. I think I’ve done just one vet check on a horse, in fact, and it wasn’t even me, it was my mother… and it wasn’t even a pre-purchase, we already had the horse.

I still have the exam sheet from that day. I was thirteen and holding the leadrope of my first Thoroughbred. He was five and barely recovered from abandonment. His coat was still stark and glossless, with great bald patches across his hindquarters, where rain rot – which would trouble him his entire life – had eaten away the hair. He was, of course, beautiful. He was Bucephalus. I’d have given him a marble feed trough if I could’ve. And he was mine, mine, mine.

The exam sheet says, “Over at knee, past splint/tendon injury; cold. Suitable for lower-level hunter/jumper work.”

Rillo jumping, Canterbury

Rillo, my lower-level hunter/jumper, finding his own way.

I furrowed my brow when I read this. “What do you mean by lower-level?” I asked suspiciously.

“Oh, you know, schooling shows and things,” he said dismissively. He didn’t have the best bedside manner and didn’t understand, or have time for, the puissance dreams of young girls and their horses. He threw his things back in the truck and left.

I stuck it to him and his lower-level. Rillo jumped everything, jumped the rafters, jumped the tops of the standards, jumped prelim and mini prixs and fallen trees in the woods. He jumped picnic tables. He jumped round bales. He picked his own spots and I went with him. My trainer said I’d flip him one day with a long spot to a short combination. But there was no spot too sticky for Rillo. Lower-level. I still get a chuckle when I read that.

After that, I’d go through horses one after the other, picking them up from racehorse trainers, or odd backyards, reschooling them, sending them on their way. My vet check was running my hands down their legs, pressing at their suspensories, rapping at their hooves. I worked at a few big sporthorse barns, and watched six-figure horses get three-hour pre-purchases, digital X-rays, the vet explaining each little black blemish in detail to the worried investor, while the trainer stood back and frowned.Ā I learned that every horse carries their history in their joints and their forelegs, in their pelvis and their spine… every bad step and hard landing is a permanent memory etched into their delicate-iron bodies.

Back to the present day, and Final Call, the coldest and cleanest of cold clean legs, standing before me, and I watched Elizabeth drive away and texted my husband: She’s going to have the vet out first.


What if he doesn’t pass the flexion?

Why wouldn’t he?

Some horses don’t. It’s very hard to pass.

Fine. He’s lame. We’ll put him down.

Oh hahahaha.

Stop worrying.

Stop worrying.

When’s the last time you stopped worrying, waiting for the vet?

Of course, the vet check, as already described, was more like a vastly entertaining social visit from someone’s eccentric uncle. The only thing missing was a few beers and possibly a game of darts.

And I much preferred the way he described the horse’s potential – he sounded to me like a man who knew Thoroughbreds. “This horse could jump anything. This horse could jump four, five feet. The only thing he won’t do, is sort cattle.”

We’ll forgive him that. I mean, he probably could sort cattle. But I think he’ll prefer jumping. Lower-level or upper.



Filed under Final Call, Selling Horses

30 responses to “Professional Opinions

  1. Tracy Cookman

    Thank you! I recently got some bad news about my beloved OTTBs feet which left me very sad and disappointed. I didn’t want to give up on him just yet even though the general consensus is that I should. I needed some encouragement and your sticking it to the bedside mannerless vet did the trick!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thoroughbred feet are so tough. And not like, tough in a good way. Tough as in, they’ll make you cry.

      We’ve been through it with hooves. If you want to share, go for it. This community will offer you all kinds of advice.

      Good luck.

  2. Kat

    Wow! Love the photo of Rillo!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thank you! I love this picture because he was telling me, “You should have listened to me!” I was scared of the fence – this was our Return To Eventing in 2001, after a few years poking around Florida aimlessly (easy to do) – and he had a way of hesitating before a big fence, I suppose just to size it up. For some reason I misinterpreted his hesitation and sat back. He responded with that mega back-cracking leap. I think I could photo-shop my legs into the correct position, but why mess with glory – we survived, we pinned, it was a good day šŸ™‚

      • Karl

        Could -really- have doctored the photo to make yourself look pretty šŸ˜‰ I think there’s just a little to much journalist in your blood….

