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Severely underweight....wise to buy?

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  • Severely underweight....wise to buy?

    Hi everyone,

    I went to look at a 3.5 year old Dutch WB gelding last week. Due to his breeding, size, temperament, etc, I knew I wanted to buy him. But when I showed up, I was shocked at his condition. He is on free-choice pasture and is VERY thin. His spine, hip, wither, ribs are all very visible. It does not seem normal to me for a young warmblood on free choice pasture to be this way. Not only was he thin, he was very lethargic.

    The owner just keeps saying "he needs groceries," but I think there's more at play. She insists he's on a regular worming and dental care schedule. So what else could it be? Ulcers? On a young horse in very little work?

    I am vetting him on Thursday and have expressed my concerns to the vet. Keep in mind that the price is very right for this promising horse. But I do NOT want to buy a horse that has a serious medical condition.

    Does anyone have any insight on this? What should I be wary of?

    Thank you!
  • Original Poster

    ...another thought could be cancer, but that seems a bit extreme...


    • #3
      A lot of times pasture isn't nearly enough to maintain a young, growing horse. I'd definately talk to the vet regarding your concerns.

      Something to keep in mind too is that he may be lethargic now, but might be a firecracker when he's got some groceries in him.

      Good luck!


      • #4
        Being able to put the weight issue is some sort of context or perspective would be really helpful. You have probably already tried to find out about the owner/seller through the horsey grapevine. Does the seller have other horses? What is their condition? Are all the horses on pasture?

        Your vet will be able to tell you how the horse's feeding regime attributed to it's condition. That might be the key - often grass pasture varies greatly in quality. If the pasture grass is not sufficient - you will have your answer. And the seller is not providing adequate nutrition and food for the animal - resulting in the shocking weight. Good hay is often of much better quality than typical pasture grass. And it is often supplemented with grain and vitamin supplements.

        Hope the pasture grass is the culprit and the horse lands in a greener pasture somewhere else! Good luck.


        • #5
          While VERY thin sure isn't great, I think I'd rather see a young horse like that than one kept tick fat.

          If I liked the horse and the price was right, one very thin wouldn't turn me off. Putting weight on isn't particularly difficult, especially when you know he just hasn't been fed enough.


          • #6
            I'd check for ulcers before buying, or otherwise state in the purchase contract the seller would be responsible for the costs of the ulcer treatment should the horse be diagnosed in the following couple of months. The treatment is very expensive and I wouldn't want to add it to the actual cost of the horse.


            • #7
              Perhaps the worming program is not so good.


              • #8
                Horses go through "growth spurts" like humans do. During a "spurt" a good looking animal can become a skinny one, and then fill out again. I've seen this on multiple occasions with our MM horses who live on pasture. Since this horse is not mature (and won't be for at least a couple of years) you have to visualize it's future conformation.

                That said, the wise owner watches the horse and takes care of the other requirements of good husbandry (teeth care, deworming, vaccinations, etc.). If a horse gets too thin then some mild supplementation is all that might required to "bridge" the nutrition gap.

                I'm not sure that there is a "school" answer, here. The age of the horse, it's pasture conditions, the herd environment, etc. can all have a significant effect on a horse being "thin."

                Then there's the hard truth that the favorite color for horses in the U.S. is "fat." Did the OP run a BCS on the horse? Sometimes horses with solid BCS scores look thin due to conformation (I've lots of gaited horses with "rafter hips" that always look a bit "boney").

                In this instance a good PPE, including a full blood workup, is likely indicated. That means more dollars up front, but could save big time on the back end.

                Last, but not least, is the statement "he just needs groceries." If this is true then why is he not getting them? Is the owner financially stressed and can't provide higher levels? Is the owner clueless? Is the owner just running their mouth? That statement bothers me as it leads me to ask, "well, what else does it need that it doesn't have?" I'd pay attention to teeth, feet, grooming, and other indicators of the quality of husbandry. I'd also look at the other animals around and see what they look like.

                To an extent a thin horse is a "pig in a poke" horse as you don't know what you'll have, temperament wise, when the horse is fed up. A horse that's quiet 'cause it's hungry can become a fire breathing dragon when it gets fed up. I'd want to meet sire and dam under these circumstances. Maybe even a sibling or two.

                If the price is right then take the chance. But recognize that you are taking a chance.

                Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                • #9
                  Don't forget that this year was one of the worst droughts in history. "Free choice pasture" might consist of burned grass and overgrown weeds.

                  Can you get a look at the pasture? One look would be enough for me to know if it was just truly not enough, especially for a growing young horse.

                  I have two mares on about 3+ acres right now....they are fat, but they are also 8 and 17, spend all day inside (not fighting the flies and the heat) with supplemental hay. If they had to live on my almost 4 acres of pasture, they would definitely be thinner.


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Tee View Post
                    A lot of times pasture isn't nearly enough to maintain a young, growing horse. I'd definately talk to the vet regarding your concerns.

                    Something to keep in mind too is that he may be lethargic now, but might be a firecracker when he's got some groceries in him.

                    Good luck!
                    This X 10
                    I wasn't always a Smurf
                    Penmerryl Sophie RIDSH
                    "I ain't as good as I once was but I'm as good once as I ever was"
                    The ignore list is my friend. It takes 2 to argue.


                    • #11
                      There is a chance that malnutrition, regardless of cause, can retard normal growth in a young horse as well as lead to future related issues. Since the nutrition was not available for proper growth and developement when the horse was growing and developing it could be a problem down the road.

