To vet check or not?

Spin to Win Rodeo - - Departments - By Kendra San­tos

ProRodeo Hall of Fame team roper Tee Wool­man has bought and sold as many horses in his cow­boy ca­reer as any­one. That makes him a per­fect per­son to weigh in as an ex­pert on the sub­ject of vet checks—aka pre-pur­chase ex­ams—and the vast vari­a­tions avail­able to prospec­tive horse buy­ers to­day.

“I al­ways do a vet check when I’m in­ter­ested in buy­ing a horse I don’t know much about,” said three-time World Cham­pion Team Roper Wool­man, who lives in Llano, Texas, with his wife and fel­low team roper, Jacque. “I’ll also get one done if I’m want­ing to buy a horse that’s maybe been turned out awhile and not used much. A lot of times there’s a rea­son they quit rid­ing him.”

Very rarely is a horse phys­i­cally flaw­less in all ar­eas, but in­for­ma­tion on those flaws does not al­ways equal a deal-break­ing is­sue.

“A lot of rope horses do need some main­te­nance,” Wool­man said. “Head and heel horses some­times get a lit­tle sore in their hocks from turn­ing, as one ex­am­ple, so may be can­di­dates for hock in­jec­tions to help with that. It’s like get­ting your oil changed in your car for some of them. Learn­ing that a horse typ­i­cally has that done once a year, or even twice, is not par­tic­u­larly alarm­ing to me. If some­body tells me a horse needs it done more than that it’s a red flag that prob­a­bly ought to be checked out.

“Like peo­ple, all horses have bumps and bruises here and there. A lit­tle Bute and Banamine is no big deal. Peo­ple take some­thing for a headache or back­ache. If I can help a horse a lit­tle bit with his aches and pains, I’m all about it.”

Wool­man is a renowned horse­man, and likes to get young prospects vet checked be­fore he buys them, sim­ply to rule out ma­jor prob­lems be­fore in­vest­ing the time and hard work it takes to make a good one. The de­gree of di­ag­nos­tics used to de­ter­mine a horse’s ba­sic fit­ness de­pends largely on the pur­chase price.

“If I’m buy­ing a $5,000-$10,000 horse for me to rodeo on and I’ve seen him around a lot, I ride him, we flex him, and that’s prob­a­bly good,” Wool­man said. “That’s not a big risk, and I ba­si­cally know what he is. If I’m buy­ing one for $50,000$100,000 and I’m get­ting in­sur­ance on him, I want him gone through with a fine-tooth comb, be­cause of the greater in­vest­ment and risk. As a buyer in that sit­u­a­tion, it’s worth pay­ing more money for a more de­tailed vet check, be­cause I need to know what I’m get­ting into.”

Wool­man’s vet­eri­nar­ian of choice is Dr. Cliff Hon­nas of Texas Equine Hos­pi­tal in Bryan, Texas. Like most horse doc­tors, Dr. Hon­nas of­fers a range of pre-pur­chase-exam ser­vices to suit the cir­cum­stances.

“I don’t ‘pass or fail’ horses,” Hon­nas said. “And the depth of the exam is typ­i­cally di­rectly related to the price of the horse. A ba­sic pre-pur­chase exam will in­clude lis­ten­ing to a horse’s heart, look­ing at his eyes, trot­ting him, and a flex test.

“At the other end of the spec­trum, there may be X-Rays of the feet, hocks, sti­fles, knees, and pos­si­bly even the back. And I’ll pal­pate ev­ery­thing, feel­ing for ev­ery­thing from ex­tra fluid in joints to boney re­mod­el­ing in a hock to check­ing for en­larged sus­pen­sory branches. I’ll pal­pate the flexor ten­dons, and the ori­gin of the sus­pen­sory lig­a­ments where they at­tach to the top of the can­non bone right be­low the back of the knee and hock. I may also scope them to check their throat.”

Hon­nas, who’s al­most 60 and has been prac­tic­ing for 35 years, says most pre-pur­chase ex­ams at his clinic cost be­tween $300-$1,200. But when the oc­ca­sional client asks for the full boat and be­yond, $2,500 is not out of the ques­tion. He’s care­ful to get as much med­i­cal his­tory on a horse as pos­si­ble, and if there’s a spe­cific prob­lem in ques­tion will dig deeper in that area for an ex­pla­na­tion, so a buyer can be ed­u­cated and make an in­formed de­ci­sion.

“I try to be ex­ceed­ingly hon­est,” Hon­nas said. “At the end of the day, peo­ple are want­ing my ex­pert opin­ion as they try to de­cide whether or not they can live with and man­age a horse’s is­sues or not.”

Vets often find them­selves in a cross­fire sit­u­a­tion be­tween buy­ers and sellers based

on ba­sic hu­man dy­nam­ics.

“The buyer pays for the exam, so they have to give per­mis­sion for me to talk to the seller,” Hon­nas said. “That can be awk­ward for the vet­eri­nar­ian, be­cause both peo­ple in­volved in the trans­ac­tion are hope­ful for good news. Again, all I can do is be com­pletely hon­est about my find­ings. From there, peo­ple have to use their own judg­ment. Buy­ers also fac­tor in their needs and ex­pec­ta­tions into the equa­tion. Let’s face it, a horse may not be a good can­di­date to work for Tee Wool­man at the world-class level, but may fill another roper’s needs just fine.”

It’s easy to un­der­stand why buy­ers seek an ex­pert opin­ion they trust. The facts come first.

“X-Rays don’t lie,” Wool­man said. “If there’s a chip in a horse’s knee, there’s a chip in his knee. That’s hap­pened to me with a horse that never took a lame step in his life, and it cost me a small for­tune. But there it was in black and white. If a horse has big knees or big an­kles, I’m pretty much out when I’m buy­ing, for cos­metic pur­poses and re­sale—un­less it’s a rodeo horse I can take and win on.

“And that’s hap­pened, too. I’ve knowingly bought a horse that had ring­bone. There was no use to vet check him, be­cause I knew he wouldn’t pass. But I won a for­tune on him (a sor­rel horse they called Brandy). And af­ter I got a good year out of him, I sold him to J.P. Wick­ett, and he made the (Na­tional) Fi­nals (Rodeo) on him (in 1998, head­ing for Trevor Brazile). Some­times the use you can get out of a horse like that is just a gam­ble.”

Re­gard­less of whether or not you get a horse vet checked, or to what de­gree, there’s no such thing as a horse war­ranty.

“The best vet in the world can’t guar­an­tee you there will never be a prob­lem,” Wool­man said. “All he can do is give you his best opin­ion on how the horse looks to­day. A horse is not a car, and there are fac­tors be­yond our con­trol that come into play, in­clud­ing ground con­di­tions and even a lit­tle luck. Rope horses work hard. They’re ath­letes, and they get a lot of mileage. When you play hard, some­times things just hap­pen.”

“It re­ally is kind of like buy­ing a car,” Hon­nas agreed. “Ev­ery­body ex­pects that car to never break down. But at some point, for some rea­son, most cars do break down. With a liv­ing thing, you re­ally just never know. And one size does not fit all when it comes to rope horses. Mak­ing an in­formed de­ci­sion on which horses will work in his or her pro­gram, then tak­ing the best pos­si­ble care of them, is ba­si­cally ev­ery horse owner’s best shot.”


Dr. Cliff Hon­nas flex test­ing Bran­don Beers’ Tevo, 2014 PRCA/AQHA Head Horse of the Year, who came from Jeff and Bo Switzer, who got him from Tee Wool­man.

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