Buying Horses and the Faults You Can Live With

So, what are some of the problems you can live with?

And why do some people seem to think that horses should be perfect?

A Twitter friend brings up an excellent question: if people accept that houses will have faults, or that used cars will have faults, why do they think that horses, which are living breathing moving things after all, will be any different?

I suggested, at first glance, that this was an affliction of mature adults buying horses for the first time, whether for themselves or for their children: they grew up around houses that needed repairs, or cars that were going into the shop, so they understand, from the time they’re very young, that none of these things are perfect. Whereas they are new to horses, and understand only that they are expensive, possibly ridiculously so, and expect that something that costs tens of thousands of dollars just to buy, let alone thousands per month to keep (in many cases), will have to be perfect to justify the cost.

Rillo jumping, Canterbury

A laundry list of faults, but plenty of heart to trump them all.

To which my Twitter friend wisely replied, how does that explain the veteran trainer with the two-hour vet exam, failing a horse for a bad flexion test?

I don’t have an answer.

As for the faults you can live with, what have you struggled with, or never even noticed after the first day?

My first OTTB had an old bow (high and cold), bucked shins, a splint, a large bump on the upper part of a hind cannon bone, one knee that was larger than the other, flat feet, and was very over at the knee.

Of these faults, the only thing that ever troubled him were his flat feet (they would literally be the death of him, fifteen years later).

His knees were fascinating; as a youngster, he looked like his knees were literally set on the front part of his cannon bones. As he grew older and his skeleton matured and settled, his cannon bones seemed to lean forward, as if his knees were correct and his lower legs were perpetually in a slight crouch.

We never once worried about this fault – it’s widely accepted that back at the knee, “calf-kneed” horses are no-no’s, but the over at the knee horse is frequently sound, a pretty mover, and, as Jimmy Wofford wrote in Training the Three-Day Event Horse and Rider, they seem to be better than average jumpers. We kept an eye on his tendons for soreness, as you would with any horse, and at the height of his jumping life, a furazone sweat would take any tenderness out. I might add that this attitude towards knees is as pervasive in the racing world as it is in the sport world – it’s as close a thing to as an accepted fact as you will get with horse people.

I have had plenty of other bumpy-legged horses over the years. It’s always been a question of, “What is this horse’s problem, and how can it be managed?” rather than “Gosh I hope this horse doesn’t have any problems.” That latter statement, we know, isn’t in the realm of reality.

What faults can you live with? And what faults have you fought against to keep a horse sound?



Filed under Selling Horses

17 responses to “Buying Horses and the Faults You Can Live With

  1. I care a lot about foot structure, leg structure – particularly good bone and substance – and overall balance/athleticism. Sometime bad feet can be greatly improved with good nutrition and farrier care, and sometimes they’re just bad. I’ve had problems with horses with overly long pasterns. But not too short and upright either – I really want nice feet, a nice pastern angle, and good leg placement – how the horse stands at rest. I like a good overstep at the walk. Just good overall proportions, I guess. Old, cold injuries and lumps and bumps don’t bother me that much so long as they don’t affect the horse’s way of going.

    I’m actually less worried about behavioral/training issues as those can almost always be remedied, provided the horse has the body and mind to do what you want. I also would like a horse that is sane and intelligent.

    I keep my horses permanently when I get them, so I do do prepurchase exams including x-rays. Minor issues don’t bother me much. I also do a tox screen if I have any doubts about whether the horse might have been “medicated” to make it show better or pass a vet exam.

    • I’m intrigued by the tox screen. I’ve never heard of anyone doing that before. Care to go into any more detail – what it entails, how long results take, etc?
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    • Emily

      Thank you for that information. I may be OK with several old and cold injuries, but I want to see the horse either off all pain meds or know what and why they’re on any.

  2. I had to laugh when I started reading this, because rather than horses, it was my exact approach to getting married. I figured every guy had issues, it was just a matter of picking the guy whose issues I could live with. 🙂

    I’m a sucker for a good mind and a kind eye. I bought my horse after spending an hour and a half brushing him because I liked his attitude and his expressive but kind eyes. He needed to be restarted, so I couldn’t ride him. I personally knew the woman who I bought him from, so I didn’t bother with the vet check. I never even really saw him move. And I really lucked out because while he’s not perfect, he’s the perfect horse for me. The only issues we’ve had have been from injuries and minor hoof issues that have resolved with time and good care.

