UPPER RESPIRATORY LARYNGOSCOPE EXAMINATION

( scoping at sales)

‘What they can tell you’ and of equal importance  ‘What they can’t tell you’.


It seems not long ago that when and if a horse was diagnosed with a ‘breathing’ problem the first and most popular option was to ‘retire’ the animal. Only if the trainer thought it was a ‘champion’  would surgery be reluctantly agreed to!


In the last 20 or so years with the advent of new diagnostic technology and associated new surgical procedures the attitude of many has changed significantly. Many more horses are now realising their true potential following these procedures.


In light of these new developments it is important for all concerned , buyers and sellers alike, to better understand the uses and limitations of testing procedures.


So often these days we hear comments from racehorse owners when throat surgery is recommended that “  I only bought the horse/yearling three months ago and it PASSED the scope test ! What's happened?”


The sales catalogue lists under CONDITIONS OF SALE ( Upper respiratory laryngoscopic examination) a series of conditions that if detected in the 24 hours following the sale allow the purchaser to return the lot to the vendor.

What is not stated in the catalogue are the upper respiratory tract conditions ( throat problems) that cannot be detected at the time of sale.


So that BUYERS IN THE FUTURE can be BETTER INFORMED prior to purchasing their lot, let us discuss both the conditions that can be detected at sale time ( those presented in the catalogue) and those that can’t be detected until training is commenced.


Conditions in the CATALOGUE (Perth Magic Millions 2005)


If a veterinary surgeon, so approved , is of the opinion that the lot has any of the following conditions:-

(i) laryngeal hemiplegia ( grossly deficient abductor function of one or both arytenoid cartilage's, Grade 4 and 5 ( Lane, Bain Fallon lectures 1993).

(ii) Rostral displacement of the palatopharyngeal arch

(iii) epiglottic entrapment

(iv) persistent dorsal displacement of the soft palate

(v)  arytenoid chondritis or chondroma

(vi) subepiglottic cyst(s)

(vii) cleft palate

and this/these condition(s) have not been announced prior to the lot being offered for Sale, then the purchaser may cancel the Sale by notice in writing to the auctioneer within twenty four hours (24) of the fall of the hammer.


For the purpose of completeness we will now list the conditions (throat) that cannot or are unlikely to be detected at the time of sale given the limitations of standing endoscopy and the moderate level of fitness of the animals being examined.


(i) laryngeal hemiparesis (deficient abductor dysfunction) of one or both arytenoid cartilage's, Grade  3 that when subjected to increasing negative pressures will fail to maintain abduction.

(ii) Fourth Branchial Arch Defects ( 4BAD) other than those that present with rostral displacement of the palatopharyngeal arch

(iii) cases of intermittent entrapment of the epiglottis that are not apparent at the time of endoscopic examination.

(iv) dynamic collapse of the nasopharynx (ventral or lateral) and dorsal displacement of the soft palate apparent only with increasing exercise induced negative airways pressures.

(v) axial deviation of the aryepiglottic folds

(vi) smaller subepiglttic cysts that may not be dorsal to the soft palate at the time of examination.


Why then are these conditions not detected at sale time examinations?


Because these conditions are most often only apparent during moderate to high intensity exercise. They are often dynamic problems associated with increasing negative or suction pressures generated during exercise.

Similarly whilst a person is awake and sitting in a chair  examinations of their airways will not tell us whether or not they suffer from sleep apnoea ( upper airways collapse). Certain indicators may raise your suspicion but a diagnosis cannot be reached until they are examined during sleep ( a sleep clinic).


But that's no good. I don’t want to buy a horse that may have a pre-exiting undetected problem!


Why? If you buy a football team or sponsor an elite athlete you are always made aware of the possible physical eventualities. You know that no one can predict these and when and if these problems do come to light it will be on the playing field and not in the dressing rooms. Horses at sales are in the dressing rooms.


Why don’t they run all these horses on treadmills before the sales?


Doing this would certainly increase the likelihood of detecting these problems BUT horses need to be trained to a significant level before scoping them on a high speed treadmill. Doing this with previously untrained yearlings would be both difficult and dangerous without considering the additional expense that would no doubt be passed on to purchasers.


Should I bother having my horse / purchase scoped at all then?


Of course you should. You would kick yourself if you missed detecting an obvious abnormality which gave you the right to return your lot.


As in any business or venture BEING AWARE IS BEING PREPARED!


Too often I have seen excuse after excuse made for young horses on the basis that they PASSED the scope test at the time of purchase and therefore couldn’t have a ‘wind’ problem. Instead of receiving appropriate  attention for upper airways problems then and there they are tongue tied, nosebanded, nebulised and blinkered... etc!

By the time the actual dysfunction is diagnosed the horses have often become nervous to highly excitable bleeders. These horses can often still be helped but they are damaged ( lungs / mental attitude) and the prognosis for a return to full potential is reduced.


On the positive side THERE HAS BEEN MANY A ‘TOP’ GALLOPER develop following early attention to these problems.


Hopefully at some time in the not too distant future we will see an additional section under ‘conditions of sale’ notifying purchasers of the upper airways CONDITIONS NOT DETECTABLE at the time of purchase.


In the meantime being aware and prepared for potential difficulties will give you and your elite athlete a much better chance of success on the racetrack.


Happy racing


Tom Ahern BVSc MRCVS