The purchase examination can be one of the most confusing aspects of buying a horse. It might take weeks, or even months, of searching to find the most suitable horse. Then your efforts are held under the discretion of the examining veterinarian, who seems to spend an immeasurable amount of time examining the horse that you deemed "perfect." I will use the "Five Ws" to explain the role of the veterinarian in the purchase examination.

What is a Purchase Examination?

The purchase examination is a general evaluation of all relevant parts of the horse. Eyes, mouth, respiratory  system, skin, joints, and feet are closely examined. The horse is examined in the stall, walking, jogging, and if appropriate on a longe line or under tack. The examination might be altered depending on the breed of the horse, the age of the horse, and the type of work the horse is expected to perform.

Certain breeds of horses are more prone to particular diseases, and it is the veterinarian's responsibility to know those diseases and inform the purchaser. The age of the animal will also affect the exam--it is difficult to jog and flex a young, rarely handled foal without the risk of the foal or the examiner getting hurt.

The intended use of the horse will also change the scope of the exam. For example, a racehorse will require a different exam than a pleasure horse, and a horse intended for breeding purposes will require yet another type of exam--the breeding soundness exam. It is important for the veterinarian to make the purchaser aware of the tests available and understand their possible diagnostic importance. Ancillary tests include, but are not limited to, rectal palpation, pregnancy diagnosis, radiographs, endoscopy, ultrasonography, and blood sampling. The veterinarian should inform the client of the cost and value of all procedures prior to the exam.

When is a Purchase Examination Performed?

The purchase exam should be the last procedure done before the horse is bought. The buyer is responsible for riding or evaluating the horse in its expected discipline prior to the purchase exam. The horse should be evaluated more than one time; if the buyer is not comfortable assessing the horse, he or she should consult a professional trainer, bloodstock agent, or suitable specialist. The buyer should also research the past performance of the horse to uncover the horse's strengths or weaknesses.

It is not the responsibility of the veterinarian to determine the suitability of the horse for a particular discipline. The veterinarian can only objectively assess the health of the horse.

Who Is Involved in the Purchase Examination?

The equine practitioner plays a vital role in the purchase exam--he/she has a very responsible position as the findings of the exam have a great impact on the sale of the horse.

The next person involved in the exam is the prospective buyer. The veterinarian is working for the prospective buyer, who is expected to pay the veterinarian for his or her services. Therefore the information, facts, and evaluations resulting from the purchase examination are the property of the prospective buyer. The information is not freely available to the seller of the horse.

The exam is best performed with all parties involved in the transaction present for the exam, including the veterinarian, buyer, seller, trainers, and agents. The key to a good purchase exam is excellent communication among all parties.

Where is the Exam Done?

It is the veterinarian's role to determine the most suitable, safest location for a thorough exam. An ophthalmic examination should be done in a dark stall, while a locomotor examination should be done on a flat, hard surface. If an appropriate area is not available, the horse might need to be shipped to a clinic. This will require the consent of the seller/ owner of the horse.

Why Do a Purchase Examination?

The reasons for examining a horse prior to purchase are to identify existing problems and any potential for future problems. The goal of the exam is to establish facts about the horse and determine if there is clinically detectable disease or injury. The veterinarian can diagnose a greater risk for unsoundness, but  not future unsoundness. The results of the examination apply to the day and time of the examination only and do not pertain to any future time.

It is the responsibility of the veterinarian to keep detailed records of the examination, including markings and a description of the horse, imaging records, blood work, and abnormal findings.

About the Author

Rhonda Rathgeber, DVM, PhD

Rhonda Rathgeber, DVM, is a partner with Hagyard Equine Medical Institute in Lexington, Ky. She also has a PhD in equine anatomy and locomotion from Washington State University.

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