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Pre-purchase Exams: An Important Step in the Purchase of a Horse

By: Rebecca Sweat

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After many weeks or months of searching for the ideal horse, you're pretty sure you've found him. He seems to have a sound temperament and is just the right size. You've heard nothing but good things about his breed and you like the fact that he has been well-broken-in. But before you hand over any money, it's a good idea to have your dream horse examined by a veterinarian.

The Importance of Pre-purchase Exams

Dr. Julie Lucas, an equine veterinarian in Wauconda, Ill., says pre-purchase examinations are important for several reasons. "One, you need to know that the horse is not being misrepresented and that you're getting what you think you're getting," she says. "Two, you want to make sure the horse is healthy. Your veterinarian might discover that the horse is lame, has a respiratory problem or suffers some other serious defect."

Getting a Pre-purchase Exam

Usually the buyer arranges and pays for the pre-purchase exam. Choose a veterinarian you know and trust to do the exam or select someone who's personally recommended by other horse owners. Most veterinarians charge around $200 or $300 to do the exam.
        
Before the exam starts, your veterinarian will want to know your intended use for the horse and will consider your plans as he conducts the exam. A horse who's expected to compete in horse races, for example, will be examined a little differently from one who's going to be used for trail riding.

The Examination

It normally takes a veterinarian about an hour to do a pre-purchase exam. Most veterinarians have a checklist that they go through when they do the exam. Some of the key areas they look at include:

  • Heart and lungs. Your veterinarian will listen to the horse's heart and lungs using a stethoscope to make sure the heart's beating normally and to determine whether the horse's lungs are clear or not. Many healthy horses have heart murmurs, though sorting out an "athletic" murmur from one that could indicate heart disease is not always easy.

  • Musculoskeletal system. Each leg is carefully checked to make sure knees and the hock (ankle) joints are flexible. If your veterinarian has any doubts about the soundness of the horse's legs, X-ray films may be in order.

  • Teeth. Your veterinarian will look at the appearance, shape and degree of wear and tear on the horse's teeth. If there's a question as to the horse's age, your veterinarian can determine the approximate age of the horse by examining his teeth.

  • Nose and throat. The nose and throat are examined to make sure that they're clean and free of discharge or growths.

  • Ears. The ears are checked over to make sure that they're free of lice, mites or other small bugs and don't have an excessive buildup of earwax or foul discharge.

  • Eyes. An ophthalmoscope is used to examine the horse's eyes for any cloudiness or other abnormality.

  • Skin. Your veterinarian runs his hands all over the horse's body and legs, searching for swellings, cuts, lumps or scars. If the horse has had an injury in the past, the veterinarian might be able to tell by examining the horse's skin.

    It's good news if your veterinarian doesn't find anything seriously wrong with the horse, but it's not a guarantee that the horse is 100 percent perfect in every way. "The veterinarian is only judging the horse's physical condition on that day," Lucas says. Unfortunately, there's no guarantee that a month after you buy the horse he wouldn't go lame.

    Even if your veterinarian finds a flaw or two, "that doesn't necessarily mean he won't be a good horse for you," Lucas says. "A horse that can no longer compete in any sport can make a very nice trail horse and be a wonderful companion."

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