    I think many conformational issues and old injuries can be easily handled with proper management and conditioning. The only thing that would scare me is a horse with arthritis, or one who is particularly likely to develop it from an old injury.

    • Too funny! Buying a horse can be like a sitcom episode, I guess.

      We were just discussing this over on Facebook: should the first question on your checklist be “is this horse huggable?” (Like TBs are, hahaha!) I looked at a beautiful, sound, athletic filly once and ultimately turned her down because she was just an evil bitch. That was her personality. And while from time to time I can work with that, I know I can’t sell that. Who wants to be greeted with pinned ears every morning?
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  3. Emily

    I’ve never bought a horse, but I hope to in the near future.
    Nicholas and I went to look at horse a couple years back. The ad in the paper listed the TB gelding as 12 years old. When we met her at the barn she told us he was 19 (OK, not a deal-breaker, but sketchy). Then as she lunged him he started to limp pretty badly, even at a walk. We didn’t need and couldn’t afford a lame horse that might become more sound at some future date.

    While I’ve never purchased a horse, I did win one. Regalo went up for raffle as a 15 mo colt in 1997 at a Paso Fino horse show. Maybe a vet check was done on him before he went up raffle, but I certainly never heard about it. He had a clear coggins test, vaccinations and as of Sunday morning, he was mine! I showed up Sunday afternoon with my dad, the woman who’d taken me to the show, and the man we hired to trailer Regalo to Oxford. Yes, he became a gelding within the first two weeks I owned him. I was 12. Young horse, young rider…but hasn’t been very bad at all. We’ve learned a lot the past 13 years.

  4. Blob

    I can’t do bad feet. I just can’t. Mostly because I end up paying so much in farrier bills that it barely seems worth it sometimes.

    I also am very weary of horses with a colic history. Once they colic, they’ll colic again. Some I’ll take. But others, it just seems like I’ll keep fighting against it, worrying about it, and still, I’ll probably eventually lose my horse to it. Yeah, and non-sweaters in Georgia, not going to do that again.

    I guess the way that I take on a lot of flaws is in behavior. My way of dealing with the faults is finding that hot, nervous horse that most people don’t want but that I actually do well with. I can get away with usually finding good legs, feet, and build if I’m willing to take on ‘issues’. In fact, I actually do better with issues. If you give me a well-trained, good horse I usually don’t know what to do with it.

    But sometimes you just have to take a gamble.

    Ultimately, I don’t have a formula. Things I might forgive with one horse I may not with another. I know it’s not scientific, it may not even be fair. But sometimes certain things just work and others don’t.

    • I have to side with you on colic history. My first horse (very first horse, in the dawns of time, before the Thoroughbred bug bit) was a colic-er. Hence, he only lasted about nine months before it was finally the death of him. I have never again had a horse with a colic history or a tendency to colic. Colic and I have a history, and I don’t care to revisit it.

      I’ll deal with nearly any flaw in the behavior except vicious attitude or serious bucking. I hate bucking. Actually, in a flat saddle I can probably ride through it. But in a regular jumping or dressage saddle – forget it! What is that, anyway? But I digress..

  5. It’s a great question…though one I’ve not had to think about, as my first horse as an adult was free and my next horse cost 400 dollars;)

    I much prefer it this way, though…my horses (both TBs:) feel like gifts, not purchases. Having said that….

    IF (when?) I actually fork out lots of cash for a horse, I’m inclined to agree with you about personality. Some horses are just ornery, even with the best owners. I’m not inclined to spend lots of my dollars and years with a horse like that, no matter what they’re like under saddle.

    Repeated colic episodes concern me, only because I would be terrified of losing the horse.

    I’m not a huge fan of stifle issues.

    Still, I guess there is no absolute “deal breaker” with me, if I really like a horse. My first horse my parents bought me as a teenager had the beginnings of navicular, but we bought her and she stayed sound. Miles has arthritis in his right front fetlock, which I even saw (on a tight circle) before I bought him. He’s now on a healthy dose of pure glucosamine and MSM, and 100 percent sound.

    Sorry, that’s not really an answer to your question, is it? I guess I feel like people limit themselves SO much by asking the horse they want to buy to be perfect…unless you’re competing at upper levels of your sport, I don’t really get it.

