Pre-Sale Questions

A pre-sale veterinary examination for a horse of any age in any discipline should address two questions. Can this particular individual, in the opinion of the examiner, be expected--barring illness or injury--to reach competition in a timely fashion? That answer, of course, should be an emphatic yes. Can this individual--again, barring illness or injury--be expected to experience at least a normal career of competition? That answer should also be yes.

Pre-sale exams on horses with a history of competition can be relatively simple given an environment of trust. Sadly, many older horses have been rejected for reasons that weren't based on sound medical information. For example, this might include turning down an older horse because of "oncoming" navicular disease diagnosed (erroneously) by "bear claws" or "lollipops" (a mottled appearance rather than a consistent density) in the radiographs.

We are coming to a new age of pre-sale examination, particularly for younger individuals without performance records that are sold at public auctions, i.e., weanlings, yearlings, and 2-year-olds in training. One great change has been the creation of the "repository" at public auctions for pre-sale viewing of radiographs and endoscopic exams, and possibly the posting of statements about medical concerns such as eye certificates or information about invasive surgical procedures.

The repository was created in response to demands made on consignors by prospective buyers at public auctions prior to sale time. The problem was that there were too many horses to sort through with not enough time, and too many veterinarians waiting to examine the same horse. Some horses would have five or six complete sets of radiographs taken, and a dozen (sometimes more) endoscopic exams of their respiratory tracts, all within 24 hours (or less) of sale time! This was not a good way to conduct business.

The repository is a work in progress; the information available on each horse has undergone several years of trial and error to reveal its strengths and weaknesses. There will always be exceptions, but I do believe we can say with some assurance that an overwhelming percentage of (scarred) hind leg P1 fractures, old sesamoid fractures (apical, or at the top; and basal, or at the base), tarsal (hock) fractures, osteochondrosis dissecans lesions, and cysts away from joint surfaces can be considered "abnormal, but not pathological."

Sesamoiditis (inflammation of the proximal sesamoid bones) was always considered a forecast for soft bone and certain unsoundness later, but that also has been demonstrated to be manageable in most cases, albeit not in a hasty manner.

Perhaps we have become so precise and focused on each little imperfection that we fail to see the whole horse. When inspecting the candidate for purchase (for example, a Thoroughbred), imagine what you can see this horse doing--a sprinter, a router (distance runner), or something of each. There are always exceptions, but usually a sprinter is more muscular, shorter-legged, stronger in the rear, and shorter-coupled than his longer-running comrades.

Certain stallions and families will reproduce themselves over and over again. Others--and this needn't be a deficiency--will produce offspring of various hues and structures. Some females will produce an offspring typical of the sire, however different he might be from year to year. These tendencies can certainly be helpful in selecting sale candidates.

Overall, an individual should be "pleasant" to look at, properly groomed and presented, and well-mannered.

About the Author

Gary Lavin, DVM

Gary Lavin, DVM, is a private Throughbred practitioner and breeder based in Kentucky who now is retired from a racetrack practice. He is a former president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners and the Kentucky Thoroughbred Association.

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