Considerations When Purchasing or Adopting an Ex-Racehorse for Sport

Considerations When Purchasing or Adopting an Ex-Racehorse for Sport

Photo: Erica Larson, News Editor

Thoroughbreds that have retired from the racetrack often transition into sport horse careers, but prospective ex-racehorse owners should carefully consider temperament, medical condition, and conformation if they want a successful partner in the show ring. Chris Newton, DVM, veterinary partner at Rood & Riddle Equine Hospital in Lexington, Ky., explained to owners what they should look for or avoid before purchasing or adopting an ex-racehorse at A Winning Edge: Promoting Peak Performance in Equine Athletes, a seminar held on Sept. 24 in Lexington.

According to Newton, prospective owners should first carefully evaluate the mental and physical condition of the horse, including previous injuries, mental acuity, and strength and flexibility. Owners also should avoid horses with injuries and conformation faults that might predispose them to conditions that could impair their future as performance horses.

Newton listed several conformation faults to avoid when choosing a Thoroughbred for a sport horse career, including severely underrun heels, severe toeing in, dropped fetlocks, severely back at the knee, severe sickle hocks, and horses with long backs. He did, however, say that he can live with mild cases of bench knees, cow hocks, knock knees, and club feet.

"A base-narrow horse that never raced is okay; he would not have had inappropriate pounding on his legs," Newton explained. "A horse with sickle hocks has the potential for plantar desmitis, and upright pasterns have the potential for suspensory injuries."

Prospective owners also should be aware of injuries common in ex-racehorses, including:

  • Fetlock chips and arthritis;
  • Carpal (knee) arthritis;
  • Bowed tendons (Horses with bowed tendons "generally require 12 months of healing and do fine competing at lower levels after careful rehabilitation," said Newton.);
  • Foot lameness;
  • Suspensory injuries (These injuries "are very painful and there's a high incidence of becoming chronic," explained Newton.); and
  • Bone spavin/tarsal arthritis. "This can cause chronic low-grade issues, but the horse is still usable," according to Newton.

To check for issues and injuries such as these, Newton urges owners to have a veterinarian conduct a thorough prepurchase exam that includes a physical exam, flexion tests of limbs, neck, back, and pelvis, behavioral and temperament evaluation, soundness evaluation, and longeing with tack to evaluate a horse's performance and behavior under saddle. Further diagnostic exams such as radiographs of the fetlock and knee joints, ultrasound, airway exams, blood work, bone scans, and drug screens can be expensive yet useful to determine pre-existing conditions.

"Don't look past (ex-racehorses) just because they've been racing," concluded Newton. "Get help from a farrier/veterinarian/trainer team and continue that teamwork for long-term success."

About the Author

Alexandra Beckstett, The Horse Managing Editor

Alexandra Beckstett, Managing Editor of The Horse and a native of Houston, Texas, is a lifelong horse owner who has shown successfully on the national hunter/jumper circuit and dabbled in hunter breeding. After graduating from Duke University, she joined Blood-Horse Publications as Assistant Editor of its book division, Eclipse Press, before joining The Horse.

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