In a bid to think about life after winter and consider the sale and purchase of horses to bring on over the summer, I have decided to focus on an interesting article(1) that looks at the predictive value of pre-sale radiographs in young horses. Joint disease is one of the major causes of lameness in the athletic horse. Identification of early developmental joint problems is of major importance for the longevity and fitness of the horse and also has obvious financial implications.
While it has been shown previously that developmental orthopaedic disorders (DOD) can impair performance and reduce the sale value of the animal(2), until now there have been no studies examining specifically the impact of DOD on pre-sale radiographs on future performance. The most common manifestation of DOD is osteochondrosis, a condition in which there is disruption to the ossification of cartilage during skeletal development resulting in changes in bone contour and often the presence of ossified cartilage fragments.
This recent study, conducted in Belgium, examined the records of 215 warmblood stallions presented for clinical and radiographic screening prior to studbook entry (1). The show jumping performance of these horses was assessed using their final ranking at each competition.
It was found that the location of the DOD was the most important factor in reducing performance. Horses who had lesions in femoropatellar joint (one of the 3 joints which makes up the stifle), had lower performance ranks and fewer numbers of performances compared to control horses which did not have pre-identified DOD on their radiographs (1). Lesions in the sagittal ridge area of the fetlock joint also resulted in reduced performance rank, whereas those in the tarsocrural joint (uppermost joint in the hock) did not affect performance.
These findings have important potential consequences for the prognosis given to prospective purchasers. If DOD lesions have been identified in your future rising star it is important to ascertain where, exactly, these are located in the limb. Clearly there are limitations to forming conclusions on every set of pre-sale radiographs on the basis of a study examining only 215 horses. The authors also note that the study does not analyse the effect of arthrosopic removal of osteochondral fragments immediately following radiographic identification which would be a worthy investigation for the future(1).
We often take radiographs following a pre-purchase examination (PPE) at Towcester Veterinary Centre. These can be performed at the yard immediately following the clinical examination using our mobile digital radiography equipment. Radiographs are a compulsory requirement for most insurance companies for horses over a certain purchase price. It is also possible to request radiographs at the time of booking the PPE if you have specific concerns. Similarly the vet performing the PPE may recommend radiographs if there has been an area of concern identified during the clinical examination.
If you have any questions regarding PPE or radiographic screening, please do not hesitate to contact the clinic on 01327 811007.