Splints are very common, very few horses being without them; they seldom cause lameness, and unless they are very large, or are placed in such a way that they interfere, or are likely to interfere, with the action of the suspensory ligament, or are liable to be struck with the opposite foot, no horse should be rejected on their account.
Thickening of the flexor tendons, and of the suspensory ligament, is serious. The latter lies between the back tendons and the bone, and the enlargement is generally seen on the inside, about three parts of the way down from the knee to the fetlock; about that point the ligament branches into two portions, and it is there that nearly all the sprains take place. A horse with the least enlargement there should on no account be purchased.
Thickening of the tendons among horses sold at fairs is, as a rule, very rare, or if present very slight, as no horse could be sold if it were marked; as with the thickened ligament, when it is present it is very small. However this may be, a horse should be at once rejected for either thickened tendons or ligaments, as it is a grave defect; for if the animal at any time subsequently, and especially in hunting, is made to undergo very severe exertion, he will probably give way in this, his weak part. To find out these defects, it is necessary to compare both legs by passing the hand first down the tendons of one leg and then those of the other; and if the ligament or tendon in one feels thicker than its fellow, then the examiner may feel quite sure there is something wrong, and should have nothing to do with the horse.
"Broken knees" are, as a rule, not of so much consequence to a hunter as to a hack or harness horse, and do not affect the price so much as with the latter class. In a stone-wall hunting country, it is very common to see really good hunters with blemished knees. If the action is good, square, and clear, and there is no "brushing" or "speedy cutting," it may, as a rule, be concluded that the blemish was the result of an accident. If the blemish is noticed, and the dealer says the horse hit the knee against the manger, then have nothing to do with the animal, as no honest dealer would make such a statement. Horses generally get broken knees by falling, and sometimes in jumping; but cases are so rare as to be almost unknown in which injury was caused by knocking the leg against the manger.
Some horses will rub the hair off their knees in the stable, but the hair roots can always be seen, and there is no scar. To find out whether there is a scar or not, the hand should be rubbed against the hair, and the hair may be slightly damped.
Horses with the point of the hip knocked off are often seen at fairs. The injury depreciates the animal's value. It is discovered by standing behind the horse and comparing the two quarters, when it will be found that one is more flat-sided than the other. It is a common blemish in young horses on farms.
One of the most common of all kinds of unsoundness among hunters at fairs is "spavin." It is essentially necessary to examine the hocks most closely and carefully, not only as regards any disease in the hock itself, but also with respect to its conformation.
A horse may be bought at four years old with what are called "coarse" or "rough" hocks, that is, hocks with large bony prominences; yet these hocks may be well shaped, large, and clean, and the horse that owns them will remain sound for years; on the other hand, if we take another horse of the same age, but with small, narrow, though "clean" hocks, and no sign of spavin, the probability is that the spavin will appear before long, especially if he does much galloping and jumping.
A trick some dealers have, is to make a wound or scratch over the enlargement of spavin; they then say that the swelling was caused by a kick, and direct attention to the scar of the wound. A case in point came before the writer. The horse had a large spavin, across which there was a long cicatrix extending well back, where the enlargement was most prominent; the owner gave a guarantee of soundness, but the horse went lame the second time he was taken out, and was returned. Cases of this kind show how necessary it is to be careful with regard to examining hocks.
Some dealers having a horse slightly lame from spavin, will keep him continually on the move from one side of the stall to the other, to keep off the stiffness when he is shown. As a rule, the spavins on lame horses are large ones, and placed well in front of the hock. If a number of horses going lame from spavin are noticed, nine out of ten will have large spavins, easy for any one to see. In the majority of cases, spavins in hocks are due to defective conformation, and are developed through horses being worked before they arrive at maturity.
"Curbs" are occasionally seen in hunters at fairs; but as a rule they are not actual curbs, being only what is called "curby hocks." The straight line from the point of the hock downwards is not preserved, and there is a slight convexity. This condition is generally associated with shortness of the point of the hock, and a narrow, tied-in appearance of the lower part of the joint.
"Curby hocks" are weak, and horses with them should not be bought, except at a much reduced price, and then only with a view to light work.
"Thoroughpins" and "bog-spavin" often go together. They are generally seen in short fleshy hocks. If the "thoroughpins " is hard and tense on pressure, with heat in the part, it is better to leave the horse alone, especially if a four-year-old. If a five or a six-year-old horse, and the hocks fairly well shaped, and if the horse also goes perfectly sound, he might be purchased at a price. Sometimes "bog-spavins" are so large that, independently of unsoundness, they are a serious blemish, and the horse's value is depreciated accordingly.
Cataracts are very often seen in the eyes of hunters; although according to law a hunter means a horse sound in his wind and eyes, they should always be looked for. In very dull days a small speck in the eye is most difficult to see. It is always a good plan to look for cataract as the horse is coming out of the stable, with his head towards the door. Some dealers will guarantee a horse to a certain extent: that is, they will stand to the description they give; others will sell a horse to be a sound one, and if he turns out to be unsound they will take him back; but unless the seller is a reliable man and well known to the purchaser, it is very much better for the purchaser to find out as much as he possibly can for himself, and take the dealer's information for what he considers it worth. The writer remembers buying a very handsome cob at a fair in the north of England, and as he was wanted for harness, as well as to ride, the dealer was asked if he would warrant him quiet in harness. "He would not warrant any horse," he said; "but he would give his word that he was quiet, as he had driven him himself." However, it was afterwards found that the animal was anything but quiet; in fact, he was a most dangerous beast to drive. Meeting the man again, he was taxed with the deception. He said he thought the horse was quiet, as the person he bought him from had him from a farmer, and the farmer said he had driven him. This instance is only given to show how little such statements are to be relied on, with regard to a horse a dealer wishes to sell. It is the same with other horses, both as regards their soundness and freedom from vice, and whether they are quiet to ride or drive. Dealers have horses in their possession such a short time, that they cannot possibly know much about them. We are speaking more particularly about hunters, and only citing the case of the cob as an illustration.
Nearly all the business done at the fairs in hunters is with dealers, as stated before; it is almost entirely a separate business. When the fair commences in the street, most of this business is over, and the market is full of horses of different classes. Should a hunter be seen in the streets, which has been standing in stables for two days previously, one of two things is the cause of it: either he has missed his market, which sometimes occurs, or he is unsound for some cause or other, which more often happens.