You just found the horse of dreams! Congrats! Before you write that check and load him in the trailer you’ll want to do one very important thing. Schedule a pre-purchase exam. Whether you are the buyer or the seller, an exam before the horse changes hands will be beneficial for everyone involved.
Buying a horse is a tremendous commitment and there is usually a considerable amount of money and emotion invested in a new equine partner. The last thing someone wants is to buy a horse, get it home, and find out that it is sick, lame, or not suited for your intent. As a seller, you also don’t want to sell your horse, only to get a phone call later asking, “Why didn’t you tell me he is lame?!” A pre-purchase exam can help prevent these things from happening.
Most pre-purchase exams include a very thorough physical examination. A veterinarian will examine the horse’s respiratory, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, urogenital, and nervous system. The eyes will be examined using an ophthalmoscope. The teeth will be checked for sharp points, but a full, sedated oral exam can be requested as well. Frequently of most importance to the buyer is the musculoskeletal exam. The horse is examined for conformation, muscling, and soundness. This is done by visual inspection, feeling all the muscles and the joints/tendons in the legs. Hoof testers are used on the hooves to see if the horse has any hoof soreness. The horse is then inspected while working, usually on a lunge line and then trotting in straight lines. In the same way that a horse is examined during a lameness exam, the joints are flexed and the horse is trotted. If the horse takes lame steps after the flexion it is suggestive that there is a bone or soft tissue disease in that region.
Pre-purchase exams are tailored to the buyer and the intended purpose/job of the horse. The physical exam and soundness exam is a minimum. Blood tests are recommended to make sure the horse isn’t low on red blood cells or showing any lab test abnormalities related to their liver, kidneys, or muscle. Horses can have blood drawn to undergo a drug screen. Commonly tested substances include pain relievers or sedatives, both of which can make a horse look more sound or seem more calm. Many buyers also have radiographs taken of their prospective new horse. No matter what the purpose of the horse will be, radiographs of the feet are always recommended. Other commonly requested views include hocks, stifles, and fetlocks. The higher the performance expectations of the horse, the more useful it is to take additional radiographic views.
As a buyer a pre-purchase exam helps tell you what you are getting yourself into when you buy a horse. A pre-purchase exam is a snap shot in time. It tells you what this horse is like on the day that a veterinarian examines it. Granted, medical conditions can be better or worse with time. While it is impossible to predict what will happen medically with a horse, your veterinarian can help you make an informed decision about purchasing a horse.
In an ideal world, when a pre-purchase exam happens the buyer and the seller are both present. The veterinarian is working for the buyer in this case. The buyer can choose whether to share the findings with the seller. Both parties can be present and the findings from the vet are discussed privately with the buyer. A buyer can also choose to let the seller have the results of the examination, in which case the findings are usually discussed openly as the exam progresses. If possible the veterinarian performing the exam should be someone who hasn’t seen the horse before. If the veterinarian is usually responsible for this horse’s care, the seller should give permission for the buyer to see the medical records. Otherwise this puts the veterinarian at a conflict of interest. For example, if the veterinarian has treated this particular horse repeatedly for colic and there were no outward signs that the horse was a repeated colicer, the veterinarian would be withholding information from the buyer if this wasn’t mentioned.
Sometimes it is not possible to have everyone involved in the same place at the same time for the exam. Most commonly someone from out of the area is looking to buy a horse and requests a pre-purchase exam. In this case, it is important that the buyer is available by phone so that they can be updated as the examination goes along. Most long-distance buyers ask that the basic exam is performed and want to be called with an update before paying for additional things like radiographs or blood work.
It should be decided ahead of time what the seller will allow the horse to have done during the exam. The physical exam and soundness check are basic and generally non-invasive. However, the seller should give permission for sedating the horse or doing other diagnostics like nerve blocks or endoscopy. For example, the seller may be intending to show the horse if the sale falls though and can’t have the horse test positive for sedative medications.
Although the process sounds complicated, a pre-purchase exam can save a lot of money, headache, and heartache. Buying a horse should be the beginning of a wonderful new chapter in the life of you and your new horse. So cover your bases and make sure that your new horse is ready for his new life with you.