                      Some recover. Others never do. So, depending on how bad it really is? I would use caution.

                      I would also pull blood, do a fecal, check teeth and look for the normal culprits in unthrifty horses. Get the answers before you take it home and have your plan in place the day he arrives.

                      Any shot at a picture? If we could see how bad it is (or is not really so bad) it would help.

                      I would hope the price reflects both the fact the owner knew it was starving and did not provide the groceries as well as allow for the risk you will be taking.
                      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                      • #12
                        I would have been sorely tempted to ask why he didn't get those needed groceries. Makes no sense to me. I do have experience with adopting a very underweight horse who was a lovely ride initially. He sent me to the hospital twice in six months even though I didn't ride for four of those months because I was recovering after I got him in optimal condition.
                        McDowell Racing Stables

                        Home Away From Home


                        • #13
                          We know enough about the effects of malnutrition on young human beings and its effects on mental development, later health, etc. I would be inclined to pass. There are MANY things (not just ulcers, cancer and lack of food) that can cause severe thinness in a horse, and many of them are dire and difficult to rule out. Unless he is cheap enough that you can afford to lose what you pay, I would walk away. I speak from experience.


                          • #14
                            Ditto that you cannot judge his temperament by how he acts now. Realize that's a big risk. Many is the skinny horse that turned into quite another, feistier character with groceries.

                            I can't see why anyone would starve a nice, valuable DWB. Something doesn't make sense with that picture.


                            • #15
                              You have to take into account that some sellers do lie, no matter how nice they seem, to get rid of the horse for sale.
                              They may know or suspect more than they are offering to a buyer.

                              Since there is an obvious problem there now, a serious one, that should not be, why even keep looking at that horse?

                              If you have good reason to, a vet exam may help, or not.

                              We bought a feral horse at five that was raised thru droughts in his Nevada range.
                              Once in work, he kept being a bit off and the vet determined he had rickets in his knees, probably from malnutrition when a yearling-coming two, when knees close.

                              A young horse that is extremely thin, that you want to train for intense competition?
                              That brings more questions than if you wanted a slow trail riding horse.
                              That is if the horse, once being ridden, is suitable for what you want at all.

                              Will be interesting to see what the vet tells you.


                              • #16
                                My mare was a ribby when I bought her, her breeder said she didn't like keeping her babies halter-fat and my mare was going through a growth spurt so her feed increase hadn't quite caught up with her. I had a complete CBC done and a fecal and she had no worms and everything was completely normal. She just needed the feed increase to catch up with her. (her butt was a good 2 inches higher than her withers too). Would I consider her emaciated ? No. But she was on the skinny side, maybe a 3 on the body score scale. All the other horses on the farm were in good shape too, so I wasn't too worried.

                                Sometimes babies look really awkward when they're going through a growth spurt. They'll look hippy or ribby or bony around their withers, or their necks will look bad. I've seen it change really quickly too, they'll hit that growth spurt then you're playing catch-up with feed. 3 1/2 in a warmblood means he's still got some growing to do.

                                If the bloodwork/fecal comes back good, I wouldn't worry too much.


                                • #17
                                  The last one I took that was severely underweight was a big cost for me. I just wanted to help the horse, and he was a freebie. Not so free in the long run. He looked like he was on his death bed. He has been the hardest horse for me to get weight on. He is eating me out of house and home. I found out he had tie back surgery for roaring and maybe it wasn't done right but most of his food and water comes back out his nose, and he is prone to infections. He eats a small bucket of soaked beet pulp, weight builder, and 2 scoops of senior plus some alfalfa at each feeding. Next time I will think twice about taking a super skinny horse.

                                  Just saying to get a vet check, do bloodwork to make sure nothing is hiding and do a fecal.
                                  Derby Lyn Farms Website

                                  Derby Lyn Farms on Facebook!


                                  • #18
                                    Remember that "underweight" does not necessarily equal "mal-nourished."

                                    I've seen some apple-fat youngsters that are going to have problems in later life as they are overnourished.

                                    Still, the seller's statement bothers me. It suggests they know that they have a problem but are not addressing it. That suggests real caution going forward.

                                    Mangalarga Marchador: Uma Raça, Uma Paixão


                                    • #19
                                      Yeah, I had one that was ribby, hips like bed posts, the whole miserable picture. Been chucked in a field and neglected to about a 2 to 3 on the scale.

                                      He cost 3 times more in vet bills in the first 4 months then I paid for him. That one got obnoxious when he got healthy too. Stayed obnoxious, might have something to do with why they could not sell him and he got dumped in the field.

                                      Sometimes sellers tell the truth as they know it and as was told to them by whoever they got it from. But they got lied to. If there are no papers it could be anything and not the age represented so I might try to get more info from this seller...like where and when they got the horse. Might answer why it's so poor and the others on the property are, more or less, in good shape. That part really makes no sense.

                                      Without pictures here it is really hard to know how bad this may or may not be.

                                      But I'd be REAL careful and not trust anything as the gospel truth.
                                      When opportunity knocks it's wearing overalls and looks like work.

                                      The horse world. Two people. Three opinions.


                                      • #20
                                        I believe there is a blood test that can telll if the horse has been using muscle stores as nutrition. I would talk to the vet about that as it could give you an idea how deprived he is.
                                        McDowell Racing Stables

                                        Home Away From Home