Equine Prepurchase Exams

A prepurchase exam helps you evaluate a horse's health and soundness before buying.

Choose the Right Veterinarian

The prepurchase veterinarian works for and is paid by the buyer and should be impartial and have no financial stake in the sale. The buyer owns the rights to the obtained information, including radiographic images (X rays) and test results.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Overall Health

A basic prepurchase exam should include a thorough medical and performance history, as well as a complete full physical evaluation of the horse.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Checking for Colic Scars

During the initial physical exam, the veterinarian will look for clues to the horse’s health, such as any scars from past colic surgeries.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Dental and Oral Cavity Exam

The veterinarian should check the horse’s mouth for any issues or dental abnormalities. These can include evidence of tongue or cheek injury or missing or damaged teeth. This will also give your veterinarian a chance to verify the horse’s age.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Eye Exam

The veterinarian will examine the horse’s eyes for superficial lesions on the cornea, anterior chamber (the space between the cornea and the iris), and lens.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Respiratory Exam

The veterinarian should examine the horse’s lungs and respiration. A rebreathing exam involves placing a large plastic garbage bag over the horse’s nose. As the horse breaths in expired carbon dioxide, his brain signals him to take deeper and slower breaths, making it easier for the veterinarian to hear the lung sounds.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Lameness Exam

In addition to a general physical exam, most veterinarians recommend performing a lameness exam, especially if the horse is an athlete. The veterinarian will observe the horse moving in circles of varying size and on different surfaces (hard vs. deep) to check for unsoundness.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Flexion Test

Here the veterinarian flexes the horse’s hocks. After a short period of holding the joint in flexion, the veterinarian will have the handler trot the horse away. Then, the veterinarian observes for any changes in movement that could indicate discomfort.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Hoof Testers

Hoof testers add pressure to the foot’s sole and can indicate if the horse has any hoof discomfort or pain.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse


Radiographs (X rays) are a common part of many prepurchase exams. Your veterinarian will advise you on which joints or structures might need X rays. X rays can give insight into problems or abnormalities of bone, cartilage, and soft tissue.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

Blood Test and Coggins

Your veterinarian might also run blood tests. Proof of a negative Coggins test for equine infectious anemia (EIA) is required by law for any horse moving from state to state (and by most equine event organizers). A complete blood count (CBC) and serum chemistry can give some indication of the horse’s overall health. Blood can also be used to test for anti-inflammatory drugs, such as phenylbutazone and flunixin meglumine.

Photo: Kevin Thompson/The Horse

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