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Why you should invest in a pre-purchase vet exam when buying your next horse
Looking for a horse to buy? Whether you are buying your first horse or looking for another one to add to your collection, finding your ‘unicorn’ is the stuff dreams are made of – at least for most of us crazy horse lovers!
It all starts quite rationally. You tell yourself, quite firmly, that you won’t buy the first horse you see. After all, this horse is going to be better, faster, bigger, younger… exceptional.
And then it happens. The ‘perfect’ horse shows up as if he’s found you and steals you heart. He is the one and you just have to take him home…
Whoa! Hold your horses!
Buying a horse is a big investment and I am not just talking in financial terms. You will be pouring all your resources on this horse; your time, energy, care, training, dreams… your love. Does this horse even have the physical attributes and soundness to do what you want?
A pre-purchase veterinary exam (PPE) is always money well spent – whether you are buying your first ever horse on a very tight budget or you are searching for the next Olympic champion.
Not only will a PPE give you a snapshot of the horse’s health state, but having an expert opinion is also an opportunity to slow the process down and get advice from someone that is not emotionally or financially invested in the deal.
So, what does a PPE exam entail?
The most important aspect to make clear at the time of the PPE is what you want the horse to do for you, since the PPE will be tailored accordingly.
What is evaluated and in how much detail is a decision you should make with your vet, as it’s based on a number of factors.
The sport and level of performance that will be expected is very important. But also consider how important it is to protect yourself from buying a problem.
Some of the checks are standard, for example identifying the horse and confirming age, examining the skin and mucous membranes, checking the heart, lungs, windpipe and throat, gastrointestinal system, conformation and an assessment of gait and soundness, just to name a few.
In addition, you can request specific diagnostics. X-rays and ultrasounds and endoscopic exams of the airways are all valuable if you are buying a performance horse. A reproductive exam can help determining the likelihood of a broodmare carrying a foal.
The vet will highlight any conformation faults and check the limbs for abnormalities, like splints, joint effusion, skin lesions and scars, then have the horse trotted out to check the gait for soundness, and generally perform flexion tests of the joints.
Often-overlooked but very important is a thorough dental examination. It is not acceptable to just perform the dental exam by feel as it is easy to miss a whole range of pathologies unless the horse is under slight sedation. What can’t be seen can’t be diagnosed, and, in turn, can’t be treated.
Pass or fail?
Technically, the horse doesn’t ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ a PPE. Instead, most vets tend to assign a level of risk for any abnormality found, depending on a range of factors like age, breed, type and level of activity the horse will be required to perform.
For example, an old tendon injury has a high significance for an event horse, but less so for a broodmare.
What’s important to remember is that the veterinarian performing the PPE is not the buyer’s insurance policy for the horse staying sound.
They are providing an examination at a point in time with consideration given to the intended purpose of the horse, the level of work it is currently in and with the history that has been provided.
The final decision
The final decision as to whether to continue with the purchase of a horse will always lie with you, the purchaser.
A good vet can guide, answering specific questions as best they can, about the likely significance of an abnormality and likely long-term prognosis. The better your relationship with your vet, the easier it will be to discuss the findings and make a decision.
Finally, a written report should be given to the purchaser and the opportunity given to explain any abnormalities found during the examination.
The Equine Veterinarians Association (EVA) provides members with standardised report forms.
In summary, it is always advisable to have a PPE performed on a horse you are considering, in order to protect yourself from buying a problem that may be expensive, risky or even impossible to fix or treat.
An experienced equine veterinarian will be able to tailor a pre-purchase exam depending on the individual horse and their client’s needs.
The full version of this article appeared in the January-February 2020 magazine.