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Third bad pre-purchase exam. Should I give up or keep going???

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  • Third bad pre-purchase exam. Should I give up or keep going???

    So, if you've been following my horse shopping journey or are new, here's the skinny:

    I tragically and unexpectedly lost my 8y/o eventing partner. He passed his PPE with flying colors and never had an off day in the 1yr 8most I owned him. Then, the next thing I knew, he was dying. It was the most heart wrenching experience I've had.

    Wanting to move forward in a positive direction, I scrounged up a $4k budget and began horse shopping. After looking at countles options online and visiting several in person (with my trainer and/or trusted horsey friend), I decided to do a pre-purchase on a lovely grey gelding at a local OTTB rescue. He was reportedly 100% sound. The vet check quickly turned up moderate to severe fetlock arthritis and some red flag neurological symptoms. The vet said no jumping, which ruled him out for my purposes (lower level eventing).

    Discouraged and out $800, I hit the pavement again. I found another lovely OTTB rescue that was a gorgeous mover and appeared totally sound. I took her to my barn for a trial and did a vet check about a week in, only to find moderate pedal ostitis in both fronts (didn't continue on to check hinds, but safe bet that it's there too). Vet said she could be sound with corrective shoeing and good footing, but the risk was high for intermittant lameness, especially in eventing. Brokenhearted and out another $800 (PPE + 9 days board and shavings + farrier assessment + haul).

    Almost about to give up, some fellow COTHers sent me a link to this guy:


    It so happened that I have a very trusted horsey friend in the area who went to see him on my behalf. The facility has no turn out our arena, so she was unable to ride him, but she liked his look, movement on the lounge, and termperment. He was able to hop on a trailer going to Santa Anita the same day at the reasonable price of $220. He only raced twice, never placed, and was retired by the breeder/owner due to financial issues. He reportedly passed flexions six months ago and was extensively x-rayed as a 2 y/o before sent to training.

    When he arrived, I thought all my troubles were worth it: he was perfect. He has impeccable conformation, great bone, sweet personality, unflappable. My trainer and I have both ridden him and although he is a green, he is calm, smart, and willing. I was in LOVE and very confident about this vet check.

    As soon as we started the trot up, the vet said he has level 3 lameness in right hind. My farrier had previously noted that he jerks that leg away when you try to pick it up (not an attitude issue, as he doesn't do this with other legs). He also noted that the toe on that foot was rougher and more worn than the other toes. He has bad thrush in all four feet, the right hind being the worst of it, so I was hoping that he was just tender. We went ahead and blocked the foot to rule out the thrush and, sure enough, still lame. The vet stopped the PPE to save me $ and said that if we proceeded it would be a lameness exam.

    I contacted the owner and told her everything I know. Obviously, she is frustrated and disappointed. I asked her if she would be willing to pay for a lameness exam, as I would still like to buy him if the issue is treatable. She said that she can't afford a lameness exam. She will take him back this Wednesday or I can buy him for $1.

    I have never had a gambler's soul. The firt time I gambled in Vegas, I won $6 from $3 and quit right then and there, bought myself a drink, and figured I would never do better than doubling my bet. I have about $1800 left for horse shopping (including vet checks). I can send him back and call it a day for six months while I rebuild my budget or I can spend what would have been his purchase price on diagnosing and treating the issue. If it's a minor issue, I might win big with a REALLY nice horse. If I lose, I might have no money left and a lame horse (she said she would take him back at any point, but that would obviously be heartbreaking).

    I just can't believe my bad luck. I wonder if this is normal. It's nothing like my first purchasing experience. I wish I knew what the potential issues are and what the treatment options would look like. The vet said "off the record" that he would guess it's a stifle issue. He said OCDs are common, but I would have guessed that an OCD would have shown up on his 2y/o x-rays. Maybe not, though? I just don't know anymore. If it's a small soft tissue injury from an 8 hours haul or getting cast in his stall, etc. and he could perform fine in the future, then obviously a lameness exam would be worth it.

    Ugh...so incredibly frustrated. Would love to hear your thoughts.


    Per your requests, here are some vids of him walking and trotting in turn-out. I took them yesterday, very quickly, without help. I groomed him until gleaming beforehand. He promptly rolled in mud...thrice.



    Last edited by blame_the_champagne; Mar. 29, 2013, 01:34 PM. Reason: UPDATE

  • #2
    I find it hard to believe that a horse that both your trainer and yourself have been riding is now all a sudden 3/5 lame on just a trot up. Has he been lame and you just didn't notice? Was this a flexion or just jogging him up and down?

