What is meant by soundness has been variously stated in works upon the horse and also in decided cases. According to Baron Parke in Kid-dell v. Burnard, "the word 'sound' means what it expresses, namely, that the animal is sound and free from disease at the time it is warranted to be sound"; and in the same case Baron Alderson says, "the word 'sound' means sound, and the only qualification of which it is susceptible arises from the purpose for which the warranty is given. If, for instance, a horse is purchased to be used in a given way, the word 'sound' means that the animal is useful for that purpose, and ' unsound' means that he at the time of sale is affected with something which will have the effect of impeding that use," Such may be taken to embody the legal definition of soundness.

Positive definitions are, however, rarely satisfactory, and for practical purposes a negative definition, that is a definition of unsoundness, is at once easier and better. " Stonehenge" gives the definition of unsoundness as " the existence of disease or alteration of structure which does or will impair the horse's natural usefulness". Unsoundness, therefore, would appear to be caused by disease or alteration of structure either actually or prospectively impairing a horse's usefulness. The diseases that constitute unsoundness we shall presently consider; what is meant by "alteration of structure" may be disposed of at once. A sound horse has been defined as "a horse in perfect health, with perfect action or motion of all its limbs and organs". Not that, to be sound, a horse must exactly fulfil these requirements - very few horses do - but a horse may be said to be perfect in health and limb without being ideally perfect. A horse, for instance, with some natural malformation may be perfectly sound, as already intimated, since natural malformation does not constitute unsoundness, and yet not be perfect in such a sense. A horse, however, that had been "nerved" would not be sound. In Best v. Osborne (R. v. M. 290), where a horse moved soundly enough, but had been " nerved" to cure it of lameness, Mr. Justice Best remarks: "Sound means perfect, and a horse deprived of a useful nerve is imperfect, and has not that capacity for service which is stipulated for in a warranty of soundness".

It remains further to consider what diseases or defects do, and what do not, constitute unsoundness. It will clear the ground if we deal with the latter class first.

Bog Spavins

Bog Spavins are caused by sprain or hard work, and in the slighter cases do not constitute unsoundness. If, however, they cause lameness, the case is otherwise, though lameness alone amounts to unsoundness. Spavins generally we shall have occasion to consider later.

Broken Knees

Broken Knees, when the joint is not so injured as to impair its action, do not amount to unsoundness.

Capped Hocks And Elbows

Capped Hocks And Elbows do not render a horse unsound, so long as they do not cause lameness or interfere in any way with the action of the joints.

Contraction Of The Foot

Contraction Of The Foot is not in itself a mark of unsoundness. It is, however, frequently a result of unsoundness, as of navicular disease, and will then amount to unsoundness.

We may here also conveniently notice rings on the hoof. These are sometimes regarded as marks of unsoundness, though they are not necessarily so.

When a horse suffers from a disorder the growth of the hoof becomes less active, resulting in the formation of a groove, and then, when the horse is turned out to grass, healthy growth is renewed, thus causing a ring. Blisters, too, if used periodically, will cause a rapid growth of the hoof for the time, and a series of rings will result as a consequence.

Curby Hocks

Curby Hocks are not unsoundness. In the celebrated case of Brown v. Elkington (8 M. v. W. 132), Lord Abinger remarked that "a defect in the formation of the horse, which had not occasioned lameness at the time of sale, though it might render the animal more liable to be lame at some future time, was no breach of warranty ". This view was upheld by the Court of Exchequer, which refused to grant a new trial.


Cutting is not unsoundness, unless the horse is lame from it at the time of sale. It is, in fact, often the result of bad shoeing.

Soreness Of The Joints

Soreness Of The Joints arises from overwork and is not accounted unsoundness.


Splints do not amount in every case to unsoundness, but only when they cause, or by their size, form, or position are likely to cause, lameness. The leading case on splints is Margetson v. Wright, to which we have already had occasion to refer.


Thoroughpin in a moderate degree would not appear to amount to unsoundness. As this, however, is a matter of opinion, it is unwise to warrant a horse sound if suffering from this disease.


Thrush, when only a consequence of mismanagement, and not caused by any disease or defect in the horse, will not be held to amount to unsoundness.


Windgalls usually arise from overwork, and when of small size and unproductive of lameness, do not constitute unsoundness.