Prepurchase Exams: History, Important Considerations

For more than 150 years veterinarians have been performing prepurchase exams, also referred to as vetting, purchase exams, and soundness exams.

The definition of "sound" in England in 1842 implied "an absence of disease or seeds of disease" as a qualification for being used for an intended purpose, noted Steve Soule, VMD, who gave a presentation on the subject of prepurchase exams at the 2009 American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) convention, held Dec. 6-9 in Las Vegas, Nev. Soule explained that now we consider a horse as "serviceable," stressing the veterinarian neither passes nor fails a horse, but finds out what might be wrong and how this affects serviceability. With that in mind, Soule went on to say that the evaluation of "suitability" is not applicable to the veterinarian's role in a prepurchase exam (PPE).

In the late 1960s veterinarians established a standardized exam procedure in Britain, although their U.S. counterparts did not. Since then radiography, advanced imaging, endoscopy, ultrasonography, and drug testing have evolved as procedures that might be incorporated into the exam.

The veterinarian doing the exam should have a familiarity with the breed and/or discipline. Soule recommends that some parameters should be established during the initial contact with the prospective buyer. The horse's full performance, medical, and surgical histories should be made available by the seller. Because the equestrian world often sees crossover between sellers, buyers, horses, and veterinary practices, all such connections should be disclosed, but this should not necessarily preclude a veterinarian from performing the exam. Any seeming conflicts of interest should be documented in the record.

As "facilitator" of the purchase transaction, a veterinarian represents the buyer's best interest. The objective is to determine as much as possible about the horse without being obstructive. Soule explained the five Ds:

  • Discovery of everything;
  • Disclosure of relevant information;
  • Documented findings;
  • Discussion of significance of findings so buyer can make an informed decision; and
  • Decision.

Disclosure of relevant information is the key part of the exam and should be made to both buyer and seller when possible, especially if there is a negative connotation relative to serviceability. That said, the medical records are exclusively the property of the buyer who is paying for the prepurchase exam.

It is helpful if both buyer and seller are present and, at the very least, the buyer or agent should be immediately accessible by phone at the time of exam. It is important to remember that an agent might have a financial interest and, therefore, he or she might not convey all information accurately. Soule pointed out the critical importance of ensuring that the correct animal is identified and examined.

The exam can yield information that ends with a negotiated price or lease. If further lameness work-up diagnostics are necessary, involved parties should reach an agreement as to which veterinarian will follow through, and who will pay for those services. Soule summarized his presentation by saying that reporting and documentation are critical in prepurchase exams, in order to provide information to the buyer.

About the Author

Nancy S. Loving, DVM

Nancy S. Loving, DVM, owns Loving Equine Clinic in Boulder, Colorado, and has a special interest in managing the care of sport horses. Her recent book, All Horse Systems Go, is a comprehensive veterinary care and conditioning resource in full color that covers all facets of horse care (available at or by calling 800/582-5604). She has also authored the books Go the Distance as a resource for endurance horse owners, Conformation and Performance, and First Aid for Horse and Rider in addition to many veterinary articles for both horse owner and professional audiences.

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