    It is IMPOSSIBLE to tell if there is an issue without taking xrays. It is normal for track horses to be sore behind. I know people will debate this all day long but practically all I deal with is horses coming right from the track and they are almost always a bit funky behind. Just the act of breaking out of the the starting gate can mess with the muscles back there making a sound horse seem sore.

    The vet should have been able to isolate the hock vs the stifle during the PPE without it being a lameness exam. They are different flexions and you can also often tell if a horse is just sore up higher from flexions vs having an issue with hocks or stifles.

    It isn't that expensive to xray. You are doing a lot of guessing here without truly knowing. I would say at max you are looking at $500 to do the xrays of hock and stifle to know.


    • #3
      If she's willing to let you have him for nothing, why not ask if she'd do a free lease for a couple of months. She gets free training (if you send him back), and you get time to see if he gets better, or worse. That's how I got my Petey . After bringing him home I found out he cribs, had ulcers, had a sarcoid I hadn't noticed before, and he just would not move forward I told the trainer I was going to bring him back, and he said "just give him away." Well, if you really want to "give" him away I'll just keep him. The cribbing is annoying, but I've gotten used to it, and he's only destroyed 2 plastic feeders (they've been replaced by metal ones). Sarcoid was removed 3 years ago, and hasn't returned. Ulcers are an ongoing problem, but treatable. "Forwardness" was strictly a training issue, not unsoundness.

      I know, not the same as a lameness issue but if you like him that much it might be worth the risk.
      "Everyone will start to cheer, when you put on your sailin shoes"-Lowell George


      • #4
        You definitely need a trusted trainer/local eventer/rider friend who is familiar with track purchasing can help you do flexions and spot basic lameness so that you can do them "on the spot" and pre-filter your prospects. A 3/5 is a pretty big red flag that you would have seen from the beginning (unless they were masking it with painkillers, of course).

        Another thing is that there is a basic lameness exam and then a sporthorse exam. A basic exam should include flexions, simple neuro test (like tail pulling or backing up), check the eyes, hoof testers, listen to the heart, confirm the age of the horse/check teeth/tattoo, pull blood to hold onto, note any physical abnormalities or red flags. This should be done for under $400.

        If the vet has a concern that he wants to look over further (aka, diagnostic equipment), that's your decision making time. If he has concerns, you may want to cut the exam off there and take a pass. If the horse is literally the horse of your dreams (and there should only be maybe 1 of these in your search!) and you want to take the chance on further diagnostics, then go ahead. It's better to shell out for rads (or less commonly ultrasound) if there are any doubts and you want to be 100% sure.

        Honestly, horses are such a hit-and-miss thing. I know a local rider who buys/sells about 6 horses a year for fun. Not a one gets a PPE. When it's a hit, she sells it onto a career home. When it's a miss, she sells it immediately as a trail/pleasure/companion horse for next to nothing in order to cut her losses. You could keep spending big bucks on PPE and still end up with a lemon 6 months later.

        Every horse has something wrong with it.... and even if it doesn't right away, it will down the road. That's the nature of horses. There are horses that couldn't pass a PPE even if the slaughterhouse was the next destination, but they are still actively enjoying their careers due to good management, care and vet intervention as necessary.

        You need a qualified, second opinion to figure out what you can live with, and what you can live without. Good luck!

        [The above posters are right, hocks/stifles/ankles and/or front feet are always good to xray on an OTTB, when possible....]
        A quick tutorial on interval training: Conditioning your horse for eventing


        • #5
          I am so sorry about all you are going through. I have been following your threads and was really hopeful for this guy too. I can't tell you what to do obviously. However if it was me, I'd probably send him back. I have gone through the pain of falling in love with a horse I thought I could fix that did not end well. There was no fixing him. I lost 5 years of riding and close to $60k during that time.

          However just because you buy a horse that is sound doesn't mean they will stay that way. But it is most definitely a better start off point. Look at it like he was a football player. No team is going to take on an injured player in hopes that he will heal and be able to preform to their standard of playing.

          And don't stop looking! Every horse I have owned I bought for $3k or less. Actually I spent the $3k on the lame one, all the others were $2500. Lol Just remember, everything happens for a reason. The right horse will come along and when you find them it will be worth waiting for! Good luck and keep us posted, no matter what you decide.
          Celtic Charisma (R.I.P) ~ http://flickr.com/photos/rockandracehorses/2387275281
          Proud owner of "The Intoxicated Moose!"
          "Hope is not an executable plan" ~ My Mom
          I love my Dublin-ator


          • #6
            I'm really not sure what I'd do.

