No Perfect Horses

I’m not a fan of those posts that begin “Sorry it’s been so long since I posted -” but this will have to start that way, or you’ll all want to know where I’ve been.

The fact is, I’m spending all of my writing time on my fiction, and no time at all is being spared for blogging, and very little of it for the things that usually keep me in a horsey frame of mind: Twitter, Facebook, etc. I’m not riding at the moment, and my mornings begin considerably later, around seven thirty instead of four thirty, which is luxurious, to say the least. Instead of rushing out the door for the subway in the pre-dawn hours, I’m taking the boy to school and then spending a few hours in a cafe around the block, nursing some of the richest, blackest organic fair trade coffee a girl could hope for, while hunched over my Mac.

Last night, before falling asleep pathetically early, I did get to “listen in” on a series of tweets called “Horsechat.” If you don’t use Twitter – what are you waiting for? – then it’s hard to explain, but basically if you follow up all your remarks with #horsechat, then during the prescribed hour, you can use Twitter as your own horsey chat room. It’s sponsored by Horse Family Magazine, and it can give you a lot of different perspectives all at once – always useful in the often-isolating horse world.

What I found interesting last night was the apparent consensus on pre-purchase exams. We’ve talked about this before. I’m still as against pass/fail pre-purchase exams as I have ever been. And here’s what I have to say to novices, should you stumble upon this blog before you buy your first horse, the horse of your dreams, the horse you knew you wanted when you were five years old –

There’s no perfect horse.

There’s no perfect horse.

There’s no perfect horse.

Think of it like this: ever had a toddler? They ram into things, right? They fall down, they hit their heads, they get bruises that they never seem to feel, they do all sorts of things that make it seem like they’re out to kill themselves. Then think of a horse with that mentality, and you have a four hundred pound weanling, crashing around his field with the self-destruct instinct of a nuclear missile, or the six hundred pound yearling, slamming their growing bones and tender joints into walls, through fences, up and down pastures…

And that’s just the best-case scenario. That’s just a coddled, unbroken youngster.

Most horses have still more history than that. Especially, one hopes, if you’re a novice owner, just getting your first horse. In this case, I sincerely hope you’re buying a veteran, ten years of age or more, and you know what? He’s lived. He’s done hard work. He has arthritis. A few bone spurs. Maybe even a chip floating around in his knee or ankle that you don’t know about, and may never find out about.

A vet check tells you these things, and how to maintain them. Here are this horse’s set of problems. Here is how you will keep him going. Here is what he can’t do. Here is what he can.

Final Call had the greatest vet check of all time. The vet told the prospective buyer that vet checks were nonsensical, trotted the horse, squeezed the horse all over, and finally took a pair of hoof tongs and found a tender spot on his sole. Final Call flinched. “Fail,” the vet said. He failed the exam in the simplest pass/fail sense – he wasn’t 100% sound. The lucky thing is, no horse is. No person is. Nothing is. “This horse can do anything you want him to do,” the vet told the buyer, and she bought him.

Sound is relative. What do you want the horse for? What maintenance are you willing to put into him? And can you accept that there is no perfect horse?



Filed under Selling Horses

13 responses to “No Perfect Horses

  1. Good point. Buyers must always remember that a horse is greater than the sum of its parts.

    PS- I’m looking forward to your book. You’ll let us know when you publish, right?

  2. I agree, although I do pre-purchase exams both because they do tell me more about the horse and its history and likely future soundness, and also because I do have some deal killers. I won’t buy a horse with a bone chip, even if the horse is completely sound. There is some evidence (I believe there was a study that indicated with racehorses) that this indicates the structure of the bones may not be as strong as it should be and that a horse with a bone chip is at higher risk of incurring a subsequent catastrophic fracture, and in fact I did once buy a lovely TB mare with a bone chip in her knee who subsequently suffered a devastating, and ultimately fatal, fracture of the large pastern joint at age 10. She had a full sibling who also suffered a fatal fracture of the shoulder at age 6, so I suspect a genetic/developmental problem.

