Pre-Purchase Exams (AAEP 2005)

"A pre-purchase exam is only one factor to help you decide if you are going to purchase an animal," said Craig Roberts, DVM, an Ocala, Fla., practitioner. purchase exams are designed to discover a horse's unique concerns and discuss the management options for those problems. The potential buyer must decide if he/she is able to manage those problems, and if any abnormality discovered will interfere with the horse's intended use.

"The concept of finding a horse that is problem-free is unrealistic," Roberts said. "I generally find five to ten things to talk about on every horse. Hopefully most of these will be minor concerns. When searching for your new horse, you have to keep an open mind. Good communication between buyer and veterinarian can make a purchase exam a positive educational experience.

"There are also many other factors to take into consideration when searching for a new horse, such as there may not be a lot of horses available at the level and type that you desire, so you have to weigh the options."

Tools of the trade
Diagnostic tools such as x-rays, ultrasound & endoscopes can all be important tools for adding further information to a purchase exam. "They're the expensive pieces of equipment that can enhance the veterinarian's ability to find current or potential problems in horses. Too much emphasis or more importantly, the misimpression that clean radiographs, etc means a sound horse needs to be revised." Roberts said. He warned that diagnostic equipment can have advantages and disadvantages. If they are not used in conjunction with a good physical exam, the information from these tools can be misinterpreted.

"This being said, digital radiographs have revolutionized the way we perform a purchase exam. They provide practical real-time exams in the field. "The most important advantage to both client and veterinarian is saving time. I don't have to drive all the way back to my clinic to find out that I didn't get the exposure that I needed, or that I actually needed another angle," he added. "If you have a poor set of films, don't expect to have a quality diagnosis. I can have an image in about two seconds (with digital radiography), and if I see a problem, I can immediately take other angles to enhance my diagnosis."

Digital radiographs are produced in a DICOM (Digital Imaging and Communications in Medicine) format, which is considered a legal document (jpeg, bmp, etc. are not admissible in court) that cannot be altered. Although the DICOM format is a larger file size than other formats, it is still easily sent over the Internet with high-speed connections. "If I am doing a purchase on a horse in Europe, I can email those images back to a vet in the United States and they can go over them with their client," Roberts said.

"Some veterinarians believe the downside of digital radiographs is that they can show too much information, leaving the horse open for over-interpretation," "My perspective is exactly the opposite. Over-interpretation can come from what the vet can't see in the image. With quality digital images, you get exactly what you are supposed to be looking at. Good images are just that--good. They can be properly evaluated by everyone."

Radiographs of any type are limited to mostly bone diagnosis. Ultrasound machines can be used to examine soft tissue, tendons, ligaments, cartilage and joint fluid. Ultrasound is less commonly used than other diagnostics because it can be a much harder technique for the veterinarian to learn. However, it can be a very beneficial diagnostic tool, and as veterinarians become more skilled in using it, Roberts said that it will become more widely used for these purposes.

Another tool which requires careful interpretation is standing endoscopic evaluation of a horse's upper airway. This type of evaluation can only give basic information on the stability of a horse's upper airway. For this reason, a treadmill evaluation should be considered whenever an upper airway noise is heard during exercise that is not explainable by the standing endoscopic exam.

Today's horse owners' needs are extremely specific, and finding a qualified veterinarian to evaluate a horse for those needs is important. "The veterinarians best suited to evaluate a horse for your needs are not always available on a moment's notice" Roberts suggested. He recommended giving your veterinarian a "heads up" a week or two prior to needing a purchase exam. If looking at a horse away from home, do some research to find a qualified veterinarian in the area.

Take-Home Message
"No diagnostic procedure by itself can reveal significant information on its own merit," Roberts said. "Rather, the entire exam and these procedures must be looked at in concert to draw conclusions. Similarly, there can abnormalities not found even with the best of technologies applied. When the exam is complete, it comes down to intelligent thinking, good communication, and experience that will ultimately serve to help make the best decision for your situation."

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for .

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from Learn More

Free Newsletters

Sign up for the latest in:

From our partners