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Really tall horses and soundness track records

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  • Really tall horses and soundness track records

    Hi All!

    We were discussing at our barn regarding how sound really tall and/or big horses stay throughout their careers. Can you guys post both the good and the bad. I am lightly in the market and a 17.2 hand horse is attractive to me but I always said that big of a horse has trouble staying sound for the long term. What do all of you think? Love to hear both sides!


  • #2
    A big horse who's easy on himself will be fine, but one that tanks around won't be, in my experience. If they move lightly, are soft, well built, etc etc, they don't seem to wear out any faster than a small horse. But if he's heavy, stiff, and doesn't take care of himself, he'll wear out faster.


    • #3
      My horse is 17.2hh + and has been NQR for on/off for quite some time. The problems started when he was about 7-8 years old, with a funny stifle thing he's never had before. Then he started swapping leads at the canter, and was diagnosed with a sore SI.

      Then those issues were resolved and as a 10 year old he was diagnosed with mild arthritic changes in his hock and 1 stifle.

      Basically, the overall impression it has left me with, is that some (but not all) large horses are affected by the same issues as their typical counterparts, but they take it a little harder because their large bodies tend to emphasize the damage done (if that makes sense).

      So he's got a ThinLine pad, a BOT blanket, gets Adequan shots monthly, a smattering of supplements and extra fat in his diet to keep the weight on. He's "sound" but requires maintenance.

      The vets told me that at "his size" they have to be managed more carefully at a younger age than their normal-sized field buddies. I probably could have avoided a lot of the NQR if I had started Adequan at say 7 instead of 11.

      I've only had "big horses" (16.3hh ++) and everything from paying more for larger "stuff" and being really picky about who trailers me (ie, he needs a 7'6"+ XL wide trailer or he gets claustrophobic).

      Although I absolutely adore him and he's an angel of a horse.... I envision my next one as being 15.3hh-16hh so I can save my money and spend it on showing/lessons instead of maintenance.
      A quick tutorial on interval training: Conditioning your horse for eventing


      • #4
        I've only personally known one really big (18 hands) horse well enough to know about soundness over time. He is basically retired at I think around 10 because of arthritis that in the end defied management. But he does have some conformation problems though he is well bred and was a very nice mover.


        • #5
          I have quite positive experiences with the "big boys" - they have all been saintly in temperament.

          I have a schoolmaster who is 17.3 and his fav. is canter pirouettes, one of the "kids" I bred topped out at 17.2 and was an angel to break and ride, his owner just adores him (5'4" petite young lady) - he is a 3'6" hunter and babysitter to green riders deluxe. Another one of the same line is 17.1 as a coming 4yr old and is the easiest horse ever! Easily doing 1st/2nd level stuff on 2-3 days a week "light" schedule and no lungeing required prior to rides.

          All are sound and in work. 4-16yrs old, age appropriate levels.
          Horses should be trained in such a way that they not only love their riders, but look forward to the time they are with them.
          ~ Xenophon, 350 B.C.


          • #6
            Big Ben had episodes of colic, but I don't recall him ever having prolonged layoffs because of soundness issues, and he stayed at the top of his game (Grand Prix Jumping) for quite a while.

            A friends 17.2 Hano had soundness issues, but he also had conformation issues from the very beginning that contributed. A similarly sized horse without those conformation issues might have stayed sound.

            My 16.3 horse probably wasn't "big enough" for this "big horses" thread, but FWIW, he never had a soundness issue apart from the occasional stone bruise (twice) until he had a pasture accident at age 23. He had evented through Prelim until he wasw 18 and did jumpers to 4' until he was 20. He was rehabbed and shown again at age 25, and died at age 27 - still relatively sound for his age and considering some lingering effects from his accident which affected his gait, but not his ridability (and he was pain free). He was big boned and weigh 1,450 even when fit.


