#TBT: What I Learned From a Failed Vet Check

So, after months of searching, you think you’ve found your perfect horse. But then… it doesn’t pass the pre-purchase. Lorraine Jackson looks on the bright side.


Originally published February 7, 2013:

The night before the veterinarian pre-purchase exam, I sat on the floor composing two lists. On one list are the deal breakers, on the other are things that I could live with if they turn up. But in my mind, I was composing barn names, bucket lists, and show schedules.

Fast forward to 12 hours later as I’m pulling away from the barn, with no papers in hand, still clutching my envelope of meticulously saved cash. Vet check? I’d call it a gut check.

What the perpetual vet student learned:

Vet checks, when done properly, are absolutely fascinating. Lameness tests, vision tests, dental checks, chiropractic checks, wow. I can honestly say that I feel like I didn’t waste my money on that vet check, even if I didn’t get a horse. I chalk it up to horse tuition, and it was money well spent.

What the competitor learned:

The horse I was having vet checked came up with a mildly short stride in the left hind, something medically known as a decreased cranial phase.  No pain, no lameness. But it was there, and possibly permanent. While I claim to be riding 90% for pleasure and personal growth and 10% to show, I was instantly wary that this short stride, while perhaps not ever a sign of future pain or lameness, could instantly rule out a slew of possible competitive disciplines. While I’m not shopping for an Olympian, the competitor in me didn’t like that the sky already had a limit before I’d even signed the papers. I’m not looking for the next Neville Bardos, but I think I would hate knowing she wasn’t Neville Bardos from day one.

The vet made it perfectly clear to me that his job was to present the facts, and the decision was ultimately mine. I was glad that I had prepared a list ahead of time, as an undetectable lameness with no source was one of only a handful of things on my deal-breaker list, and seeing it in black and white helped me make the decision rationally and not emotionally. With several hundred more dollars, I might have been able to discover the problem, but that just wasn’t in the budget for a horse that was still only hypothetically mine, at best. I apologized to the owner, and offered to share my vet check results with any of her future potential buyers. While I was gutted to walk away, I knew that this was a lovely young mare who deserved an owner that would love her for exactly what she had to offer.

What the lifelong horse lover learned:

After leaving the seller’s barn, I went to my own barn to ride the horse that I share with my mother, a mustang mare named Posie. I needed time to clear my head, and remind myself of why I love these crazy, wonderful, expensive animals. I needed a great ride.

What I got was kind of an average ride, smattered with great moments and also miscommunications. Seven feet off the ground my head felt clearer, as it often does atop a horse. The morning’s experiences reaffirmed that what I wanted more than any horse in the world was the ability to communicate well with any horse in the world. While horse ownership might have put me on the fast track to looking and feeling legitimate, it did not make me an expert. I decided  to take the unspent envelope of cash and put it in my lesson/clinics/equine literature fund.

At a failed vet check, I learned that the one thing I want more than a horse is horsemanship.

A huge thank you to Dr. Lyle Barbour and his staff at South Mountain Equine Veterinary Services for their wonderful work and assistance.


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