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Prepurchase Evaluation

By: Dr. Patricia J. Provost

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Evaluation of a new horse prior to purchasing is a wise decision for all buyers. The goal of the evaluation is to help ensure that the horse being purchased is free of flaws that will limit his ability to perform what is expected. It is not a guarantee for future soundness.

The expenses associated with the prepurchase evaluation are the responsibility of the buyer and will range from less than $100 to upwards of $1000 dollars depending on the depth of the examination.

Selecting a Veterinarian

In selecting a veterinarian to perform a prepurchase evaluation the buyer should look for someone that has experience with performing them and expertise with horses. Working with someone who can identify subtle lameness is paramount in avoiding purchasing a lame horse. Your current veterinarian, if you have one, may fill this role perfectly. If he or she would not be comfortable in performing a prepurchase examination, ask for a referral to someone who is.

If this is your first horse and you do not have a previous relationship with a veterinarian then you have several options.

  • Word of mouth from other horse owners/professionals
  • State Veterinary Medical Association membership list for your area
  • American Association of Equine Practitioners membership list for your area
  • Standardbred or Thoroughbred racetracks in your area for veterinarians who specialize in horses
  • The yellow pages and the internet
  • A veterinary teaching hospital close to you to provide the service or supply you with a list of veterinarians in your area who treat horses

    Regardless of the source, you should speak with the veterinarian to be sure that he or she is capable of providing the services that you require. Many veterinarians will decline participation if the horse is located beyond the limits of their practice area so you may have to speak with several before you can decide.

    Remember also that you want to select an unbiased veterinarian. You do not want to have your prepurchase examination performed by the same individual who has been caring for the horse for the seller. This is a conflict of interest and should be made known to you by the seller and the seller's veterinarian. This does not mean that the seller's veterinarian would be dishonest and fail to disclose problems but familiarity with an individual horse prevents you from having someone with a "fresh eye" evaluate the horse. If you have no option other than to use the seller's veterinarian then you should insist on complete disclosure of the horse's complete medical record and the veterinarian's knowledge of the horse's health.

    What Information the Veterinarian Needs from the Buyer

  • Who will be riding the animal?
  • What is the expertise of the intended rider?
  • How often will the animal be ridden?
  • How many times has the buyer ridden the animal?
  • Will the horse be under the same management as it currently is? If not, how will it be changed?
  • What is the intended use of the animal? Is this different than what it is currently being used for?
  • How intensive of a prepurchase examination is required? This will be dependent on the intended use of the animal, its past history and ultimately the purchase price

    Information From the Seller

  • Age, breed and gender of the horse
  • How long have they owned the horse?
  • What type of work has the horse been doing?
  • What is the current intensity and frequency of the work?
  • What type of footing is the horse ridden on?
  • Who has been riding the horse?
  • How is the horse stabled?
  • What is the amount and type of turnout that the horse receives?
  • Any known behavioral problems or vices?
  • Is the horse on any medications?
  • The reason for selling?
  • A copy of the horse's medical record.
  • A detailed history of reproductive performance if the animal is being bought as a breeding animal
  • When was the horse last shod? And if the horse is wearing anything other than standard horseshoes, why?

    Where Should the Exam Take Place?

    Ideally the horse should be examined in his own environment. This allows the veterinarian to have an accurate assessment of the animal's general demeanor as well as the ability to inspect for evidence of behavioral and stall vices. The veterinarian, however, will also require an area in which the horse can be exercised – on a flat, firm surface and on a flat, soft surface. If this is not possible at the horse's current stabling facility then the horse will need to be transported elsewhere. Referral to a large equine veterinary hospital may also be necessary to complete some of the more extensive testing procedures if the prepurchase examination warrants them.

    Who Should be Present?

    The buyer should, if at all possible, be present for the examination. The buyer's agent or trainer may represent the buyer in his absence but this is less preferable due to the chance of miscommunication. Be sure to speak to the veterinarian and inspect the veterinarian's written report to avoid this risk.

    There are both benefits and drawbacks to having the seller present. The seller can answer any historical questions concerning the horse and give ready permission for more extensive testing if deemed necessary during the examination. On the other hand, the presence of the seller, intentionally or unintentionally, can interfere with the examination and the communication between the buyer and veterinarian.

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