Guest columnist of this week is American horse dealer Marjory Berkache, who manages a boutique sale barn EquiSale Sport Horses in Florida, which sells Hunter/Jumper horses. With long-time experience in selling horses from Europe to the U.S.A. she wants to share her two cents on the make or break status of X-rays in horse sales.
The Infamous X-Ray
Can we stop a minute and debate the elephant in the room, when it comes to selling and buying horses : the Infamous x-rays.
As soon as I hear the word x-ray now, I want to lick the cap of a tube of Gastroguard and pop a Xanax because I know that whether I’m the one buying a horse in Europe or selling one in the US, doom will be impending as soon as we are going to deal with the x-rays.
Back in the days, when digital x-rays didn’t exist, you would go pick up the best jumping horse you could afford, show the horse and sell it. If he was not 3 legged lame during the clinical exam, you could count on money coming to your bank account.
But in 2019, horse buying/selling is a whole different ball game. Forget about buying the best horse, you need to buy the horse with the best x-rays. This is now the #1 criteria of choice ... then if the horse is half decent, bingo. But you are actually better off buying an average horse with textbook x-rays than buying the next Olympic winner with a blemish. And I found this new reality kind of sad ...
First step is to get the European vet to approve the x-rays (which means that 75% of the horses will actually fail that first screen...) when you get 40+ views, something will most likely turn up. From there you have 3 options; you pass on the horse, you buy the horse and do plastic surgery on the joint to remove a chip that will most likely never cause any lameness issues but will upset the buyer, or you are lucky enough to go to the next stage.
Step 2 you get your US vet to look at the x-rays... Most likely, the US vet will find “new” stuff that the Euro vet didn’t pick up. To the point where you wonder if the vets in Europe even get a course in x-ray reading at vet school, because the standards here and over there are SOOOO different.
So now x-rays have been seen and Okayed by 2 professionals... but this was actually the easy part. The hard part is to have the client’s vet on board. Every buyer wants their vet to tell them the horse will never be lame, and every vet wants to cover their butt and will not commit to say that the horse will never be lame. And that is the sticky part!
So now we have xrays which can be sent and reviewed by 6 or 7 vets and every single one of them will come up with a different interpretation. To the point where I believe that the Rorschach inkblot test is actually less subjective than a set of horse x-rays.
We have clients who spends thousands and thousands of dollars on failed vettings, and become more sour about the process than a girl shopping for a swimsuit after Thanksgiving and the Christmas holidays....
Call me lucky, but out of all the vet bills I have paid over the years (and when I even think about the total, I figure I could easily afford a penthouse in NYC), I have dealt with broken legs, abscesses, colics, EPM, soft tissue injuries, catastrophic wounds, aneurism, pneumonia, and all sorts of things ... but I must be the luckiest girl on the planet because I have never had issues with any findings on xrays gone bad.
I cringe when I see people jumping every day in bad footing, I have to bite my tongue when I see the shoeing job on a lot of horses but I, for one will not shy away from acceptable but less than perfect xrays on my personal horses. For my sale horses, I have to go through the nit-pick process and still it’s not a reliable process.
So 2 years ago I bought a young horse with crap xrays, and because of the current mentality, I bought him for a song. Two years later I have people offering me 6 figures for him, because in the ring he is actually much better than all the horses with clean xrays.
So people... instead of worrying about what might happen in 2 years, 4 years or 10 years from now, take a chance and go buy the horse that makes your heart pitter patter, not the one that your vet thinks might be sound 12 years from now ...
Owning a horse is a day by day commitment, so Carpe Diem and stop obsessing about the x-rays.
- by Marjory Berkache