    X-rays can also show defects in bone/cartilege formation, and can show serious osteoarthritis – minor osteoarthritis consistent with a horse’s age and history, without other unsoundness, isn’t really much of an issue. I usually do x-rays of front feet, pasterns and knees, and also hocks.

    If I’m buying from a dealer or a seller I don’t know well, I also do a drug screen – this won’t catch everything but it catches a lot.

    All that said, I trust my own eye and judgment and it does depend on what the horse is being bought for and what its age is.

    • There’s a lot to like about your post and you’re the reason why novice buyers should take along an experienced trainer to help them sort out the information that the vet is giving.

      Just on the note of chips, which we all know are extremely common in jumpers of a certain age as well as racehorses, I wonder if the fracture rate is related to the practice of Cortisone to ease the pain in the joint, rather than taking the chip out. Or if the chip is a warning sign of massive weakness in the bone structure?
      Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

  3. I don’t use Twitter. (Well, I do for the other blog, which is basically on hold until the related manuscript is actually finished.) I really don’t care that much about what anyone is doing. I just cannot bring myself to be that interested.

    Well, except Othar Trygvassen, GENTLEMAN ADVENTURER! (You have to write it like that. It’s obligatory.) And even there I just wait until Studio Foglio complies them into a ‘volume.’ More to read at once.

    • How funny! I have really found that Twitter is not for everyone, but it is pretty much how I know what’s going outside my desk and the view out my window. But then, most of my life is spent observing others, so I suppose that makes sense…

      • If they’re fictional or have been dead for fifty years, I can probably start caring. By and large, people have to do something extremely interesting for me to worry about their minutae, and most normal people just don’t. And I can’t imagine posting to Twitter, either–it’s only 144 characters, so there’s nothing I can say that would be that interesting.

      • You may be surprised what you can say in a tweet.. The required length is great discipline for writing.

  4. Oh, whew. I was worried you’d got hurt. Glad you’re writing! I was still recovering from being in a start gate, thanks to you.

    • Oh sorry! I should have let you know ahead of time that was a post in the equine horror genre, hahaha!

      Nope, not hurt. Just in semi-retirement, fat and happy in my equivalent of a clover pasture: a small cafe in Brooklyn.

  5. Amen.

    Bar would never have passed a pre-purchase exam and I would never have had the experiences–mostly good–that have come along the way. And I watched a flexion test and though to myself, “If that were my knee, I’d limp off, too!”

    A very good friend of mine has a 20-year old OTTB who was deemed a lawn ornament by several vets when she got him years ago. He does Dressage and trail riding, now, and is sound and fit. Sassy, too.

    In cold weather, Bar warms up slower, but so do I for goodness sakes. (Especially now, sheesh.)

    Glad you’re writing, even if you’re not blogging.


  6. Carol

    Great Blog. Thanks!

    Pre Purchase exams are torturous for horse, buyer and seller. It’s as if all sensibility disappears once the dream horse has been presented for inspection by the one person present whom will never ride him.
    The most sensible pre purchase exam I experienced began with the veterinarian asking the buyer if they had ridden the horse several times and “do you like him”.
    Excellent questions I’d never heard asked by any other veterinarian.
    Interesting coincidence with relation to this blog is this particular vet had a lifelong involvement with TB racing and was our state vet for many years.
    Also, I’ve hugged more than one OTTB and plan to hug many more.

    • I read on a forum once that a reputable breeder had a buyer request a palpation on a weanling. On a weanling! To see if she “had ovaries.”

      I don’t know if there’s some sort of rash of ovary-free fillies being sold as breeding prospects, or what, but in the end she allowed it.

      Which just goes to show that as desperately insane the buyers seem to be, the sellers (myself included) are just as desperate to get the sale.

      Carol, the most sensible vets I have ever known have worked in the racing industry, either at the state level or traveling the training centers and breeding farms. It is the only equine industry where it is admitted that practicality and economics are the most important factors in the equation. For better or for worse, you will get unsentimental advice from a racehorse vet.

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