We are pleased to have a guest veterinarian provide an answer today. Dr. Mark Baus of Grand Prix Equine, and current President-elect of the Northeast Association of Equine Practitioners, was kind enough to answer this challenging entry for us:
I am looking for a horse for pleasant, fun, trail riding. I already own a show jumper, now in foal with a beautiful German Hanoverian Stallion from a long line of Grand Prix Jumpers, and have found a lovely TB mare who is NOT suited for jumping (not a problem, as I am not looking for another jumper.) X-rays of her hooves/lower legs ( not sure of specific angles the owner is talking about) show a ‘poor angle’ for jumping. She has never been lame, just came up ‘sore’ after jumping a few times. I have also been told she is in a ‘shoe’, that has an angle to raise her heel so the degree in her hoof has less strain. My question for you is, do you think a horse with this issue can and will be okay for trail riding? I do not ride like a ‘wild woman’ on the trails, in fact, I mostly trot and walk, but do occasionally canter, and even gallop in areas that have safe stable ground for galloping. The mare is 12 years young, and a beauty. She is not at all like my ‘show girl’ personality wise. Do not get me wrong, my horse is PRECIOUS, but she really does not care for trails (and as I get older I like them MORE, I am in my early 50’s and have been riding since I was 4 years old), and she hates those ‘horse eating deer’ we often come across on our trails! I really love this TB mare I am looking at, but do not want to purchase her and have problems come up that I should have avoided when looking for a happy, healthy trail horse.
Finding the perfect new horse is probably the single most difficult process in the horse world. After a lifetime riding show horses, you are now looking for a horse to perform the less challenging task of pleasure and trail riding.
The owner of the lovely thoroughbred is telling you that this mare has poor conformation and has already experienced lameness presumably in response to the work asked of her. Since less is expected of a trail horse than an upper level show horse, our expectation is that we can lower the standards by which we judge a mere trail horse. To a degree this is true but how low we lower the standards for making a purchase decision is critical.
As a veterinarian who performs purchase exams routinely for a wide range of horses, I attempt to address several key issues when I am confronted with a potentially significant finding. First I want to know if the condition has a degenerative nature; in other words, how will this condition progress with time and with further use. The second question I attempt to answer is how manageable this condition will be in the future.
From what you mentioned of this mare, I would presume that her “poor angle” is a dropped pastern angle [lower limb laxity]. This conformation places increased strain on the suspensory apparatus [all structures that suspend the lower limb] and significantly increases the range of motion of the three lower joints. These forces will definitely impact what a horse can do and for how long.
Your first decision is to determine the need for a purchase examination. During the course of this examination, your veterinarian will determine the severity of the conformation fault and if damage to the lower limbs has already occurred.
There are many horses out there that are not suited for the horse show world that can fulfill a need in a less demanding sport. From what you mentioned of this particular mare, I would proceed cautiously.