The Pre-Purchase Exam

The pre-purchase exam is an important step in buying a horse. By Jayne Pedigo for EquiSearch.
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Beginner's Guide to Horses

Why bother with a pre-purchase exam?
Having done your shopping around and selected a suitable horse or pony, the next step is to have it examined by your veterinarian. Why bother with the extra expense? Well, no matter how experienced a horse person you are, there are several problems that your prospective new horse may be harboring that are not immediately apparent just from your own careful observations. I speak from experience.

When I got my first horse, I foolishly neglected to have her checked over by my vet first. I considered that my long experience with horses would be enough to help me select a healthy animal that would be capable of doing what I wanted it to do, which was dressage and a little combined training. Well, I was wrong.

I found out, within a few months of purchasing my mare, that she had side-bones, which is a calcification of the cartiledges in the hoof. It causes chronic lameness and meant that she had to be kept on pain medication and also required the extra expense of special shoeing.

The vet who diagnosed the side-bone took x-rays of her two front hooves and the evidence showed that she had had them for a long time, the calcification, which takes place over time, was almost complete. A pre-purchase exam would have brought the problem to light before I bought her and I would have been able to make an informed decision on whether or not to go ahead and buy her.

What if the horse is being sold with a Vet's Certificate?
You may find that the seller of the horse you are interested in has had the horse examined by their own vet and offers a certificate of soundness. While it is commendable that the seller went to the trouble and expense of having their horse checked over, I would still advise having your own vet check the horse over. It is always better to have an impartial opinion.

So what is involved in a pre-purchase exam?
Your veterinarian will do a top to tail examination of the horse and looking at such things as general fitness (making sure that pulse and respiration are within the normal limits before and after exercise), and soundness. He will have the horse trotted up and down on a hard surface and will look for regularity of gait and straightness of movement. If he thinks it necessary, he may perform flexion tests or take x-rays.

What will I get out of the pre-purchase exam?
Generally, a pre-purchase exam will provide you with the information you need to decide whether or not you want to buy the horse. Your veterinarian will tell you everything he found, good or bad. If you have told him what you intend to use the horse for (and this is always a good idea), he will be able to give his opinion as to whether or not the horse would be suitable for that. For instance, a horse that has a soundness problem may not be suitable if you are looking for a competition Hunter, Barrel Racer or Eventer. But that same horse may be the perfect horse for you if all you want is a horse you can enjoy on the trails.

In the end, the final decision is up to you. You have to decide what faults you can live with and which are unacceptable. There is no such thing as the perfect horse, but some certainly can come close to being perfect for you.

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