        Thanks for the fantastic content!

        It was all I could do to keep from flying down to bring Final Call back to Minnesota to hunt with the Long Lake Hounds.

        (Just another male lurker.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Hahahah Oh my gosh! You male lurkers! To make myself look pretty? Oh – you must mean that in an equitation sense. I have no equitation, just ask GoLightly. She has very outspoken opinions on my tragic personal riding style. I do have a nice seat, if I do say so myself.

        That picture is also pre-racehorse days, before I really learned how to sit back and save my life when I ride. Ah, fearless teenage days…

        Thanks for the comment; thanks for joining the community šŸ™‚

      • blob

        Photo shopping legs into place sounds awfully complicated.

        I go very back and forth about position and how strongly I feel about.

        Regardless of what end of the spectrum I’m on mentally, my position is never very good. Meh.

        And isn’t the main point of jumping position to stay on and not interfere with the horse? Looks like you’re doing a pretty damn good job of both.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        I miss the good old days when all you were expected to do was throw your heart over the fence and follow over. Don’t know where all this “Equitation” stuff came from. My heroes are all the old black-and-white photos of people in various states of disarray over six foot fences. Chronicle of the Horse had a fantastic piece on sidesaddle puissance recently that will put your heart in your throat.

  3. Did you have any issues with his legs, small or otherwise? I’m guessing nothing that made you frown.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Nothing at all. I mean, when I took on the horse, I was prepared to be picky. I was thinking, “I’ll look at him, but if I feel like I can ride an OTTB okay again, I can wait for the right opportunity.” And then, of course, there was no hesitation, in any way, from soundness to mind. His legs were one hundred percent.

      It’s just the waiting game that had me so completely on edge. When I like a horse, I put the horse on the trailer and go home. I’m always prepared for the horse I want to be snapped up immediately, and I’m not taking any chances!

      But I also assume that everyone wants everything that I want. Everything from concert tickets to horses.. I assume the worst until it’s mine and in my hands!

      • Blob

        That seems like the safest way to go. I have a tendency to second guess those types of decisions. I shouldn’t. I always regret it later.

        (by the way, I keep finding various shout outs to your blog. Seems like everyone’s catching on to what a great blog this is!)

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Wow really? I have to say that kind of freaks me out a little šŸ™‚ In a good way.

        Anyway, back to buying horses, it’s kind of the mentality you go to a Thoroughbred auction with. You have all the stats on the horses you are interested in, you go and see them in person, you have the option to have a vet come and check them, but if you’re hoping to get them for bottom dollar, it’s kind of an unreasonable expense, and then your trailer is there and you’re expected to take possession of the horse and get it out of there by the end of the day. Of course the sellers will work with you, but that’s the official line. I’ve always had that mentality about horses. And records. And used books. If you like it, grab it.

        But I don’t usually work in the six figure range either….

  4. Barb

    You bet he will! Although I suspect sorting alligators may be more to his liking! Really great pic!

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Haha, Rillo could shove a few cows around. That’s what he was doing when I met him, actually. Show ’em, Final Call!

  5. I do vet checks because I don’t have x-ray eyes. I do x-rays of front feet and pasterns and of anything else that looks suspicious. I think flexion tests are pretty worthless, and most vets don’t really know much about soreness or lameness unless it’s in the joints (and all most of them know how to do to fix soreness/lameness issues is joint injections, which can often mask a problem or even make it worse). I agree that the most valuable thing is using your own eyes and hands, if you’ve got the feel and experience for it.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      I can think of instances where I’d use X-rays, I’ve just never felt the need. I often feel like the general practitioner type vets don’t understand lamenesses, as you say, and then some of the sporthorse specialists overdo it with digital imaging and crazy therapies and of course the injections. I had a great vet once in Ocala – she had gone to school in England and I wonder if that had anything to do with her practicality. Lameness exams with her with like mini-seminars on conformation and anatomy. You don’t get that nearly often enough.

