Importance of a Purchase Exam

There are so many unknowns about a horse that you want to minimize any surprises you may get down the road. Purchasing a horse is an exciting and uplifting experience, and you want your expectations to be fulfilled. In order to avoid any disappointment, you should ask an accomplished equine practitioner to investigate your intended purchase to see if it has any "glitches," major or minor.

Clear Communication

You, the buyer, should contact a veterinarian who does not do regular work for the seller or agent for the seller. You should be open-minded and answer the veterinarian's questions so that clear communication occurs and the scope of the examination is determined. You should ask the veterinarian what procedures will be included in the examination and the cost of such procedures. Much of the focus or extent of the physical exam depends on your concerns and your short- and long-term goals for the horse.

Each examination will be customized based on your communication with the veterinarian and his or her experience with the breed and use of the horse. It may, however, include a lot of questions to you, the seller, or agent. Possible questions the examining veterinarian might ask are:

  1. What is the horse's intended use?
  2. Do you (the buyer) have any concerns over health or soundness?
  3. Does the horse require supplements or drugs?
  4. Does the horse have any stable vices?
  5. What is the medical history of the horse, especially any preventative treatments (vaccinations and deworming frequencies)?

Try to Be There

Whenever it is possible, you should be present at the examination since some findings may preclude going any further with the examination (and the expense) where immediate consultation is really necessary. A decision to do further tests or to seek another opinion can be made expediently if all parties are present. For example, something found in the back of one eye, not present in the other, may be of sufficient concern to have a veterinary ophthalmologist determine its significance.

Pertinent findings on the day of the examination should be discussed in light of future usefulness of the horse. Degenerative conditions must be distinguished from others which you can live with at a certain level of use for that horse.

Sometimes a temporary health problem is discovered which requires a course of treatment causing the purchase exam to be postponed. This may prevent you from bringing the "bug" to other horses at your home. In most states, a negative Coggins test is required to detect carriers of viral equine infectious anemia, also known as swamp fever.

The Exam

The physical exam will include taking vital signs (temperature, pulse, and respiration), looking into the eyes, ears, and mouth, auscultation of (listening to) the heart and lungs with a stethoscope, and palpating and flexing the horse's legs to see if he reacts unusually. The jugular veins of the neck may be pinched to see if they fill normally and how the horse will react to a possible injection. The horse should be moved without tack and rider to evaluate its natural balance and soundness. The horse should then be tacked up and ridden or driven in its trained discipline to evaluate soundness and behavior while doing its job.

An astute equine practitioner will see and hear things that need to be mentioned to the buyer, especially if signs indicate possible problems at higher levels of competition. The practitioner may also suggest further tests based on the findings in the physical exam. These include blood tests, radiographs, ultrasound, urinalysis, or endoscopic exams to see the back of the horse's throat. As additional studies are done, you should consult with the veterinarian on the significance and cost of each test.

When all the tests have been done and interpreted to your satisfaction, you will have lots of data available to decide whether this horse is as good an investment as you had hoped in the beginning. The veterinarian should provide you with significant findings pertaining to the health, soundness and usefulness of the horse to perform. The veterinarian will not pass or fail the horse, but will advise you on the horse's serviceability to do his job. A purchase exam goes a long way to avoid a heartbreak at a later time.

About the Author

Fred McCashin, VMD, MSc

Fred McCashin, VMD, MSc, is a private practitioner at Carolina Equine Clinic in Southern Pines, N.C., and a member of the AAEP's Purchase Examination Committee.

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