            To add to your confusion though, I've seen a whole bunch of horses come back to work after racing showing up off or lame looking behind. Several apparently in the right stifle. The horses I've worked with have all come sound (complete with passing sale vettings) later, with work and fitness.

            I wouldn't just take the horse for $1, I don't think. But with everything else about the horse being so perfect, I might be inclined to go ahead and investigate the issue a little more. Just to see.

            The vet saw a grade 3 lameness - wouldn't that be fairly obvious? Yet neither you nor your trainer noticed anything off? Was this just after a flexion or while the horse was working freely? I dunno, I think I would really want more information before sending the horse back, though I totally get the whole budget issue, you've had a lot of money going out the door on this horse search.

            (ETA: the horses I'm talking about are all OTTBs that had been off for quite some time post-racing, usually 6 months - 1 year)
            "smile a lot can let us ride happy,it is good thing"

            My CANTER blog.


            • #7
              I feel your pain, this seemed like a really nice horse.

              I do have a bit of a gamble in me. I bought my OTTB with no vet exam. I did, though, actually NEED a horse, THIS week, to gather cattle out of our forest allotment. I figured, after a month, if the horse wasn't something I wanted, I would give him away.

              He had a lot of issues, mostly mental- he'd been spoiled and was barn sour, which wasn't a problem if you stuffed him in the trailer alone, and drove two hours, and got out in the middle of the forest. He didn't have the first idea where the barn was!

              I've never vetted him, but he does get sore behind, I think he's got some arthritis in his ankles. He goes sound (and all day) with good shoeing and Pentosan. But, I didn't buy him to be a show horse, and I know where he could go if he wasn't sound enough to be useful. I don't have to pay board, we grow our own hay and have lots of property. (It does cost to keep him, of course, his feed could be going into a cow that produced a salable calf every year. But it doesn't cost what board in the bay area does, by any stretch.)

              I think any horse is a gamble, and about any 'thorough' (read expensive) vet check will bring up some issue or another.
              On the flip side, you can't buy a horse that you know will have issues staying sound.

              Some trainers (and a couple of farriers I've known) have learned to flex test a horse themselves, so they have a quick idea if the horse has any current issues. Just an idea.

              I think many of the OTTB 'repurposers' develop a feel for a horse, and will take a chance. But, they know that not all horses they buy, will turn out. The OTTB game is sort of a gamble in itself. But I would start with something that passed a very basic PPE, which for me would be flexing joints, palpating tendons/ligaments, using hoof testers, looking at eyes and listening to heart and lungs.


              • #8
                A few quick thoughts:

                1) If you want those perfect x-rays, stop looking at track horses. Yes, there are tons out there with clean x-rays...BUT, the chances are greater that something will show up, because of their extensive work history, in the way that they won't be on a horse who has done nothing but sit in a field.

                2) Stop vetting horses. Now, I admit that I am in the luxurious and enviable position of having my own land, and currently the means to retire any beast that needs it. BUT. I have never vetted a horse, and never had a lame horse either, out of the three that I own. My first horse, a QH I bought off an auction lot at 7, takes some stiff steps after being in a stall....I'm sure, particularly now at 16, that his x-rays would be riddled with arthritis. My mule came off a feedlot, and he's never taken a lame step. My 4yo TB mare, free off craigslist, probably has some ugliness on her x-rays as well.

                But you know what? They're all sound, happy horses. I choose not to tempt fate by knowing what could go wrong, as long as that previous sentence stays true.

                3) I second the person who says take him out on a free lease, and see what happens.


                • #9
                  Wow, I am so so sad to read this, especially after reading all your adventures with the other horses. What horrible, horrible luck. Vettings are so frustrating and confusing.

                  With this specific horse, 3/5 (assuming your vet was on the 0-5 scale) is pretty lame. I assume it is also visible to you? A LOT can happen between ages 2-6, esp for those that train/race, so I'm not sure that clean x-rays at that stage guarantees much today. OCD generaly shows up at 3-4, so that is a possibility, though there are many others. Personally I would not take something that was currently lame for unknown reasons. IMO that is a less safe gamble than something that is sound on bad conformation or x-rays, say.

                  If the lameness is new (I think you said you rode him before--assume he was not lame then?), then maybe if the seller would agree to a longer trial you could see if it does go away, but even then you'd want to know for sure that it was just a hauling or stall injury, not the start of a larger issue.

