Olympic team vet John McEwen looks at five-stage vettings
Stage 1- preliminary examination
This starts in the stable and involves the examination of the whole horse, including the heart at rest, eyes, mouth and teeth.Teeth are examined to give an age approximation and for problems that may affect eating or response to the bit.
The horse’s head, body and limbs are then inspected and palpated for normality. This is the time when I would examine its back, and look at shoeing and foot balance.
Stage 2 – trot-up
It is important to have a good surface to make this assessment. You need a firm, non-slip surface of at least 25m, on which the horse is first walked in-hand and then trotted.
The horse is then backed-up and turned sharply both ways. Flexion tests and lungeing on a firm surface may be performed at this point. This is a very important stage for the assessment of action and soundness, as well as being a time when neurological symptoms such as shivering may be noticed.
The horse is then saddled up for the next stage. I watch the saddling procedure for head shy or cold-backed horses.
Stage 3 – strenuous exercise
The object of this stage is to exert the horse, not exhaust it. I don’t mind exhausting the vendor, but never the horse!
The workload varies according to age, fitness and condition of the horse, not the vendor. This is to assess the respiratory tract and heart – noting the recovery time, as well as monitoring the heart for abnormalities during recovery, as this is a time when we often see irregularities.
The horse’s response to the rider, its gait and its balance under saddle can be noted. The chest and heart are checked with the saddle off and the horse is returned to stand in the stable.
Stage 4 – period of rest
The horse should be held by the handler quietly, usually in a stable, to be monitored during recovery. At this time, markings are often taken and a cup of tea drunk. I usually reinspect the body, limbs and mouth at this stage, checking for any changes created by riding (eg soreness in girth or saddle area).
Stage 5 – second trot, and foot inspection
I usually inspect the feet during the rest phase, and like this final trot to be as nearly as possible straight from the box, to find any post-exercise stiffness.
For more information on vetting a horse, see this week’s Horse & Hound’ Vet Special on sale Thursday 24 January or click here to subscribe.