Monday, 16 August 2010 10:29


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At the present time we are right at the start of the 2009 show season. The competition will be very keen in the halter and hitch rings. In a halter class, a breeder will show his or her best draft stock against that of other breeders, and all are competing for the first place trophy. Of course the first placement of each class depends upon the judge’s decision.

Every exhibitor expects the judge to be, first, knowledgeable; and second, honest. If the judge lacks in either of these attributes he or she has absolutely no business being out there in the ring.

In placing a halter class, a judge will inspect each animal and especially watch for evidence of unsoundness. Unsoundness is a condition found on a draft animal which could have been caused by an accident or disease or was inherited. Those unsoundnesses which are known to be or thought to be inherited are regarded as the “worst of the lot.” This supposition is very true because the problem can be passed from generation-to-generation and become a great detriment to the particular line of breeding involved.

With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at the second spleen which may be found on a horse or mule.

Two photos of a spleen on a 2-year-old Belgian stallion. The owner had never noticed it, until I pointed it out!

In the 1940s, when I was enrolled in veterinary medicine classes at Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa, I took several courses in judging draft horses and mules. My instructor, Professor A. B. Caine, taught in the agricultural department and was widely known for his judging ability and his knowledge of the draft animal as well as the breeds of cattle and sheep. He was an excellent teacher and a terrific judge of livestock, being especially tough on the unsound horse.

At that time the college maintained breeding herds of cattle, sheep and horses. This was especially good for the students enrolled in judging classes as they had the opportunity to observe the sire and dam and the effect of genetics on their offspring. As a result great emphasis was placed on those conditions, known as unsoundnesses, which might be found on a horse or mule and are thought to have been inherited.

A partial list of these unsoundnesses, which are inherited through the genetics of the sire or dam, are sidebones, boggy hocks, stringhalt, shivers, curb, jack, and the “curby” horse. To this partial list we can add the “spleen.”

Sure, every horse has a spleen. It is an organ which is found in the abdominal cavity. The spleen’s primary function is to store red blood cells and furnish them to the circulatory system when they are needed.

A second spleen can be found on some horses. It will be located on the animal’s face in the area over the maxillary sinus, from the eye forward to just above the nostril. It is a sunken area and will only occur on one side or the other. It is always unilateral. A normal horse has an indentation over each sinus running down the length of its face and when viewed directly from the front of the head one can easily see that these depressions are equal in length and depth. If a spleen is present it will be much deeper and longer than the opposite side.

A horse or mule with a spleen is deemed unsound since the deep indentation would hinder the flow of air into the pharynx, especially when the animal is working. The condition is considered to be inherited through the genetics of the sire or dam.

A few years ago I was asked to judge the draft horse show at a state fair. The day before the show I was to give a demonstration to the exhibitors on what a judge should be looking for in the ring. I agreed to this “clinic” and asked for the use of several horses to be used in the demonstration. These draft animals were to come from stock at the fair which were not to be shown in any of the halter or hitch classes.

I was provided with four draft horses, including a stunningly beautiful big dapple grey Percheron draft mare. I was informed that this mare had been shown many times in halter classes and had almost always placed first.

When I glanced at her head I couldn’t believe what I saw! She had a very prominent “spleen” on the left side of her face! The owner had never noticed it even though he had raised her and shown her many times.

The origin of the term spleen, as applied to this condition, is lost in antiquity but every old time horse judge and trader was alert to its possible presence and when it did occur, the animal was deemed to be unsound.

So now you know; a horse or mule can have two spleens, and I’ll bet there isn’t one person in 10,000 who knows it unless they came to one of my schools or read this article.
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