THE PRE-PURCHASE EXAM- Is it worth the time and money?
It's getting to be that time of the year, here are some tips for purchasing your new steed.
You've found the perfect horse, and now must decide whether to make the purchase or to
consult your local veterinarian for a pre-purchase examination. Pre-purchase exams are
important for any future owner as they highlight possible health problems and help
determine if the horse is suitable for their intended purpose. Some may believe that these
exams are only intended for high caliber horses, however, a thorough physical and
lameness examination can save you from purchasing a horse with costly health issues. In this day and age of inexpensive and readily available digital photography a photograph of the horse would be invaluable in case a dispute arises after the sale.
It is a good idea to have the owner present when doing a pre purchase. They are a resource. If there is anything suspicious, the owner might have an answer for the problem. The vet can then direct you in proper care or simply say "yeah" or "nay". Be professional about this part of the business. You do not want to insult anyone, especially the owner, by projecting your disappointment or frustration with an issue.
Stage 1 - Preliminary Stable Examination
The first stage of the vetting is a preliminary examination with the horse stabled and any abnormal behaviour, signs of unsuitable temperament, etc will be noted. The vet will also note the general condition of the horse and then move onto examining the horse examining the heart, lungs and eyes.
The vet will then examine the horse outside while stood on a level surface to ensure that the horse's weight is distributed evenly and that it stands straight. The vet will examine the horse all over to check the eyes, skin, nostrils, lymph glands, muscular development, spine and limbs and also to check for wounds, swellings, growths, scars, heat, etc.
Once the vet has checked the horse over thoroughly the vet will view the horse at walk on a firm, flat surface to check that the horse shows regularity, suppleness and shows no sign of pain when moving.
If the horse is being purchased for breeding purposes, the breeding soundness of the horse must be evaluated. A breeding soundness exam may include a rectal exam, obtaining uterine cultures, an edometrial biopsy or a transrectal ultrasound. For stallions, the horse should be examined for cryptorchidism and if the horse is of breeding age, the semen should be tested for viability and motility.
Stage 2 - In Hand Examination
During Stage 2 the vet will require that the horse is trotted up on a flat, hard surface viewing the horse from behind, in front and from the side. The vet will look for regular, straight movement without restriction and any indication of lameness or pain.
The vet will also view the horse being turned and moved backwards to further assess the movement of the limbs. The vet may also carry out a flexion test - where each limb is lifted and held for a period and the vet views whether there is any abnormality in movement resulting from this. The flexion test can be useful in assessing seriousness of problems already identified and can expose lameness problems not otherwise found. However, flexion tests can cause lameness if applied too vigorously and so any doubt over the results of this part of the test should be discussed fully with the vet once vetting is completed.
Stage 3 - Strenuous Exercise
The vet will then watch the horse carrying out strenuous exercise in order to note the horse's respiration and heart rate. If the horse is unbroken then exercise will be carried out on the lunge, otherwise the horse will normally be ridden. The horse will be required to walk, trot and canter with the vet listening for abnormal sounds and at the end of the exercise the vet will examine the heart and lungs.
Stage 4 - Rest Period
After completing Stage 3 the horse will be rested for up to 30 minutes when the heart and lungs will be examined again and blood tests taken.
Stage 5 - Trotting Up and Foot Examination
The horse will be trotted up again in order to note that it continues to move soundly after completing stage 3.
Once the vetting is complete the vet will fill out the necessary documentation and either "pass" or "fail" the horse. The results will record any abnormalities and signs of ill-health and will record their significance based on the use the horse is intended for. In some cases there may be areas in which a problem or potential problem has been identified. However, if the horse is particularly desirable it may be that further tests may be beneficial to establish the seriousness of the problem identified and whether they can easily be treated.
It is not the responsibility of the vet to make the decision as to whether to purchase or not, but to provide a professional opinion of the health of the horse with the intended use borne in mind. If there is any doubt as to the suitability of the horse for its intended purpose based on its health it is important to discuss these fully with the vet prior to purchase so that an informed decision on whether to purchase or not can be made.