            • #7
              The problem I have seen with the big horses is people pushing them too hard too fast. Give them time to finish growing and filling out and I think they will do much better in the long run. I guess that's true with all horses though.


              • #8
                Our 18 hand horse died at 7, but was perfectly sound until coliced and torsioned . The vet was concerned because he was so big, but he seemed to have bone appropriate to his size, and while he did have a bit of stifle problem as he grew, we started him late and just took him along carefully (he was only showing training level at 6 and about to move up to first but showed serious potential).

                I miss him desperately - he was the biggest, goofiest horse I ever rode.


                • #9
                  Originally posted by Coppers mom View Post
                  A big horse who's easy on himself will be fine, but one that tanks around won't be, in my experience. If they move lightly, are soft, well built, etc etc, they don't seem to wear out any faster than a small horse. But if he's heavy, stiff, and doesn't take care of himself, he'll wear out faster.
                  From personal experience I tend to agree with this. I have always only owned big guys (and gals) and found the same thing.

                  Confirmation is also a big factor as well.


                  • #10
                    My next one will be small

                    If you can ride a smaller one happily, there are many reasons to go this route.

                    16h or less will be a little cheaper.

                    A university-based farrier friend of mine had this to say: For the horses who can benefit from therapeutic shoeing, the same change will have a much larger effect on the smaller, lighter animal. We really have bred them to be much larger than nature intended.

                    A good trainer told me this: If you buy big, definitely look for the horse who seems to make good decision about how to use his body, day in, day out. The one who doesn't need lunging because of his great mind will let you "use up" his body the way you want, not on the process of merely making him rideable.

                    As a general rule, the larger and heavier the horse, the more astute I am about letting them mature and doing the legging-up process very slowly. All horses need time to build the collagen in their tendons and ligaments. Since these aren't exponentially larger in the very big beasts, I think they generally are under greater strain in the big 'uns. I also think an assault like deep footing in a small covered arena is harder on the big ones than it is on the little ones.

                    I'm sure someone somewhere has done studies on the correlation between size and soft-tissue problems. Since no one wants to spend the long, expensive rehab time on say, a suspensory injury, I'd say be sure to devote enough time to the walking and trotting part of the behemoth's fitness program.
                    The armchair saddler
                    Politically Pro-Cat


                    • #11
                      I have owned three big horses; a 17.3 ID/TB cross, a 17.2 WB, and a 17h draft cross.

                      If I had to generalize from my own little data set, I would say that barring obvious conformational issues, one should pay most attention with a big horse to how they were started in their early years.

                      My Irish horse was a lameness train wreck and had been a master's (hunt) horse in Ireland from a pretty early age. He was fearless and absolutely independent, and I suspect his talents led him to be fairly hard used early on.

                      My WB was started in Europe and then brought over to be an amateur's dressage horse. He had very limited turnout and had spent considerable time at an FEI barn. His hocks were a mess when I bought him; I turned him out 24/7 and am very very rigorous about his leg work (lots of walk hacks, etc). His hocks haven't progressed, either on film or in terms of management needs, and he was super sound for 4 years until he had suspensory problems.

                      My young draft cross was started very slowly by a foxhunter who put him on the slow track precisely because he decided the horse had a sport horse future, not a foxhunting one. When I bought him coming 5 he had been ridden very gently, lots of hacking out, small jumps, very limited ring work.

                      He'll be 8 this year so it's certainly too soon to make longevity predictions, but he's been absolutely sound as a bell for 3 years. He DID grow substantially during his 6th year -- this made me think again about how important it probably is to go SLOWLY with the big ones.

                      I'd now be reluctant to buy a big horse (although I am hopelessly biased towards them) if I could not ascertain how he'd been worked from backing-6 or 7.
                      The big man -- my lost prince

                      The little brother, now my main man


                      • #12
                        We have a 17.1 OTTB that raced for 8 years. Ninety one starts. He is now 14 and the only time he has ever been the least bit off was due to a really nasty virus.

