Ask Horse Journal: September Letters

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My search for a new horse has been a nightmare. I ride part-time with a trainer, but she doesn't know of any horses for sale in my price range (under $15,000). I've looked at 10 different horses now, after watching videos and talking with the owners. When I get there, tHere's always something wrong. Am I too picky' I feel like my budget should preclude me from dealing with all this nonsense. I've had decent horses fail the vet check, and I've seen horses that, well, they need to be rescued rather than sold. it's frustrating. Am I not asking the right questions'

Performance Editor John Strassburger responds:


You?d think a budget of $15,000 would separate the wheat from the chaff, but not always. that's largely because horses in the $5,000 to $25,000 price range come with a wide range of ability, training, experience and soundness. Horses below and above that range tend to be more consistent in those variables.

There is no ?blue book? for horses, nothing that says, ?a horse with these attributes or these faults is worth this much.? Basically, a horse is worth what someone will pay.

Plus, something that's a deal-breaker to you may be minor to someone else. Certainly there are unscrupulous sellers, but often something you perceive as a flaw not disclosed in the initial conversation may not be an issue to the seller. We've seen horses labeled ?crazy? by previous owners blossom with a different lifestyle.

So, what can you do' Here are a few suggestions about your horse-shopping strategy:

First, be clear about what kind of horse you're looking for. If the horse must have experience in your sport, don't go to try a horse whose owner can say only, ?I think he should be good at that.?

But be flexible. don't be locked into ?bay gelding, between 6 and 8 years old, taller than 16.2 hands? and with a certain level of experience. Look for a type of horse suitable for your needs. To fit within your budget, be prepared to forego experience if what's most important to you is size or temperament. Or if experience is most important, be prepared to buy an older horse.

Be realistic about blemishes and soundness, initially and in the pre-purchase exam. it's rare for a horse to have a perfect pre-purchase exam. But an experienced, realistic veterinarian will give you a range for a potential unsoundness they find, especially in the joints and legs. Accept that a lower-level horse doesn't need to be as superbly sound as an international horse, and that a horse with an extensive record and work history will have wear and tear. Ask the veterinarian about managing these issues.

Videos and photos can give you a good preview of the horse. But both, especially videos, can make a horse look better than he is or can fail to convey a horse's strengths. Use them warily.

What should you ask the seller before you go' Try these suggestions:

Ask for specifics of the horse's competition record, especially performances you can look up. Look for patterns or apparently unusual results, and ask about them.

Ask about the horse's current and recent level of work. If the seller says, ?He hasn?t been ridden in awhile,? ask why, exactly.

Ask about the horse's level of training, especially if he hasn?t competed in some time or has never competed and is 8 or 9 years old.

Ask about injuries or illnesses and if you can see the veterinarian?s record. Ask if he wears special shoes. Be wary if the seller is vague.

Ask about the horse's temperament, especially his behavior with pasture mates, while being groomed, loading and shipping, and being mounted.

One of our favorite questions is, ?What is the worst thing you have ever seen this horse do'? The answer can tell you a lot about the horse and the seller.

Go to look at horses with a jaundiced eye, but be willing to be surprised or impressed. And be willing to change your mind about the horse you're looking at.

Feeds Hay On Stall Floor

I bed my horse on wood pellets, which break down into sawdust-like particles. I have to keep the stall moist so it's not dusty, but I feed hay on the floor. Should I be worried about sand colic' Is this the same type of scenario'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldredge, DVM, responds:

Sand colic is a specific condition that truly does require sand. Sand isn?t digestible, which is partly why it can build up in your horse's intestines. The broken-down wood pellets may be partly digestible, though most horses won?t usually eat them. However, it's wise to sweep out a corner of the stall for feeding the horse hay, as this will minimize the amount your horse might ingest.

Avoid pellets, shavings or sawdust made from black-walnut trees, as they will cause founder; look for pellets specifically made for horse bedding, like pine.

Comfortable Saddle

Most of what I see and read about dressage saddles is aimed toward younger women, not an older man like myself. I'm looking for a new saddle. Can you tell me if there are some things I should consider that will keep both my horse and me comfortable' If my mare?s conformation changes, can the saddle change with her'

Saddle fitter Patty Merli, Charleston, S.C., responds:


A wool-flocked saddle with a wooden tree is something to consider for an older horse that is beginning to lose its top line. The wool can be adjusted regularly, and the tree width can be adjusted one or two times without jeopardizing the integrity. Also consider using a non-synthetic half pad, which can stabilize the saddle, minimize pressure points and allow airflow.

As a male rider, you should look for a saddle with a high cantle to give support but with a flatter area to sit in, a wide twist and a pommel that isn?t steep. Be sure to sit in the saddle on your own horse, not just in the tack shop, to determine that you like the feel.

Flap and blocks are often determined more by the length from hip to knee than the rider?s age or gender. Older riders, however, tend to use a shorter stirrup and may need a slightly forward flap, and they don't usually like the feel of a large external block. With the tendency to draw the leg up, a small external block is something to try.

We tend to forget that saddlers can make some changes to customize saddles to meet our needs, such as more foam for a softer seat or a softer block.

Hoof Supplement Search

I prefer pellet supplements, so I'm sure my horse consumed everything. The hoof supplement I used to feed is no longer available, so I tried one of your recommended products. it's a top brand, sold nationally and the reviews I see online all echo your comments, but after a year my horse's hooves aren?t doing well. I don't understand why, and I don't know how to find a supplement that works. I accidentally found the first one. Can you tell me what I'm doing wrong'

Contributing Veterinary Editor Grant Miller, DVM, responds:

Pelleted supplements do work well. And, yes, product brands seem to come and go at a frustrating rate. Using the label of your old brand, try to find a comparable pellet by looking at the ingredient lists and finding similarities. If you can't find one, consider switching to a powder that includes similar ingredients. Try, too, these tips in your quest for healthy hooves:

1) Ch
eck the label.

While most hoof supplements contain several ingredients, a few key ?core? ingredients are supported by research to aid in healthy hooves, namely biotin, manganese, methionine, lysine, zinc and copper. ?While not all of these ingredients have to be present to make a hoof supplement a good one, the more of them a supplement has, the better. (See Horse Journal?s favorite hoof supplements sidebar.)

2) Feed a Loading Dose.

Consider feeding a loading dose (double dose) for a few months. Even though the labels don't say to do so, it's well known that increasing he dose of hoof supplement beyond the label recommendation can transform a hoof into a stronger state. The ingredients in good hoof supplements aren?t dangerous, so doubling them for three or four months may help your horse considerably.

3) Consider the environment.

Make sure your horse's environment is conducive to healthy hoof growth. If you keep your horse in a muddy, dirty, or wet environment, his hooves will not fare well no matter how much supplement you feed the horse.

4) Keep them trimmed.

Hooves that are not regularly trimmed and leveled will have abnormal growth patterns that can result in stresses that weaken hoof structure. Uneven hooves or long toes are the worst culprits. Also, some horses simply require shoes. As much as our barefoot believers may object, it's just the plain, honest truth. If your horse is wearing its toes down to the nubs (from hard ground or athletic use) no amount of supplement will overcome that. Shoes can really help.

5) Balance the diet.

A core component of body health is nutritional support. He needs a diet that is balanced in vitamins and minerals. The hoof supplement can't overcome that either.

6) don't forget the vet. If your horse is one of the unlucky souls that suffers from metabolic syndrome or Cushing?s disease, his hooves will likely suffer. Both diseases can be ruled out by physical exam and blood testing and, if the tests are positive, there are treatments available that can substantially improve quality of life (and hoof health too!).