Written by: Hayley Morrison

Dr. James Crawford recommends what to check before you buy.

Thumbnail for The Value of Pre-Purchase Exams

Laurie Langley Photo

WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO DO PRE-PURCHASE EXAMS (PPE) ON A RECENTLY-RETIRED RACEHORSE OR OFF-THE-TRACK THOROUGHBRED (OTTB)?

Pre-purchase exams are important because many of these thoroughbreds during their racing career will have various issues that need to be looked at to make sure that they are suitable for a second career.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE ELEMENTS THAT ARE INVOLVED IN A PPE?

The first thing is the general health and the status of the horse — that it has good flesh, its teeth are good, its heart, lungs and eyesight are normal, good body condition and decent hair coat, so no sort of issues that way. That’s the first thing, just an overall check over. When you’re looking at an athletic horse like a thoroughbred then the concern is issues with their legs and feet and any sort of lameness, or issues with the lower limbs, knee joints, tendons, etc.

ON AVERAGE HOW MUCH DOES A PPE COST?

It all depends on what you do. A lot of people will want radiographic images taken just to make sure that there are no chips in the ankles and knees. The cost factor becomes dependent on how much diagnostic work is put into looking at the horse.

The racetrack is a bit of a different setting compared to farms, because the veterinarians are at the track and they see these horses quite regularly. You don’t have the call fee because most of the time the vets are there anyway, so you would just incur an exam fee for looking over the horse. What that would entail would be looking over its body condition, heart and lungs, and then checking over its limbs and hooves and then watching the horse jog in hand. It’s difficult at the racetrack to lunge them and to do a flexion test because you just don’t have a ring to take them out on a line. So we tend to jog them up and down a shedrow or roadway, and sometimes we will flex them if there’s
a concern for sure. So the cost varies, it might be $100, give or take, to look the horse over plus the cost of any diagnostic services.

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE COMMON AILMENTS/ INJURIES THAT YOU TEND TO SEE IN HORSES COMING OFF THE TRACK?

Bowed tendons, and suspensory injuries are soft tissue injuries and both of those heal with time.

The next thing that you commonly have would be fractures, so you could have things such as a shin fracture which is a crack in the bone, you can have stress crack in a knee joint — again these kind of things heal with time. The majority of these things all heal with time, which makes these thoroughbreds suitable for new careers. It’s sometimes difficult for them to race again because the speed and the stress of racing doesn’t go well with these kind of injuries, but use in different disciplines is fine.

The other thing you see is chips in joints. Those are definitely a concern. Sometimes a horse will break off a small fragment perhaps in a fetlock or a knee joint and they become irritating things that will bother the joint. A lot of them settle down over time and never bother the horse again, it just has a bit of a larger joint than normal — that would be the majority of them. Sometimes they need to have the bone fragment removed surgically.

ANY OTHER HEALTH CONCERNS?

Assume that the horse needs to be vaccinated when you purchase it.

WHEN PURCHASING A RECENT RETIREE IT’S RECOMMENDED TO GIVE THEM SOME REST AND RELAXATION BEFORE RE-STARTING THEM FOR A NEW CAREER. HOW MUCH DOWNTIME DO THEY GENERALLY NEED?

Generally three to six months is probably fine. Within a couple of months most horses are fine to start riding if they don’t have injuries.

One of the big changes that you get with these horses is dietary. The grain and racetrack diet makes them a lot higher-strung than they will be when they have a regular diet. Some horses who have been working hard and might be a little sore could take three or four months to come around to where you want them to be before starting to get on them.

IS IT IMPORTANT TO LOOK AT A HORSE’S RACE RECORD?

My opinion is no. A lot of the horses that don’t have much of a race record are horses that are quite clean, they just don’t have the speed and talent. I would say it’s difficult to quantify the race record to the actual horse. Some of those old warriors that are still competing when they’re seven, eight-years-old are actually quite clean horses — sound with no issues. And some of them are older horses that have issues with their joints and old tendons, but they keep on going and they are quite sound. Some of the horses that are young and get retired or don’t race they might bow a tendon when they’re young, or might get a chip in their joint, but probably the majority of them don’t ever race or get one race because they have no sort of speed for racing. It’s like me trying to run against Usain Bolt – they would have retired me a long time ago.

ANY OTHER ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO PEOPLE BUYING AN OTTB?

The thing that you really have to be concerned about it is these horses live a life at the track where they’re in the stall every day. They spend a lot of time in the stall, they come out and they train, and then they come back to the stall. I’ve seen a few horses get injured before where people take them home and they turn them out in a field and you just can’t do that. They are not used to being turned out in the open — so all of sudden they will just want to run, they get caught in the fence and get injured. So it’s a matter of trying to adjust them to the new environment.
It’s just time and care and getting to know your horse – that’s really all it is.