      The people I have talked to this year cited lack of experience as a reason for getting a vet check. I can understand that. But I think people underestimate themselves sometimes, too. If you’ve been handling and grooming for a while, practice feeling legs and temperatures. Get used to it. Lamenesses give themselves away through heat most of the time.

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        BTW, Kate, that last suggestion isn’t aimed at you. I know you know what you’re doing šŸ™‚ It’s just a general statement. Running hands down legs should be a daily practice, if not a thrice-daily practice, and I’m surprised by how many grooms who don’t do this regularly, or who can’t feel heat.

  6. blob

    That really is a great picture of you and Rillo. He sounds pretty amazing.

    We never did vet checks on any OTTBs, granted we got most of them at auctions. But even the ones we didn’t, we never did vet checks on. With the exception of a few who never really stayed sound, it worked out ok. And even those might have passed that initial vet check for all we know.

    But yeah, I saw plenty of those long vet checks for 6 figure horses. But if I was spending that much money on a horse, I’d probably get 4-5 opinions! I do know people who bought horses despite failing vet check, I think as long as they knew what they were getting into.

    I guess the fear is always that you’ll end up spending everything on vet bills and get stuck with some chronic problem. But vet check or no vet check that can happen after one playful day in the pasture.

    They’re just so damn fragile.

    And sigh, yes, the feet…

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Rillo was the game-changer, the life-changer, and I have reams of writing on him which will one day make it into a book, I’m sure. No matter where I turned, Rillo was waiting.

      Last night we were talking to some friends and my son announced that a horse had stepped on his toe when he was a baby. “Wow,” the man said, acting deeply impressed.

      “Tell him where you were standing,” I said.

      “Where?” Cal asked innocently.

      “You were standing directly under Rillo’s stomach,” I informed him. “And somehow, only your toe got stepped on?”

      That’s the kind of horse he was.

      With vet checks on six figure horses – do they ever really “pass” the vet? These horses have problems that need managed – the sixteen-year-old three star horse, the ten-year-old equitation horse – any horse that’s been working steadily, whether pushed or not, is going to have something that needs “managed.” I mean, event horses are just as regularly on “lay-up” as racehorses, it seems. There’s always some little suspensory problem that you’re nursing along, or an old bone chip that needs removed, or just nagging degenerative disease in the hocks. The question is (or should be) not “Is this horse one hundred percent sound?” but “What do I do to keep this horse going?”

      And they’re just like people, in that respect. I have certain things I have to do to keep myself going. I have an ankle that has to be babied, and I have a knee that threatens to do unpleasant things if I bend it and straighten it too quickly after I’ve been riding hard. Anything that anyone does leaves behind traces, I suppose.

  7. Maybe Final Call just shouldn’t sort lower-level cattle:)

    The upper-levels are more his style, anyway.

    great post!

    We carry our histories in our bodies, too..

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Snap, creak, groooooooooan.

      Morning in the horsewoman’s house.

      Good morning! (CRACK!) No, that didn’t hurt, thank you.

      To the Glory, GoLightly! Thank you. He only wants pedigreed cattle. These petty Herefords mean nothing to him.

      • Lyndsey

        I think when you’re a broke teenager who’s parents can’t afford to have a lame horse that you can’t ride, vet checks are amazing, as long as you’re working with a very knowledgeable vet. My first horse I took for a two weeks trial and he came up lame after whatever medicine they had him on wore off, and the vet confirmed that whatever he had would only get worse. As a kid, with no money, it would have been pointless to invest that much money in a horse trying to keep him lame that I probably couldn’t even ride. So in that instance, vet checking saved my life…

        …because instead I got the best horse in the world, who I had zero problems until I had to put him down. In fact, he kind of looks like Rillo in the coloring and body type. šŸ™‚

        But if I had plenty of money or room to keep horses, then I probably wouldn’t worry so much about vet checks.

        But that is a fantastic picture of Rillo. What a jump!!!

