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Young, unsound horse

From: Saf

Hi. I have a horse that is 2 1/2 yo she is a 1/4 horse cross appy and is slightly broken to saddle and i got a vet check recently and was wondering what you thought about this i only lease this horse and am interested in buying it. The problem is it has a long in the pastern and seams to be a bit tender around the fetlock. The vet lifted its leg and held on to it for 1 1/2min to check if it has a problem in this joint. When she let it go it trotted of ok but was bobbing it's head (a sign of lameness?). The vet said that she would not get the horse as it has a medium to high level of risk at going lame. i do love this horse and was wondering if you had any input in what i might do. She has the nicest temp any horse i have known has ever had. And the fetlock is not effecting her work so far. Please reply to this e-mail as i hope you may be able to help and i don't know what to do. >From Saf

Hi Saf! I'm afraid that I'm going to tell you to listen to your vet. There's not much point in paying for a professional's considered opinion and then rejecting the opinion because you've already fallen in love with the horse...

There are several BIG warning signs - "road closed, do NOT go this way" - in what you've written. First, this filly has not had much under-saddle time, yet she is showing a joint flexion problem. That's worrying. It's even more worrying that she is only 2 1/2 AND under saddle AND showing such a strong reaction to a flexion test. This all shouts that she has been started under saddle far too early, probably not very well, and that her conformation is such that she would be unlikely to stay sound even if she were perfectly sound right now - which she obviously is not.

A good temperament is an excellent thing in a horse - you're right there! But here's something for you to think about: a two-year-old filly is a baby, and at two, most horses are sweet and biddable. They are also far too young to be under saddle. Many people insist on starting them when they are very young babies, BECAUSE they are so gentle and sweet then - and because in many disciplines, the horses are viewed as "disposable" and have a limited competition life. Horses whose careers will be over, one way or another, by the time they are four or five years old are generally started as yearlings or as two-year-olds, but believe me, starting a horse that early is NOT something that you would do with a horse if you wanted it to be sound and useful at age five or ten or fifteen or twenty.

Temperament is one thing; baby docility is another, and the two shouldn't be confused.

It's hard for me to imagine why anyone would get involved in the lease of a green, untrained baby. The person paying for the lease can't possibly do much with the horse, but very few people would be satisfied to lease a horse in order to watch it run about in a field. If the person leasing the horse DOES ride it as though it were a mature/trained horse, the horse's owner is likely to get back a lame horse - and once it goes lame, the rider won't be able to do much with it either.

Without seeing the horse or the rider, it's difficult to say what should be done, but just the facts on paper (horse too young, horse not built to remain sound, horse presently sore and likely to become MORE sore) are enough to make me think that you ought to look elsewhere for a horse. Your vet HAS seen the horse, and you, and has given you a professional opinion about the horse's actual and potential soundness. Please listen to your vet. As long as you are just leasing this horse, or if you stop leasing this horse, it's someone else's lame or potentially lame horse. That sounds harsh, but it means that you can continue to look for a horse for yourself, preferably a sound, experienced horse in its teens that can help you learn riding and horsemanship. If, on the other hand, you buy a lame horse that your vet thinks will become more lame as time goes by, you are likely to end up with a horse that you can't ride, but that will still need food, medical care, and a place to live - at your expense. Many riders can't afford to keep a lame horse as a pet AND maintain a riding horse at the same time. If you can, then I suppose that would be a viable option for you. If you can't keep two horses, but you want a riding horse, you'd be in the position of having to find a buyer for YOUR lame horse. And that's another thing: When you're trying to sell a horse that is young AND lame AND with poor conformation, it can be very difficult to find an actual home for such an animal. Think about it: As an ethical human being, you wouldn't want to sell such a horse to anyone who was planning to RIDE it, because the horse would be in pain - or to anyone who was planning to BREED it, because poor conformation isn't something that should be passed on. That would leave.... what? Two choices really: The loving "retirement" home, where some mysterious stranger with a great deal of money would maintain your lame horse in pasture, seeing to its needs and paying for everything, year after year, perhaps for thirty years. This would be a fine choice, but for the fact that this doesn't actually exist in reality. Yes, there are a few people who run "retirement homes" for horses and who, for an initial payment of, say, US$3500, will take your horse and keep it in a field under good conditions until it dies of old age, but those people and those retirement homes are few, and often have long waiting lists. Sad to say, but a much more realistic "final home" for a poorly-conformed, lame youngster is a slaughterhouse, and that is indeed where many such horses end their lives. It sounds horrid, but for the horse, it's a better end than a life of perpetual lameness and pain as a hack in a rental string, for instance.

Those are some of the things you need to think about - those are some of the things that ANYONE considering the purchase of a horse should think about. A horse is like a child - it confers instant and total responsibility on the person who acquires it. It also becomes what I call an "instant priority" in the life of the person who acquires it. Do you know the saying, "A puppy isn't just for Christmas"? Neither is a horse! And - think about this - a horse is much more trouble to keep, costs more to keep, and generally lives at least twice as long as a dog.

I don't know how much help this will be to you in your present situation. I know it's difficult to say "No, thank you" when you're offered a chance to purchase a horse you like. But a very young filly is likely to live a very long life, and you would truly be better off with an older, experienced, sound horse that you could ride, learn from, and enjoy. If you found a good horse of fifteen, you might well have another ten years of riding and enjoying it - you're unlikely to have even one year of riding and enjoying a horse that is already showing signs of serious lameness four years before it reaches physical maturity. I'm truly sorry, but I do have to say: Listen to your vet!


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