Knowing about the health of a horse before you buy is one of the most important decisions you will make during the lifetime of that horse. Compared to the cost of keeping and maintaining a horse with health problems, the pre-purchase exam is the best investment you will make. The ability to perform a thorough and comprehensive examination requires practice, a critical eye and years of experience as it is a procedure with many nuances and is highly operator dependent.
The buyer must remember that no horse is perfect, that one is looking at a horse at a specific point in time and that the focus should be on a thorough clinical exam to determine if the horse is suitable for the intended use. Acting as the medical advisor, the veterinarian tries to ensure that the horse does not have conformation or physical problems that will prevent the horse from doing an intended job. After obtaining a thorough history, the horse is examined by system (heart, eyes, lungs, neurological, etc.). This step should never be eliminated.
The horse is observed up close and at a distance. Body symmetry is important. Alignment of the limbs is noted and more importantly the conformation is assessed in motion, at a walk and trot in a straight line and in circles, on hard and soft surfaces, and at a canter. Flexion tests, a neurological assessment, and riding under tack are all parts of the physical examination.
Following the physical exam, appropriate diagnostic imaging may be performed. This component can be individualized and flexible. It could include radiographs, ultrasound and endoscopic exams, blood and urine analysis, etc. The decision is guided through client communication and can be tailored to fit the findings of the clinical examination. There is no substitute for soundness and a good clinical exam. Findings on the imaging portion of the purchase exam should be correlated with clinical significance of the physical exam. Abnormalities noted should be categorized according to their effect on athletic ability as having no effect, possibly being significant, riding with limitations, and rendering the horse unable to perform his desired act.
After completing the physical exam, moving exam, and imaging exam the most important part of the pre-purchase exam is interpreting the findings and communicating these findings to the client. This is where the value of the pre-purchase exam lies and where the experience and knowledge of the veterinarian are critical.
Remember, no horse is perfect. Some medical conditions or conformation are manageable. If some conditions require specialized assistance (shoeing for a club foot, for example) can you provide that, and do you want to? The final decision to buy or not to buy is up to you. The veterinarian’s job is to provide you with information so you can make a decision.
The investment in a purchase exam is money well spent that can save you heartache, headaches, and money and provide you with the opportunity to find a horse that is healthy and fits your needs.
We have a full service hospital and I perform pre-purchase exams on a regular basis. It is one of my most important jobs and I always look forward to the opportunity to help clients find a suitable equine partner for a long and successful partnership. I encourage you to give us a call to make an appointment to meet our staff and take a tour of our facility.
Article by Dr. David Bogenrief, DVM