      • Natalie Keller Reinert

        Lyndsey –

        What was the horse on, if you don’t mind sharing?

        I hear stories until it seems like there’s nothing for sale out there but drugged up horses on Ace and Bute, but I myself haven’t had that problem.

        I don’t know how people do it. I mean, there’s Google, people. If I sold a lemon, all someone has to do is type that I’m selling lemons, or lame horses, or crazed psycho murdering horses, and then when someone types my name into Google (which people do all the time, apparently, and it really creeps me out!) they’ll get two things: they’ll get Retired Racehorse, and they’ll get something about selling crap horses. That is not a reputation hit I can afford to take! And I don’t intend to buy/sell horses anymore, either – but still, a girl has to have credibility. How can professional trainers, who rely upon buying/selling, get away with this sort of thing in the digital age?

  8. sue

    Love your sense of humor Natalie along with your obvious love for and deep knowledge of thoroughbreds….

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thank you Sue, as always, thanks for reading, my friend… I do adore them, and they help me keep my sense of humor!

  9. Portia Winters

    Same here I have never had a vet check but that could be because I get all my OTTBS or young Tb’s from someone free. The 14 yr old I have talked about before that raced for 10 yrs, is sound. If I had a vet check done on him he wouldn’t be sound. Get the
    drift? I have had a lot of luck I guess now I have always told my clients if spending alot of money it is better to get vet checks but to understand the vet is not there to pass or fail a horse but to give you the facts. An older horse with miles is going to have issues but can they be managed and can you live with them. A younger horse may not have those issues but you will have to spend time and money training so I think it evens out in the end. Also some horses (mine) are tough and conformation be D_____! As far as he is concerned the books and vets do not know what they are talking about when they say he should not stay sound with those feet and legs. LOL

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Well said, Portia. No horse will “pass” in the true pass/fail sense of the word. I suppose there is a price threshold there, something you’d pay for an older, “made” horse, that would necessitate a vet check. I have simply never made it to that point!

      I have found too that even two and three year olds, unbroken and at pasture, can give themselves some calcification in their hocks just from foolishness at a young age.

      I will admit this: If I were buying into a racehorse for racing purposes and paying top dollar, I’d want to see some X-rays.

      Re: conformation faults- check out Pippa Funnell’s book on training young horses. She does a conformation overview of her big horses, and Sir Barnaby looks like a puzzle put together by a toddler – he is simply priceless.

      For that matter, go back and watch St Trinians galloping in the Vanity Handicap. I know they have speculated that she was floated wide on the final turn in order to make Zenyatta take the turn too wide. But that mare double paddles and I’m not sure how she runs at all, let alone at the highest levels of the sport. You’d never, in a million years, consider her for a sporthorse – you’d assume she’d go lame immediately. But sometimes horses really make the most of their conformation faults.

  10. Very funny description of the eccentric uncle/vet visit, and I enjoyed the upbeat tone and common sense.

    • Natalie Keller Reinert

      Thank you, Susan. Those are three things I strive for – subtle comedy, upbeat tone, and common sense. Seriously, that makes me very happy!

      If I ever start using a blog as an outlet to snark at other people, bemoan the state of the world, or tell you how much my life sucks, please do me a favor and stop reading it. I’ll get the picture when my stats drop off a cliff. No one needs more negativity.

  11. Great piece, and I loved the photo! We have 3 OTTB’s, none of which received a vet check. Granted, I trusted my partner John (a more experienced horseman than I), but he was confident about all of them: Harley has big knees–old and cold after knee surger, Rolex is sounds as a dollar, and Ruffy, well, he knew she was lame, but she was free with Rolex. The trainer just wanted to unload her and he couldn’t resist her sweet face. Since then, with good diet, and an excellent farrier–Ruffy’s grown a lot of hoof and remains sound. So much for expensive vet checks, I guess. I also 2nd your comment of running your hands down their legs. Our horses are out 24/7 except in winter–you never know what mayhem they may stir up, all the more reason to check them out!

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