Rural veterinary practice
Live cover breeding
Delivery of a foal
Sleepy foal disease
9. Pre-purchase inspection (sports medical examination)
A veterinary pre-purchase inspection is generally requested whenever a horse is bought or sold. The inspection is carried out to determine the animal’s health and to estimate if it is physically suitable for its intended purpose. The requesting party indicates that intended purpose at the inspection and a purchase recommendation, positive or negative, is issued on that basis.
A veterinary inspection involves listening to the heart and lungs and an inspection of the eyes and teeth. It may also include an examination of the vocal cords using an endoscope to rule out a partial paralysis (roaring). If the purpose is breeding, then the sexual organs are examined. The locomotor apparatus is always important, irrespective of the intended purpose: a lame horse is not suitable for any purpose and will be rejected. Bending tests of the joints and X-rays are important aspects of the inspection. The pressure on the joints varies greatly per discipline.
Equestrian sport has various disciplines: under the saddle, including dressage and jumping, racing and endurance (a marathon for horses); eventing/military (multi-sport competition with cross country), reining and western riding (cowboy work). But also horse-drawn riding with a carriage and harness racing (using a sulky). No horse, no matter how healthy, is suitable for all of these disciplines. Which is why an examination of this kind does not result in a general approval or rejection, but the horse concerned is given a ‘green light’ (or not) for a certain use. Compare it to a physical for humans prior to participating in a sport: a green light for taking part in the four-day walking event in Nijmegen does not mean one is also suitable for the first soccer team of PSV (the professional top-team in Eindhoven).
In the world of horses however, that is a persistent misunderstanding. An example from actual practice: A horse is inspected prior to its sale and the outcome is positive. However, the buyer then requests a second opinion elsewhere and the horse is subsequently rejected. So it appears that at least one of the two horse vets is either a bungler or corrupt; perhaps both. But during the first inspection, the seller had specified as the intended use: ‘outdoor rides for recreational purposes’. Whereas the buyer of the same horse had indicated during the second inspection that he wished to use the horse ‘to participate in international jumping competitions’. That made the purchase price disproportionate, to be sure, but that falls outside the scope of responsibility of the horse-vet conducting the inspection. Moreover, how reliable is that information?
I received the request to inspect a horse for an equestrian eventing rider. The purchase has been arranged, subject to the outcome of the veterinary inspection. It concerns a five-year-old gelding, a son of the British thoroughbred stallion Abgar. The seller did not get on well with the horse. A horse of that descent seems a logical choice for equestrian eventing: the cross country requires agility, speed, spirit and stamina, which are characteristics that are firmly anchored in the British Thoroughbred. An eventing horse will therefore be "hot-blooded" i.e. having multiple thoroughbreds as ancestors. However, the final part of the three-discipline competition concerns show jumping. In general, British thoroughbreds show less aptitude for show jumping. Abgar was an exception in that respect: with a so-called jump index of 112, his offspring usually performs above-average.
The buyer is present during the inspection and helps with the examination. Which is a good thing, as this horse has an obstinate and inflexible nature. He is not easy to handle, particularly during the bending tests and when making X-rays. But equestrian eventing riders are not the least among horsemen and this man ranks among the sub-top in that discipline. I have never forgotten this inspection: not only because of the precarious nature of the Abgar-son, but mainly because of the quality of his legs: never before had I come across navicular bones of the class 0 (no deviation) during an inspection and it never happened again after that. Class 0 is like an A on your school report.
X-ray of a hoof
This horse is physically suitable to meet the extreme requirements of its intended purpose. The recommendation regarding the purchase is therefore positive. I record that in the inspection report. Verbally, I do make one critical comment concerning the horse’s disposition: will it be possible to properly handle him during the training? After that comment, the conversation falls silent. The new owner is turning red with anger: he is genuinely insulted. He has much experience with horses, he is virtually a professional. He has trained and moulded each of his horses himself. That cost more time and effort in some cases, but every single one ultimately had to bend to his will. He remains silent, but his indignation is abundantly clear.
How it ends
It is years later when I meet the owner again at a reception. He had never returned to the clinic. I inquiry after that Abgar-son from years back. He doesn’t hear me at first; he then dodges the question, as we are standing in a circle with listeners. Shortly after that, when there is just the two of us, he answers my question: “I wrestled with that horse every day for two years. But I was never able to enter him into a competition. He was of no use to me whatsoever! I got rid of him.” That tells you something about the character. About both their characters.
© Leo Rogier Verberne