Early on race days at most tracks across the country veterinarians inspect horses for soundness prior to racing. The attending state veterinarian will check the horses tattoo, feel or look thoroughly at the legs, and then watch the horse jog away and back towards him. Horses that do not pass the pre-race soundness exam are scratched from the days race card and placed on the vets list. Once on the vets list the horse must have a published workout before the state vet and often a barn exam follows to ensure the horses soundness before he can be entered in another race.
This has been a good practice and many horses have been saved from injury from trainers who neglect their best interest. Although I applaud the pre-race vet exam I feel like it does not go far enough to protect our horses. In my opinion a horse should also be evaluated on his or her overall health as well. An underweight or unhealthy horse should not be allowed to race. This is overlooked in many pre-race exams as long as the horse appears to be sound.
On February 27th, 2010 an owner contacted me about a 3 year old filly that he was interested in claiming. She had been performing poorly in Maiden Allowance races and was dropping in for a claiming price of $10,000 at Sam Houston Race Park. I glanced at the filly before the race and called the owner to pass on the claim. I informed him she was very, very thin and has large sores on her hocks that usually come from a lack of bedding in their stalls. Her overall shape was very poor. I requested that the owner allow me to make the trainer an offer of $500 the next morning after the race, a much more realistic price for the skinny filly. The owner asked me, "What if he will not sell her, what will happen to her?" He insisted that we make the claim to 'save' the filly.
After the claim was made and the filly returned to our barn I examined her thoroughly to find she was in worse shape than I had originally thought. Although her legs were clean and tight and she passed her pre-race soundness exam I could count every rib on her side and several vertebrae in her back. Her shoulders and hips protruded from her thin body. Her teeth were some of the worst I have ever seen on any horse, especially a three year old filly in race training. I would dare to say they have never been touched before. Of course she couldn't eat much of the grain we feed so the next day we ordered a couple of bags of Equine Senior and made a mash for her. She loved it and carefully ate every bite.
Until she is in better condition and the sores in her mouth have healed we will not send her to back to the track. Her new owner is thrilled with his claim and her condition is dramatically improving daily.
My concern with the pre-race vet exam is why are horses in this shape allowed to race without so much as a mention to the trainer of their condition. This particular filly ran back in 7 days in this horrid shape. Since the veterinarians perform these exams to protect our horses why can they not, 1. at the least mention the horses poor condition to the trainer, 2. Offer suggestions to help the horse gain weight, or 3. Give the trainer a warning and place the horse on the vets list for 30 days.
I leave you with this question, just how many bones should we be able to count on a horse before they are deemed unfit for racing?
(ATTENTION COMMENTORS, Please keep in mind this article is not only about protecting horses but changing the way our horses are viewed by the public at the races. Do you really think the public doesn't notice unusually thin horses? In no way is this article meant to attack any certain trainer or stable regaurdless of how it has been perceived by some. Unless attention is drawn and an example is made out of the issue of extraordinarily thin horses the improvement in care of these animals will not be addressed. The article was suggesting the state vet could potentially help trainers with thin horses by offering suggestions towards their care or madating a few extra days before a horse could race again to possibily put on weight. Each and everytime we go to the paddock we are putting on a 'show' for the public. Without the public none of us could enjoy this sport we love so much.)