Vet check update
I spoke with the vet before the appointment, and told him my primary concern was Isabel's back and her ongoing use as a riding horse. When he first saw her, his immediate reaction was that her back wasn't nearly as bad as I'd made it out to be. He said it's clear that she's an older horse, but she is certainly rideable; in fact, riding is the best thing for her to keep her back strong. He really encouraged trying to continue working on getting her to use her hind end better while riding, which is a good challenge for me too-I think that as my riding improves, her way of going will improve too.
High points of the check- he said she had amazing feet..."the kind of feet you wish you could copy from one horse to help out another horse with bad feet." He said they were strong and solid, as were her legs. All great news. He did flexion tests, lunged her, and thought she looked good.
Concerns from the check- some thickening of her lenses in each eye, meaning vision is becoming a bit cloudy (not terrible, but noticeable). Probably the biggest concern is that she has developed a sarcoid between her front legs, which I had been mistaking for dry skin. I feel horrible about not correctly identifying this, but he said as long as it doesn't drastically change shape/size over a short period of time, no immediate concern. I know there are some other threads on the forum about this, so I will be reading up.
The last big issue from the check is that the quality of hay where she's boarded is affecting her health- she has a bit of a cough when exercising and a slightly elevated resting respiratory rate that he thinks is related to dusty hay, and she has a hay belly that didn't exist at this time last year. The BO was there for the check and said they are switching hay suppliers because other horses are showing similar symptoms. So, I'll need to stay on top of that, but those two health concerns should improve with that change.
All in all, the vet check went better than expected. I asked as many questions as I could to be sure I was interpreting his conclusions correctly, and no matter how many times I asked if there was anything concerning about riding her over the next several years, his answer really was that it will be fine. I trust his opinion and feel that I got a straight answer.
So....drumroll please...I do believe that I'm going to go for it and formally purchase the lease mare! I was trying to be rational and detached, but after the check ended, I finally let myself get excited and acknowledge how happy I am to arrive at this decision. While the horse shopping experience clarified for me that I need to be more proactive about riding other horses to improve my own skills, when it comes down to which horse I want to commit to as my own, I really feel good about choosing Isabel!
I think this is all for this thread for now, so thanks again for all the suggestions and advice. I am looking forward to following up with the great folks over in the trail riding section as we begin working on some desensitization (the other pleasant surprise today was that when I went over the boarding contract, I realized there were a lot more trails available than I thought, so we should have more options for riding out!).