Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Allison Price
This powerful buyer’s guide will help you reduce risk and protect your investment in a horse.
A trusted veterinarian can perform a pre-purchase examination to provide valuable information about the horse that you are looking to purchase.
There are many horror stories about horse-buying. A horse that has been brought home from a far away place is likely to become lame or display other unappealing behaviors. Sometimes the timing of the problem is just coincidence. Sometimes, however, the timing is just coincidence. In other cases, the problem could have been detected sooner by a skilled veterinarian.
This is the lesson. The lesson here? You’re about to give up a lot of money and want to take home a horse that can help you achieve your goals. Do not rush or cut corners now. This is the time to take every precaution to reduce risk and increase the likelihood that you actually get what you pay for.
The veterinarian will perform a flexion test by flexing one or more joints of the horse and holding it for a brief period. The vet will then watch for any signs of lameness and a handler will start to jog the horse.
Photo by Frank Sorge/Arnd.nL
Exams are valuable
A pre-purchase exam is a great idea, according to Barb Crabbe DVM, owner and operator of Pacific Crest Sporthorse, a veterinary clinic in Oregon City. She says, “Rarely do you look at a horse [in this much] detail even when they are ours.” “And once you reach the pre-purchase stage of looking at horses, you’re usually in love with them and don’t want any problems to be told about.” You need to trust someone to keep you honest.
Dr. Crabbe points out that she does her own evaluation of horses she is interested in purchasing, but she also has an outside vet perform a pre-purchase exam. She says, “It is important to get an objective opinion from outside.”
Dr. Crabbe’s Pacific Crest colleague, Lindsey Moneta DVM, agrees with the importance of a thorough pre-purchase exam. She says that buyers get a thorough physical exam and a written report detailing the findings. Some buyers might even use these findings to negotiate a price.
She says that the evaluation can help you to make informed decisions based on all the facts. Is there a murmur in the horse’s heart or arthritis in his hocks. What are the normal lumps and bumps? What level of risk are you willing and able to take?
Myths about Pre-Purchase
Today’s majority of people understand that a prepurchase exam is not a “pass-or-fail” test. It doesn’t give an unbiased view into the future of your horse, says Dr. Crabbe. These are important points to remember.
She says, “The vet isn’t there to make a final decision for you. Only to tell you what she sees” and to discuss potential problems. Pre-purchase exams are only snapshots of the horse as it was on that day. Dr. Moneta says, “A horse can be healthy one day, and sick or injured another.”
It is just as important to keep the results of an exam in perspective. Dr. Crabbe said that she has seen buyers turn down horses because of one minor issue, even though the horse was perfect for them. Be realistic when you enter this. For example, a Grand Prix dressage schoolmaster will experience some wear and tear. An eventer’s performance may not be affected by minor bumps or an old, cold-popped splint.
To check the sensitivity of a horse’s hooves, a veterinarian might use hoof testers. This could be used to detect bruising, heel pain, or inflammation.
Photo by Frank Sorge/Arnd.nL
Line up the Players
Pre-purchase exams are often conducted by a veterinarian. Which one should you choose? Dr. Moneta says that it is a good idea to have a veterinarian do the exam, even if they are not the regular care vet for the horse. This protects the buyer and avoids any biases. The best situation is when the horse is in her own area and the buyer trusts the veterinarian.
You can also ask your regular vet for recommendations if the horse isn’t located in your area. You can also get a list from the seller and ask for your vet’s help in finding those professionals. Here are some key questions you should ask:
* Are the veterinarians members of credible professional associations, such as the American Association of Equine practitioners?
* Is digital radiography available at the vet so that you can quickly get better images?
* Will your vet speak with you to discuss the findings?
* Is the vet familiar with the specific horse/discipline that you are interested in?
* What is the typical vet’s pre-purchase exam and what are the costs? (We’ll be discussing these shortly.)