                        Amazing horse. Schooling 2nd level dressage, plays like a two year old. I believe if they race a long time and stay sound, you have a good shot at them staying sound for you.


                        • #13
                          I'm on the unlucky side. My 17.3 was continuously injuring himself. Finished with a career ending paddock accident. Then two friends, with big horse, again continuously NQR, never the same leg.. I promised myself never again. That said my new horse grow from 16. 1 1/2 at age five to just over 17 hh at age nine. So far so good, says she crossing fingers.


                          • #14
                            On the unlucky side -- and this is a REALLY big horse -- an acquaintance had to retire her 18.3 hand (yes!) WB at age 9 or 10 because his heart could not keep up with that big body. The horse was apparently quite clumsy while in training; it took him longer than normal to learn to use himself correctly. Plus he was expensive, requiring a really big trailer, blankets, etc. He was quite fond of my little 15 hand Morgan mare when they were boarded at the same place. His head was bigger than her neck!

                            (I am generally a fan of small horses, even large ponies, for various reasons. Plus I am 5'1" and anything over 16 hands feels absolutely huge to me...)
                            You have to have experiences to gain experience.

                            1998 Morgan mare Mythic Feronia "More Valley Girl Than Girl Scout!"


                            • Original Poster


                              You guys have all given me much food for thought. I am leaning toward a pass. Maybe if it were a mare, I would still consider as I would not just have a pasture pet if something went wrong. I honestly had not thought through the issue of everything costing extra for the oversize!


                              • #16
                                I've only closely known two huge horses that were not drafts. One was a freak of nature TB, haha. He was just a hair under 18.0 and was very heavy-boned. He was retired at age 9 due to a suspensory injury in his front legs that would not heal. The second was a 17.3 warmblood with a lighter build who coliced monthly and eventually had to be put down. They both had that gentle giant personality, but just seemed their bodies didn't work right. For me 16.1-16.2 is just right.


                                • #17
                                  My 21 year old 17.3 hano showed PSG last year and remains sound, on no injections or supplements. I was giving oral glucosamine until a couple of years ago, but the new research doesn't hold that it does anything, so I stopped that and there was no detectable change after stopping.

                                  At 9, he fell into a deep clay mudhole and got stuck, tearing many muscles in his hind end and a hind suspensory tear, in his efforts to extricate himself. He recovered completely after that injury and went on to train FEI after the injury.

                                  I think larger horses might be marginally more prone to unsoundness but if they are correctly built and trained properly, there shouldn't be a problem.
                                  "The Threat of Internet Ignorance: ... we are witnessing the rise of an age of equestrian disinformation, one where a trusting public can graze on nonsense packaged to look like fact."-LRG-AF


                                  • #18
                                    Big & heavy TB

                                    17.3 and 1700 lbs of ex-racehorse.
                                    Stayed sound and outperformed smaller horses at whatever he did.
                                    Never had to inject him or ice him or anything else.
                                    Just make sure that he is not in a 12 x 12 stall, I believe that is way to small an area and requires the horse to be constantly bending.
                                    Ask and allow, do not demand and force.


                                    • #19
                                      I've known plenty of sound and lame horses both ways, not going to type out anecdotal evidence of all of them since there's already a lot here. I must admit I've known a large number of practically indestructible ponies.

                                      I will say, I have always heard, from everyone that the BIG ones tend to wear out faster.


                                      • #20
                                        My experiences with 17.2 plus horses has not been a good one either.
                                        I have only owned 2 and neither stayed sound.
                                        I have known of plenty of others in my area too and I cannot say that any of them have had a long career. They all seem to end up with feet or joint problems.
                                        I am done with big horses and would not buy a big one again.

                                        I think if the big horse is made to be big as in a draft type with solid foundation (legs) then thats ok but these tall lanky warmblood types are just not made to be so tall.
                                        Don't Squat With Your Spurs On.