Finally, the last recommendation before making your decision to buy your first horse, is making sure the horse is sound. This means that the horse does not have any lameness. Unsoundness can come in many forms, not just the obvious; from respiratory problems, to muscular or skeletal problems, to feet problems. You also want a horse that is mentally sound in his or her way of thinking and dealing with life’s everyday issues. Lets’ assume you have found a horse of interest and you are going back for a second look. Now you are familiar with the horses’ ways and mannerisms. This will give you an advantage as it will make it a little easier to detect some of these things I am about to discuss.
It is important that you look for evenness in their gaits, (walk, trot and canter); no head bobbing as they go through their motions and when you are on their backs, and that every time they put each foot down while at a walk, trot or canter, that each step feels the same. When you are riding a horse, they should feel smooth and even. You are looking for a comfortable ride, the smoother the better. Of course, if a horse has not been ridden in several months or years, their gait will not be quite as smooth perhaps as it should be, as their fitness level will determine this to a degree. When you are on a horse’s back and they are jolting you in the saddle and the horse seems to be pounding the ground, (instead of moving easily across the ground), this should be a red flag for you. Sound and good moving horses just seem to float across the surface. Each horse is an individual, and each one will feel different and you have to take that into consideration. The way in which we ride a horse will also change the outcome of his or her ability to please us.
Let’s move on to muscular, joint and feet problems. If a horse has been ridden too hard on a particular day, they may be moving a little off, (meaning that they are not moving evenly and smoothly), and they may experience some stiffness and soreness due to the build up of lactic acid in the muscles. But as the lactic acid is absorbed by the body, the soreness should subside and the horse’s gaits should go back to normal. If there are chronic muscle issues, then it will take much longer for the horse to re-cooperate and this is another red flag. If, when you go to mount the horse, and they go down in the back, this of course means that their back is sore, but why? This behavior may not just be the back, but may also involve the stifle muscles or other muscles adjoining these areas. Usually, if a horse is unsound because of joint issues, there will be some heat or swelling involved which may or may not be easily detected by a beginner horse person. If you are suspicious of joint problems, it may be in your best interest to have a veterinarian perform a physical check on the horse and maybe take x-rays just to be sure; depending on the amount of money you are willing to spend. Also, feet problems are a very big issue and can sometimes be difficult to diagnose. If you put your hands around the coronet band, (the very top of the front and side of the foot), where the leg meets the foot, you want to feel if there is any heat in that area and you need to do this on each foot. Also by picking up the feet and looking at the bottom, you will notice a v-shape what is known as a frog. The frog should be a little spongy, yield slightly to a pressured touch, should not have any odor and should look full and not partially eaten away by fungus. Also the walls of the foot, similar to our fingernail, should be extending further down from the frog meaning if you look at the foot from the side, the walls of the foot, (darker outer fingernail), should be a little longer than the frog, but not too long. A good blacksmith is invaluable in today’s horse world as some sound horses need a little more care in this area in order to keep them sound, especially if they are being ridden or campaigned a lot.
The next issue of soundness is respiratory. These problems can be physical malfunctions which will not allow the proper flow of air called a palate. The palate is a mechanism located in the throat area which separates the flow of air and food. That means that if the palate is not working properly it can cause some distress for your horse when breathing. Horses can also suffer from allergies and a problem called heaves. I will be going in depth about these problems at a later date, but for now, you should pay attention to how the horse you are considering is breathing when at a stand still, and how quickly their nostrils start getting wider and wider at what stage of riding. Of course, horses who are not being ridden often and/or are overweight, their nostrils will start to flare very easily. If you just started riding, and the horse is breathing heavy, and you can hear them breathing or they are making a loud noise, this is not a good sign. Horses with the heaves will show signs first, (with little or no exercise), of coughing, sometimes severely, and their stomach’s will tighten up and then drop suddenly, tighten up and drop suddenly. Horses with heaves are usually not very usable and need special care as far as their feed and hay regiment.
So in conclusion of this series Buying a New Horse, I wish you the best of luck. May it be the beginning of a very long, happy and healthy time for you with the possibility of many more horses in your life to come. They will be as much a part of your family as any other member and will give you endless hours of happiness, fun and love.