Kate Rocher-Smith: Can we improve the vetting process? *H&H subscriber*

Opinion

I buy and sell a lot of horses so I see the process from both sides. Last week, I tried to buy six horses. Two came through their vettings perfectly, while two I quickly dismissed.

The others showed mild radiograph abnormalities. I got several opinions on the images and they were all completely contrasting. In the end, I couldn’t take the risk — not that the horses would go lame, but that I’d be unable to sell them.

Last year we spent over £20,000 on “failed” vettings. These costs must be funded by the horses we do buy. I leave 45% of horses I have vetted, but frequently see some of them successfully competing at the top level years later.

H&H’s fascinating article on X-rays revealed many horses are working with a range of radiographic abnormalities which don’t result in lameness. This raises one issue; understandably, buyers don’t want to take the risk as we all assume a “clean set” of X-rays are required for a horse to remain sound. Therefore, my buying power is limited to what I can sell, rather than what is actually acceptable.

My second issue is vets interpreting the same X-rays totally differently. These major discrepancies can ruin my business. One vet can dismiss a horse on a set of X-rays, while another viewing the same set won’t raise a single issue. Many super partnerships have been lost due to this bizarre problem and it causes me great confusion when buying and selling.

There is no easy fix. I’d like to see more research into what abnormalities actually cause problems. However, I assume the findings will be complicated by multiple factors, such as conformation and core strength.

Finally, vets need protection so purchasers can’t pursue them legally. Vets are under too much pressure to predict soundness way into the future and can become wary of standing behind their genuine opinion as a consequence.

A long-term future

Our business is selling horses but we treat them as if we’ll have them forever. Young horse classes are a brilliant bench mark for rising stars and test them against their peers, but not all young superstars conform to the programme.

We have five-year-olds competing at novice, while some have just done their first event.

In producing eventers, our job is to train them to be safe, competitive — and enthusiastic. Many horses cut out mentally before they reach the top level. Sometimes we look for physical findings; it’s often a combination of the mental and physical that inhibits performance.

When a young horse is growing they are prone to soreness and are often unbalanced, so a rider is always correcting them. This must be deflating for a horse, especially if they are already feeling a bit rubbish physically.

Through my agency work, I see many horses pushed through these crucial years in a misconceived attempt to gain the maximum profit. I hope sellers and buyers can appreciate the significance of younger horses being allowed to dictate the rate of training and this increasing their value, alongside results. In my experience, it makes little competitive difference by the time the horse is eight years old anyway.

Ref Horse & Hound; 3 October 2019