    Then again, my tune may be totally different if my heart had been broken by purchasing a great horse that I couldn’t ride for one reason or another.

  6. laurie

    My TB has terrible feet. He has arthritis. He has a history of colic and a bad reputation. He fusses for the farrier, is terrible to load and hates a bath.When I first saw him he was emaciated, his toes were so long he couldn’t walk , he was covered in rain rot. I took him with the idea that I would get him healthy. I would rescue him. Two years later he is beautiful, sound and the barn favorite. His nickname is “Big Sexy” .I just took him to a fancy-schmancy clinic where he astonished everyone. The fancy clinician asked where I had been hiding him. I love him beyond reason. When we are done with a workout he rests his chin on the top of my head. He still bucks…we are working on it.

  7. Well, I bought Lucky without seeing him in person (to this day I really would love to get a stick and see how tall he actually is, because everyone thinks ‘taller than his listing said’), with the vet’s impression being that he toed out in back but was generally sound, and the vet’s impression of his behavior was the same as everyone else’s–smart and quiet. I’ll forgive “ugly” for a good brain. I really just do not want to deal with hysterical, hyper and flighty. I’ve probably known too many backyard-bred grade horses who looked like they were assembled from spare parts but were absolutely bombproof and too many other horses who were pretty, well-bred, and utterly batshit.

  8. Personally the only things that, if I see is a turn-off, would be a history of colic *especially* if the horse has had to put through surgery at some point for colic as they tend to have a minimum of 50% reoccurance rate. Also, I stay away from old bows. I’m a foxhunter, show jumper and dressage rider and, while a bow may never give me any trouble, it also could end up being the bane of my existence and it just ain’t worth it.

    But to answer the main question about what faults you can live with, it really has to come down to what the horse is going to be used for and what the rider/owner expects from them. For example, I have a 14 year old OTTB who raced for 8 years and is now a dressage king and I’ve also just begun to explore the world of jumping and perhaps foxhunting with him. He is the most well-put-together TB I’ve ever owned and I honestly don’t know a single disciple that would be out of his realm… Take that back, polo may be a little out of his grasp as he’s 17.1 hh and polo ponies tend to top out at 16 hh MAX. But he’d be a stellar polo pony if I were to perform a leg shortening procedure 😉

    But seriously, as I tell all of my clients who hire me to act as their Buyer’s Agent, when looking at a horse you are planning to buy you need to keep in mind what you *realistically* (yes, you may want to be the next Eric Lamaze, Edward Gal or Karen O’Connor, but are you really going to and will you be doing any of that with THIS horse?) are planning to do… This could be a full on every weekend show schedule where you travel south for the winter or it could be the complete opposite of that spectrum where all you’d like is a pleasure mount that you may jump on a few times a year when the weather is great and maybe head out for a trail ride. Now, of course, there is an insane number of variations between these two extremes, but they all ask your potential new horse for different requirements. And to be fair to yourself AND the horse, you should be sure that he/she is able to meet those requirements.

    I ALWAYS do a drug test on the horse, unless I know in very close detail from very reputable resources, because that is the one instance where the horse you’re seeing being represented to you prior to purchase is not anything like what you’re seeing. I also have a clause in my Purchase Agreement pertaining to a required neg drug test. If it is missing from the Purchase Agreement the seller hands you during the purchase, ask if you can add in the clause as it should be a deal breaker (it is for me as they shouldn’t have anything to hide) and have BOTH parties initial and sign BOTH copies where the new clause is to prove that both parties accepted the addition and it wasn’t an afterthought.

    As for behavior, the only one that turns me off is insanely aggressive bevior towards other horses. Very hard if not impossible to train out without a possibility of major injuries. Also, rearers make me think twice, not a definite no, but the horse better be damn perfect otherwise. Same with cribbing.

    And, of course, as I specialize in taking OTTB’s and retraining them, I look for as near conformational perfection as possible. Simple to hedge my bets! The biggest thing, however, is what do YOU want to do with your “new” horse? Their worth to you doesn’t necessarily lie in riding, but could also be his presence as a pasture ornament or buddy to your old retiree. Whatever it is, they all have value and the buyer just needs to know what type of value you’re looking for because it changes HOW you’ll look for your next horse. Good luck in your horse hunts!
    Lindsey Hays
    Nantua Farm

  9. Pingback: WordPress Sends Me 2010 in Review! « The Un-Retired Racehorse

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