Pre-Purchase Exams

Buying a horse is not something you should jump into with your eyes closed. Money spent up front on a thorough veterinary examination can help buyers make well-informed decisions about their performance horse investments.

Testing, One, Two …

A pre-purchase exam is exactly what it says: A thorough physical given to a horse prior to its possible purchase. This exam is meant to help you (as the possible buyer) determine if the horse under consideration is physically capable of meeting your needs.

Because this is such a thorough exam, no part of the horse is ignored. Most vets will try to run their hands over the horse’s entire body because they can often feel lumps, bumps and sensitive spots that can be missed by the naked eye. The pre-purchase vet will pay particular attention to the cardiovascular system, the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, the nervous system (including the eyes), integumentary system (skin) and the reproductive system, if applicable.

The thing to remember with pre-purchase exams is that the buyer chooses who performs the exam. If the seller suggests a veterinarian, the recommended vet may feel that he/she has a conflict of interest and may decline.

The premise of a pre-purchase exam is to provide the potential buyer with current and pertinent medical information about a horse that may influence the decision of whether or not to purchase that horse. The vet’s responsibility is to inform the buyer of the horse’s present condition.

Responsible Parties

Pre-purchase exams have three major players, not counting the horse – the buyer, the seller and the pre-purchase veterinarian — and each one has a role to play:

* The buyer is responsible for communicating to the veterinarian the intended use for the horse in question, as well as voicing any concerns.

* The seller (the current owner or agent) is responsible for providing full, honest disclosure regarding the horse’s health and behavior.

* The veterinarian conducting the exam is responsible for informing the buyer of the horse’s current health and behavior. He/she is also charged with explaining the horse’s imperfections and how those might affect the intended use.

An Inside Look

Most pre-purchase exams include x-rays simply because they are an excellent way to see what the horse’s legs really look like. A performance horse’s feet experience a great deal of stress, and x-rays – especially when compared to previous films – can help the veterinarian better determine how well the horse will hold up in the long run.

Ultrasound may also be used to look at the horse’s soft tissue, especially the tendons, ligaments and joint capsules.

It’s All in the Legs

When looking at the front feet, veterinarians are primarily interested in the coffin bone, hoof capsule, coffin joint, navicular bone and the pastern joint.

When veterinarians examine a horse’s hocks during the pre-purchase exam, they’re basically looking for abnormalities in one of the four hock joints.

A horse’s hooves are just as important as the legs to which they are attached. A careful inspection of the hooves can help the vet form an opinion about the horse’s long-term soundness prospects.

Flexion Testing

A veterinarian may also perform a flexion test. Legs or limbs are flexed, manipulated and palpated to increase stress on joints, tendons and ligaments, thereby making unapparent problems apparent. Because the vet places his hands directly on the leg, he can feel swelling, heat or pain that might be missed otherwise.

Blood Work

The veterinarian will also take blood from the horse, primarily to run a complete blood count. The CBC evaluates the red and white blood cells as well as various anemias. Veterinarians will most likely perform a Coggins test as well for equine infectious anemia.

Who Can You Call?

If you are purchasing a performance horse, consider using a veterinarian that specializes in equine medicine, or more specifically, that type of performance horse. After all, your needs will be best served by using a veterinarian that is knowledgeable, comfortable and experienced in examining horses that participate in your chosen event.