During any pre-purchase exam, three other people play an important role:
* The seller. This person is responsible for providing the buyer and veterinarian with information about the horse’s health, if necessary. Crabbe and Moneta. These records should include records of vaccinations, dewormings, and any supplements or medications the horse is currently on. Also, information about any medical problems that may have existed previously, even if they have been resolved. The disclosure form will be completed by Pacific Crest’s veterinarian during a pre-purchase examination.
Dr. Crabbe says that it is also preferable for the seller to be present during the examination. This saves you a lot of frustration and misunderstandings in the event that problems arise. They are able see exactly what is going on.
* The buyer. Dr. Moneta says that if you’re buying a horse it is important to attend the pre-purchase exam. The vet will call the buyer before the exam to discuss any concerns or plans for the horse. If anything unexpected happens during the exam, the vet will call the buyer to inform them before proceeding.
The buyer must clearly communicate to the vet what she expects from the horse, regardless of whether they are present. Dr. Moneta says, “Do they plan on buying their next grand prix jumping horse or a Steady Eddie trail horses that can be safely ridden by anyone?” Are there any concerns or deal-breakers they have? Are they familiar with the horse? Have they ever ridden it or tried it out for a while, and if so, how has that affected their feelings about the horse?
* The trainer of the buyer. A trainer should have already helped the buyer assess whether the horse’s temperament and training are appropriate for her goals. The trainer will help the buyer identify the issues she can deal with during the exam. “For instance, is the buyer an absolute beginner when safety is number one?” Dr. Crabbe says that a small issue with soundness might not pose a problem. “Is the buyer aiming to compete nationally or internationally?” This is a different horse.
A trainer can also help clients decide which X-rays they want to take. These are areas Dr. Crabbe says fall outside of the veterinarian’s scope and where the trainer can be especially helpful for beginner horse owners.
A farrier may also be involved in pre-purchase evaluations. If the veterinarian has concerns about the feet of a horse, such as if there was an issue during the evaluation or if the horse needs corrective shoes.
The Basic Exam
You now know the importance of conducting a pre-purchase examination. Next, what’s next? Here are the next steps that you can expect your veterinarian to take during a pre-purchase evaluation.
* Historical review. Your vet will need to review your horse’s medical records.
* A basic health check. * A basic health check includes checking the horse’s heart, lungs, eyes, ears, mouth and skin and taking his temperature. The vet will examine the horse’s abdomen, legs and feet for any signs of heat or tenderness. The vet will examine the horse’s hooves and shoes. He may also use hoof testers in order to detect sensitivity, pain, or inflammation. The vet will examine the horse’s general condition, including its body and check for signs of disease or injuries.
* A basic neurologic exam. * A basic neurologic exam. Your vet will perform tests to assess the horse’s ability to respond to stimuli, balance, coordination, and reflexes. Your vet will also check for signs of nervous-system problems, such as abnormalities in posture or gait, such as tremors, difficulty chewing and swallowing, and stumbling.
Also see: Diagnosing Neurologic Disorders
* Flexion test. The vet will then test each horse’s limbs. He or she will do this by flexing one of the joints (such a knee or fetlock), and holding it in place for 30 to 90 seconds. The vet will then watch for any signs of lameness and the handler will take the horse out. This is a well-known soundness test that has been around for a long time. However, there are some questions about its value as results can differ depending on how the vet applies pressure to the joint. You should take flexion results with a grain, and also consider other findings from the exam.
* Assessment of movement. This step is another soundness check. It has multiple phases. Dr. Moneta says that this step typically involves watching the horse walk and trot in straight lines on a hard surface. Then, it is longed in circles at walk, trot, and canter on a smooth surface such as a sand surface.
Your vet will look for signs such as lameness, asymmetries, shortness of stride or body movement, abnormalities in limb motion, or footfalls. After exercise, your vet will also inspect the horse’s heart health and lungs.
Dr. Crabbe recommends that riding horses be watched under saddle. She says that “a lot of things happen under saddle that don’t occur under other circumstances.” You might observe that the horse is having trouble picking up one lead, or has respiratory distress.
