The conditions under which a veterinarian is asked to complete a purchase exam have great bearing on how much he or she is able to ascertain about the horse and its current state of health and athleticism. A roomful of veterinarians discussed the ins and outs of purchase exams at the 50th annual American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) Convention in Denver, Colo., Dec. 4-8, 2004. While some of the attendees said they look forward to performing purchase exams, many admitted that certain aspects of purchase exams can cause headaches and could be much improved with advance planning and modified protocol.

Some of the aspects of purchase exams that veterinarians consider a nuisance or a concern could be improved, but others would be more difficult to ameliorate. Here are some examples of both:

  • Poor facility with no ideal place to evaluate the horse;
  • Poor disposition of the horse being examined;
  • Inexperienced or ineffective handler;
  • The horse is presented in poor condition (covered in mud, for example);
  • The hoof care up until that day has been substandard; and
  • Liability exposure.

One veterinarian said ultimately, "You expose yourself to the ability to err." He suggested that if the facility is poor, that you recommend a good facility at which to do the exam rather than allow yourself to enter a no-win situation. "You can control your environment," he said. If the weather is extremely bad, either reschedule or make a note that the conditions were lousy on the purchase exam report so observations can be put into perspective.

Many times the practitioner will bring along a technician to help with the purchase exams, instead of the putting the potential owner (whether a 10-year-old child or an adult) in any sort of jeopardy.

The client is buying the veterinarian's advice, so the vet must remain very objective and not worry about the what-ifs, such as what if the horse ends up being a "dud."

"The best you can do is inform them the best you can on how the horse is that day," observed one veterinarian.

Responding to tricky situations, such as when both parties (the owner and the prospective buyer) are your clients, is part of the territory of purchase exams. "You must not withhold information," said one veterinarian, and if the case appears to be one that's going to cause conflicts, perhaps the purchase exam would be better done by another veterinarian.

Liability was on the minds of many of the veterinarians. "I refuse to tell them that the horse will be sound tomorrow," said one practitioner, since it is impossible to know what might happen to a horse. One veterinarian has his purchase exam clients sign a form that they've received all of the information the veterinarian gave, and he has a technician witness this disclosure of information and sign the form as well.

"All reports are made in writing and are his or her functional opinion," a veterinarian explained. "It really makes you think about what you're going to say." If a bill is all that exists when the question of liability comes up, it can be difficult to build a case.

Another touchy topic was the pricing of purchase exams (on a $1,250,000 horse vs. a $2,500 horse). Most veterinarians in the room charge the same for purchase exams no matter what the purchase price, but several said they increase their prices depending on the cost of the horse to help pay for the liability insurance required to perform purchase exams on such expensive animals.

If a potential buyer does not purchase the horse, they could be given the option to split the cost of the examination with the next potential buyer--just as long as the bill ends up getting paid by someone. This kind of situation presents itself more often at public auctions than in private treaty sales. Information on scoping a potential yearling, for example, could be shared so you're not passing a scope on a filly five times in a day. But this option is entirely up to the clients.

Most importantly, on the subject of payment, the veterinarians urged one another to charge for their time. The number of parties expressing interest in prepurchase exam results and the time required to return all the phone calls and document information should not be time left off the clock. One practitioner said he has an online program and worksheet where he enters specific information and hands the potential buyer the prepurchase report "as they walk out the door" in order to minimize the number of inquiries later and save time.

It's important for the veterinarian to establish with whom they are allowed to share this information. "It is critically important in the ethics of this game to know whether you can tell the trainer or owner the results," opined one practitioner.

Finally, drug testing the horse is another option--one veterinarian said that if the owner sees her pulling blood for a drug test, it can sometimes be a truth serum if the horse has been on any medication. She obtains written permission to store the sample for six months in case any drugging accusation is made by the buyer. Other vets pointed out that it might not be a bad idea to have written permission to drug test a seller's horse and to have that paper on file before the purchase exam begins. "If a seller is not asked if a horse is drugged, there's no fraud," one veterinarian said.

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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