                  Speaking to my experiences, I have not had too hard of a time finding OTTBs at the track that would pass a track vetting (usually done on short notice with the track vet, no films), and subsequently stayed sound for eventing. So I know that is possible. I'm not sure if you are particularly unlucky, or if your vettings are just more intense because you are able to use a sporthorse vet. On the other hand, when I was a kid looking at more experienced (but not more $$) horses, virtually everything flunked the vet, in quite serious ways. I eventually gave up and bought one who failed on both fronts, we evented 3 yrs thru prelim, and when I sold him to go to college he passed that vetting, the vet said he was in amazing shape for 15 . . .


                  • Original Poster

                    Originally posted by Jleegriffith View Post
                    I find it hard to believe that a horse that both your trainer and yourself have been riding is now all a sudden 3/5 lame on just a trot up. Has he been lame and you just didn't notice? Was this a flexion or just jogging him up and down?

                    It is IMPOSSIBLE to tell if there is an issue without taking xrays. It is normal for track horses to be sore behind. I know people will debate this all day long but practically all I deal with is horses coming right from the track and they are almost always a bit funky behind. Just the act of breaking out of the the starting gate can mess with the muscles back there making a sound horse seem sore.

                    The vet should have been able to isolate the hock vs the stifle during the PPE without it being a lameness exam. They are different flexions and you can also often tell if a horse is just sore up higher from flexions vs having an issue with hocks or stifles.

                    It isn't that expensive to xray. You are doing a lot of guessing here without truly knowing. I would say at max you are looking at $500 to do the xrays of hock and stifle to know.
                    Yes, I was shocked too because neither me, nor my trainer, nor my farrier (who did trot circles during the evaluation) noticed the hind lameness. I asked the vet about it and he said that a level 3 was very broad and just meant that the lameness was visible at the trot (could range from barely perceptible to three legged). I couldn't see it from the side, but it was visible from behind. He dipped a hip and did a tiny head bob with each step.

                    He has been off the track for 2+ years, so unfortunately I don't think he's just muscle sore. However, she said he was on the Euro-cizer 2.5 miles a day, so I was thinking it might be a repetitive stress injury???

                    The vet flexed both the hock and stifle on the right hind and the lameness increased slightly with both flexes.

                    I'm just debating on spending hundreds more on x-rays when I already know he's off. I think it might be worth it, but I'm just not convinced. I wish he were fresh off the track so I could connect the lameness to strenuous work, but since he's been relaxing for so long I'm more concerned. He's so young, though, and has had such a light career that I'd be suprised if he's not fixable.


                    • #11
                      I guess I am a gambler since I rarely vet anything and the one time I did, she passed with flying colors and ended up unrideable due to Wobblers. In this case, since she is willing to take him back at any time, I would take the $1 deal and proceed to get him thoroughly checked out. But everyone has a different risk tolerance so only you can know the risk you can tolerate.
                      If you believe everything you read, better not read. -- Japanese Proverb


                      • #12
                        Have a good cry, I know I would.
                        If you want to give him a try and not spend, keep him on a free lease for a month or so, get the thrush cleaned up, and ride him consistently to see if you or your trainer can feel or see a true lameness and to see if some conditioning and time out of the stall improves him. Do a chiropractor or massage if you can afford it.
                        If you send him back, stop looking and maybe lease and take lessons to give yourself a break, mentally and financially.


                        • Original Poster

                          Originally posted by caffeinated View Post
                          The vet saw a grade 3 lameness - wouldn't that be fairly obvious?
                          Yes, I thought it was weird that said a level 3 lameness. None of us saw the lameness, either in turn-out, lounge, or under saddle. I'm wondering if a week of consistent work (light, but consistent) brought the issue out? Or maybe the issue came from his long haul? Maybe he played too hard in turn-out? I did notice him being weird about that leg (jerking it away when hoof picking) since he first arrived, which leads me to believe the issue was pre-existing.

                          I have several friends who never do vet checks, especially not on free horses that are moving fine. I did a vet check on my last guy, he passed with flying colors, and he died less than 2 years later. It's certaintly no guarantee.

                          My farrier suggested getting his thrush under control (estimated 6 weeks for total healing) before shelling out money for a lameness exam. Do you think I should do that or just go ahead and have the vet back out to do rads on that leg? Also, I have an amazing vet hospital I could take him too if I was to feel even more confident about a diagnosis, but then I'm adding $ for hauling...


                          • #14
                            This happened to me when horse shopping. Although I vetted 2 really lovely mares and then decided I needed a break from looking when they both failed back to back. The minute I decided to stop looking someone told me to call my gelding's breeder and just over a year later I couldn't be happier. I wasn't in your exact same position but coming from experience don't spend your money diagnosing and fixing a horse that you do not own when you could be saving that money for something that doesn't have that issue.