Additionals and add-Ons
Radiographs (Xrays) are a common addition to pre-purchase checks. Dr. Crabbe says that radiographs are a good option for any question I may have about a joint. She adds that buyers might also opt for screening radiographs. These can help to identify potential issues or serve as a reference point. The most common X-rays are taken of the feet, fetlocks and hocks. Dr. Crabbe says that X-rays of the neck and back are also becoming more common.
Dr. Crabbe recommends that buyers have their pre-purchase Xrays reviewed and approved by a board-certified veterinarian radiologist. She says that the cost is very low, at only a few hundred dollars. And even an experienced performance-horse veterinarian won’t see the same things as someone with the same training.
Dr. Moneta mentions that every buyer has the option to have a drug screen done. This is a blood test that checks for drugs such as anti-inflammatories and painkillers that may affect temperament, soundness, or other health problems. Any additional tests that are requested or raised by buyers will be determined based on the concerns. Dr. Moneta might recommend a gastroscopy to a horse with gastric ulcers, but has never had this procedure done. For horses who have respiratory problems, she may recommend an upper-airway echo for them. Another test that might be performed is an ultrasound and nerve blocks.
You may also want to take into consideration other situations when you are conducting a pre-purchase examination.
* A young horse (around 3 years old). Many buyers believe that horses who haven’t been ridden in a while or been only lightly worked on shouldn’t have any joint or bone problems. However, Drs. If the horse is a performance prospect, Drs.
Dr. Moneta adds that “I also pay particular attention to their eruption of their incisor tooth to identify any abnormalities as [young horses] sometimes retain their deciduous [baby] teeth and may need to be extracted.”
* Senior horse (15 years or older) – Consider blood tests for Cushing’s disease. This is especially important if your horse has a long, dreadful hair, or poor muscle tone, or otherwise shows signs of the disease.
* Breed. * Breed. Drs. Crabbe or Moneta suggest that you test for Warmblood Fragile Foal Syndrome if you are considering breeding a warmblood. It is a fatal genetic defect that affects connective tissue.
Is it worth the cost of a pre-purchase examination? Nearly every case will answer “yes.” This evaluation is a great investment that can provide you with valuable knowledge and peace-of-mind when you sign the sales contract and bring your horse home.
A radiograph is a common addition for a pre-purchase exam. It often takes pictures of the horse’s feet, hocks and fetlocks. Digital radiography is used by many veterinarians to view the images immediately.
The price tag
Although the price for a basic pre-purchase exam can vary between veterinary practices, you can generally expect to pay $250 to $500. It is a good idea for you to inquire about the vet’s base cost upfront.
Although it might seem expensive for a “simple evaluation”, Dr. Crabbe says that the actual exam takes approximately two hours. Additional time may be spent by the veterinarian reviewing the horse’s medical history, reviewing radiographs, and possibly talking with other parties such as the farrier or veterinarian.
Depending on the additional tests you request, the price may go up. These average prices, which again vary depending on practice and location, are noted by Dr. Crabbe:
* Four Xray images of one joint: $200
* Drug screening: $300-$500
* Gastroscopy: $300-$400
* Upper-airway endoscopy: $200-$300
When a buyer wants to reduce risk on a high-priced purchase, it’s not unusual for the cost of a pre-purchase exam, Dr. Crabbe says. She asks, “Is it worth the risk?” “I spent over $3,000 on the last pre-purchase that I made for myself. I can say it is worth it and will spend what I have.”
All Buyers Need to Ask
Barb Crabbe, DVM and Lindsey Moneta (DVM) recommend that you ask the seller these questions in order to assess the suitability of a horse for your needs.
* Why are the horses being sold?
* Would you be willing to take the horse on a trial run?
* Has the horse ever been lame?
* Have the horses ever experienced allergic reactions to medications or vaccines?
* Do the horses have any vices such as weaving, cribbing or stall walking
* Have the horses ever displayed any behavior problems such as bolting, bucking, or trouble trailering.
* What’s the current horse’s workload and experience?