Try before YOU BUY
DR MICHELLE LOGAN explains the whys and wherefores of pre-purchase examinations.
Buying a horse or pony is a very exciting time. Whether it is a first lead-rein pony, a potential Grand Prix show jumper or a horse that you want to do a bit of everything with, the search for the right one for you can be very hard work. You may find plenty of pitfalls and disappointments along the way. You often have to travel long distances to look at potential purchases and to try them out, and then you may find yourselves getting frustrated as it turns out that the horse is not quite what you were expecting. So when you do eventually come across the perfect horse or pony, you can be tempted to buy them straight away and get them home as soon as possible! However, this is the point when you should consider having a veterinary pre-purchase examination performed.
What is a veterinary prepurchase exam (PPE)?
A pre-purchase examination is a veterinary evaluation of the horse. The horse or pony is given a thorough health check and a report produced of the findings of the examination. It gives you peace of mind that you are not buying a horse who already has a health problem that might be career limiting, or expensive to treat. A PPE is, of course, not a guarantee that the horse will never have a problem, but it does mean that you start off on the right track. It would be very disappointing to get your new horse home to find out he actually has an existing lameness issue that wasn’t obvious when you took him for a gentle test ride.
A PPE is recommended even for horses who don’t cost that much, as it can save you from buying a cheap horse with a veterinary problem that, for example, really needs surgery, which in fact would end up making the cheap horse quite expensive.
There are different levels of evaluation (termed stages) that can be performed, depending on what the horse is to be used for and maybe taking into account the value of the horse.
PPE examinations are classified as a ‘partial’ examination, or a ‘full’ one, depending on how many stages of the exam are covered. Both include: STAGE 1 a clinical examination (performed at rest) looking at the body condition, conformation, skin, eyes and listening to the lungs and heart at rest, and STAGE 2 an examination observing the horse moving in-hand including walking, trotting, circles, flexion tests and backing up.
Full examinations also include an examination during strenuous exercise, a period of rest to evaluate recovery, and a follow-up examination after exercise. These are stages 3-5.
In addition to these stages there are many other examinations (called ancillary examinations) that can be asked for; x-rays, airway endoscopic examinations, ultrasound examinations and more. Obviously, the more stages that are examined and the more ancillary examinations that are performed, the greater the cost. The PPE should be thought of as a snapshot of what the horse is like at the time of examination. It examines for any lameness and the general health of the horse. However, the condition of the horse may change from day to day, so bear this in mind. Vets can only examine body systems available to them – for example, liver disease is unlikely to be determined at a PPE as the liver is not specifically examined. It also can’t tell you if the horse is going to bow a tendon in a week’s time!
What should I know as the seller (vendor)?
If you are selling your horse and a potential buyer has requested a PPE, then you can help make things go smoothly by ensuring your horse is clean and the feet are shod or trimmed as usual. The vet has to record markings and scars and also needs to examine the skin for anything like sarcoids (a type of skin tumour), so if the horse is covered in mud this will be a lot more difficult and end up taking more