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Buying an ex racehorse: problems to look for and avoid!

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With ex racehorse competitions such as ROR becoming more and more popular, more people are looking into buying an ex racehorse. Most ex racehorses still have plenty of miles left on the clock when they retire and are perfectly suited to a competitive or leisure home in a different sport. However, many of these horses do have underlying physical problems which may not be obvious, but could quickly become career ending if not picked up and resolved. I recently came across a really interesting article by an Equine Body worker about warning signs to look out for. In this article I highlight some of the more common ex racehorse problems to keep an eye out for.

Sacroiliac Damage

I think most of us expect leg injuries to be the most common problem found in ex racehorses. But sacroiliac damage is thought to be the most common problem in ex racehorses. It is believed that all racehorses have ligament damage in this area. This isn’t surprising when you consider how common pelvis fractures are in racehorses. One of the racehorses I have a share in, Paris Dixie, suffered a fracture to both sides of her pelvis during training. While most make a full recovery, this damage can lead to a twist or slant forward in the pelvis. Left untreated it can contribute to other problems such as back pain and lameness.

Luckily, most asymmetry through the pelvis can be improved/corrected with regular visits from the back person and correct work. I have recently seen some really great results from people using a water treadmill to improve asymmetry in the pelvis. Things to look for are symmetry of the two bony pins at the top of the crop and muscle being built up differently. If you are looking at an ex racehorse for sale, have a look at them from behind while they are standing square, look for any obvious differences between the left and the right side.

example of pelvis rotation - buying an ex racehorse
Credit The Horses Back – Example of pelvis rotation

Lumbar Pain/Weakness

For those of you with experience with kissing spine in your ex racehorses, was it in the Lumbar Spine? If the pelvis is imbalanced, as many horses in racing have pelvic issues, it is likely that this has affected the Lumbar spine, causing fusion. Although the fusion is painful while it is taking place, once it has stopped the horse should be fine. However, this doesn’t mean the horse is out of the woods as the fusion can split, causing the process to start again. Things you can look for are lumps in the spine or a roached spine which could suggest healed fusion.

If you have a thoroughbred with a long back, they are also likely to be weaker through their back and will be more prone to issues in the lumbar area. This is a photo of Scottie’s back early on in our time together. His dip has since disappeared with correct work and his pelvis levelling out. But interestingly, at times when he has been a bit sore in the back, this dip has returned and disappears almost instantly after a back treatment.

Scottie's spine dip - buying an ex racehorse

Bucked Shins

Bucked shins is a very common problem in young thoroughbreds in training. It is swelling of the periostieum of the cannon bone caused by the stress of fast work. Although this is painful for the horse, it is often argued that ‘bucked shins’ creates stronger bones in the long run, making trainers not worry about it unlike other injuries. Although if it has healed you are unlikely to have problems in the future, a quick and easy was to check for this is to feels for bone lumps on the front of the cannon bones. Scottie has slight lumps on his front cannon bones but from his previous owners, he has never been lame.

an example of bucked shins - buying an ex racehorse
Credit The Horses Back.

Tendon Injuries

One of the biggest problems in racehorses, tendons. The big problem with tendons is that they never heal to be as good as they were before injury. Therefore a horse is likely to have future problems either with the same or other related tendons to compensate. Tendons which are often damaged during racing are flexor tendons, with deep digital and superficial digital flexor tendons being the most common. Check for thickness areas on the tendons or ‘bowed’ tendons.

While tendon injuries are far from ideal, it is worth considering when the injury happened and if they returned to racing afterwards. While they will likely always have a weakness there, if they returned to racing after the injury without any further problems, then depending on what you are hoping to do with the horse, it might not be something you need to worry about.

buying an ex racehorse
Credit the Horses Back

Racing Wonky

When I got Scottie’s back done for the first time I was told that his pelvis was rotated slightly to the right and that his withers were slightly bent to the left. Neither of these things caused him a massive problem, but it explained why he found the right rein so hard. With adjustment and correct work this should start to improve over time. A while later, I stumbled upon this article and found something very interesting right at the bottom. Having a bent spine to one side and rotated pelvis to the other is very common in racehorses and relates to whether the horse raced clockwise or anticlockwise.

Credit The Horses Back

I hope you found this as interesting as I did. The full article can be found at The Horses Back. I got the majority of the information and photos from this site and there is a lot more information on there.

Last Updated on 20/08/2021

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