AAEP Convention Forum: Purchase Exams at Public Auction

One of your top clients wants you to look at a filly he has his eye on at the sales. You must give him your honest opinion on the horse by looking at radiographs taken by another veterinarian and housed in a repository. Unfortunately, they aren’t the finest films you’ve ever seen and time is short, but from what you can tell, the horse is radiographically normal. What happens if the horse comes up with an obvious lameness in two weeks after your client makes the purchase? This scenario is not foreign to the horse industry, so liability and ethics in a sale situation were hot topics in the Forum for Purchase Exams at Public Auction at the AAEP annual convention.

Most of the veterinarians in the forum were top practitioners who handled pre-purchase examinations of racehorses at public auction and are faced often with the responsibility of making recommendations based on radiographs taken by another veterinarian. Some of the veterinarians work out of clinics that require signing a disclaimer to minimize the risk of litigation. Repositories were designed to cut down on the repetitive use of radiography on the sales ground, but in this imperfect and sometimes dishonest world, not all radiographs are meant to show imperfections in sale horses.

"Part of the problem of reading the radiographs is the quality of the radiographs," said Jim Becht, DVM, Dipl. ACVIM of Colorado State University. "If you don’t know what you’re doing (taking radiographs), you should leave your equipment in the car."

Most of the veterinarians agreed that they take risks when they give an assessment on someone else’s radiographs, but not all agreed on what kind of assessment should be given to the buyer based on those radiographs. Some veterinarians recommended a lengthy report on what was seen in the radiographs and another report interpreting them or telling the client what the findings could mean for the future of the horse. This could minimize the chance for surprises and litigation following the sale. Other veterinarians feel that giving too much information in a report might be a bad idea, as the information might get passed around and shared freely with other potential buyers, resulting in too much weight put into one veterinarian’s opinion of the horse.

Regardless of the style of the report, all of the veterinarians agreed that a good working relationship with your client helps in any touchy situation. "It depends on how well you know your clients. If you don’t know someone you’re working for, you’re already in trouble," said one practitioner.

The veterinarians then discussed a recent study on endoscopy as it relates to predicting racing potential. (http://www.thehorse.com/ViewArticle.aspx?ID=3190). The study showed that some respiratory structure findings were not indicative of poor future performance as previously thought. The study involved looking at racing performance as related to the grades of arytenoid function. Some veterinarians in the group were happy to hear that their previous opinions on endoscopic exams were confirmed, whereas others expressed disagreement with the findings.

The AAEP’s published Position on Sale Disclosure states that the AAEP "supports the position that when a horse is sold, any known invasive surgery, disease, injury, or congenital defect which is not apparent should be disclosed to the intended buyer by the owner and/or agent." Veterinarians present discussed the potential complication of clients finding out after sale that the horse had invasive surgery that might potentially affect the future health of the horse. Evidence of surgeries might not be visible to the examining veterinarian at the sale, and it was agreed that the liability falls upon the consignor or seller if the potential buyer isn’t notified of the circumstances before sale, strengthening the belief in the position statement.

According to the veterinarians at the forum, if state law would allow it, drug tests should be handled the same way at the two-year-old sales as they do at the races. Frustration was expressed because of laboratories having different sensitivities used in testing, producing positives at the sales that would have been passed at the track. Currently, sales company policies address drug testing policies only at two-year-old sales.

The group then discussed computerized (or digital) radiography (CR), and how the technology might revolutionize pre-purchase exams. Although they all agreed that CR has tremendous application in equine practice, it is not commonly used at sales at this time, according to this group of practitioners. "It’s coming, it’s good technology," said one practitioner.

The final topic discussed by the practitioners was buyer identification. Veterinarians expressed their concern with being "browbeaten" by sellers while performing exams. