The examination of horses as to soundness is a difficult and in many instances an unthankful task, even to the expert veterinarian. Yet many horsemen outside the professional element undertake it, and in a certain measure succeed. By long experience they are enabled to recognize the grosser organic defects and their consequences which appear on the surface and their familiarity with the normal action renders any serious disturbance in this respect a noticeable object. Even those less informed and with no experience to guide them venture to undertake the responsibility, and sometimes by a stroke of luck without suffering loss, but in the majority of cases to find that their self-reliance has played them false and landed them in a more or less costly difficulty which is too often rendered still more so by the interposition of the solicitor, maybe the learned counsel and the court.
It is not to be expected that anything which we may write will imbue lay eyes, lay fingers, and the lay mind with that co-ordinated intelligence which the qualified veterinarian possesses, and for this reason alone it is always desirable that the one should seek the assistance of the other when the question of soundness is involved.
What we are about to say, therefore, as to the examination of horses is not with any idea of encouraging the horse-buyer to disregard this common duty to himself, but rather to show him how great are the difficulties in the way of its successful performance, and to assist those who are beyond the reach of veterinary aid, or who have not the means to procure it; also to help others who, while recognizing a defect, fail to interpret its effect on the value and utility of the animal.
The important questions involved in the examination of horses are: -
1. Does the animal present any appearance to indicate the existence of disease or its effects?
2. Assuming one or both of these to exist, to what extent, if at all, do they interfere, or are they likely to interfere, with the services of the animal and to depreciate his value?
Many animals show obvious effects of disease yet are not one whit the worse for it.
Some while actually suffering from disease are still capable of performing a considerable amount of work without inducing pain, and, although unsound, are in a certain measure useful.
That form of bony growth on the legs of horses termed "splint" exists almost universally, and in a very large majority of cases the animals so affected pass through life without suffering inconvenience from it after it has formed, and sometimes even when it is of very considerable size; and the same may be said of some other bone tumours.
A horse having a cataract in his eye would be legally unsound, but for certain purposes might be as serviceable as one whose eyes were of crystal brightness. Numerous other cases of the kind might be adduced, but these will suffice to illustrate what the writer wishes to convey.
The other class of cases, where serviceableness becomes possible during the existence of actual disease, finds its best illustration in that affection of the breathing organs termed roaring and whistling, in which certain of the muscles, whose office it is to open the entrance to the windpipe, undergo a slowly progressive wasting, during which their action becomes impaired and the free entrance of air to the lung hindered. Here, however, sooner or later work becomes impossible, and the useful animal becomes useless.
As to whether a horse is "sound" or not is quite beyond the powers of the most able and experienced veterinarian to say. The most he can do is to affirm the absence of any outward visible signs of unsoundness, but so differently are phenomena interpreted by different individuals that even here he is frequently met by contradiction from his equally able confreres.