                            My vet even told me essentially the same thing as you in terms of PPE to Lameness exam. I opted to send the horses back. I had recently lost one of my families horses and didn't want to start off with a horse that I would always be worried about and "looking" for lameness.

                            I am so sorry that you are going through this. I would say either take a break or just go back to casually looking. You might find the horse of your dreams but you might also end up spending a few months saving and finding something down the road.

                            Chin up! Horse shopping is only fun when you find the horse of your dreams. You'll get there!


                            • #15
                              If he's just coming back to work, I'd get him into full work for a few weeks before doing a PPE. He could just be sore from going back to work! And if it's something else, the buildup in work will make it more obvious. I'd do the free lease for a few months and see what shakes out. And don't get attached to him in the meantime...


                              • Original Poster

                                Originally posted by WW_Queen View Post
                                You definitely need a trusted trainer/local eventer/rider friend who is familiar with track purchasing can help you do flexions and spot basic lameness so that you can do them "on the spot" and pre-filter your prospects. A 3/5 is a pretty big red flag that you would have seen from the beginning (unless they were masking it with painkillers, of course).
                                The crazy thing is that my farrier (very competant and works with tons of vets to address soundness issues), my trainer (trusted), and my barn manager (different discipline, but very savvy horse person with 20+ years experience) all previewed him before the actual vet check and thought he looked okay. None of us trotted him up on hard ground or analyzed from behind the way the vet did. We all just watched him in turn out, tight circles, lounge, and under saddle. He looks fine except from behind. My farrier did hoof testing and he was reactive, but we figured that it just due to his terrible thrush. Also, he is currently barefoot. His feet are pretty mushy and damaged, so I think we were all giving him a bit of a free pass (but even then we didn't see him moving as if he were lame).


                                • #17
                                  Wow! you can't catch a break!

                                  At this point I wouldn't do a lameness exam. It sounds like there is definitely something there, esp if you can see it and your blacksmith can feel it, and of course the vet saw it. If he's had two years off and this is what you have I doubt if it's going to improve. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but stifles are complex joints and once you've identified exactly what's wrong with an injured stifle, it can be hard to fix. The fact that he drags his toe makes me worry that he's in pain (and is also another indicator that, in fact, his stifle is injured). He's a very good sport about bearing pain and that probably makes it even harder to give him up.

                                  Maybe before making any decision you could ask your vet to tell you the various treatments and costs for injured stifles. Hopefully that information would be free and could help you determine what to do.

                                  Also, would keeping him 6 weeks (your farrier's suggestion) eat into your horse purchase fund?

                                  I'm really sorry you're having such a hard time
                                  Last edited by SEPowell; Mar. 26, 2013, 02:40 PM. Reason: I cant talk


                                  • #18
                                    Only you can make the decision that's best for you, but if it was me, I'd take the gamble I've been in your shoes with OTTBs and other CL and slaughter-bound finds, and I just make the assumption that -- as a previous poster said -- there's something wrong with any given horse at any moment in time. There are a few things I'd do (and have done): Take the horse, get x-rays, if the issue is negligible and manageable, use supportive therapies such as supplementation, gymnastic / training / PT, and chiropractic / ESMT / acupuncture. If the horse doesn't seem like he'll do for your riding aspirations, resale as a LL, trail, etc.

                                    In the end, it boils down to luck, a good eye, and a good support team. Like other posters, I don't usually PPE. The ONE horse I extensively (and expensively) PPEd was the ONE horse that ended up costing both me and my insurance company the most. Heck, I think we single-hoofedly helped build a new wing at Rood and Riddle
                                    Piaffe Girl -- Dressage. Fashionably.


                                    • #19
                                      Go back and get the mare...(she says ducking)


                                      • #20
                                        Me. I'd buy him for a $1. Sounds like he hasn't had the best work/turnout situation.

                                        I'd not do a lameness exam yet. I'd spend a little money on a good body work person and start him on a course of Pentosan or Adaquan and take care of his feet....give him a month of just turn out. THEN I would start to leg him up slowly. NO CIRCLES for a while. Mostly walking hacks. If as he goes back to work, I see the hind end lameness...then I would get the vet out.

                                        To me, he sounds worth putting in the money to treat whatever is going on. If I can't get him right with some time and vet work, then I would contact his former owner and either let them have him back or place him somewhere else. But I would take a gamble on him.

                                        ALL horses are a gamble. They can step in a hole and break their leg. The PPE is just a moment in time and not a guarantee they will stay sound.

                                        You like this horse, you like his type and you are having fun with him. If his purchase price is now $1....I'd take the risk on him.
                                        ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **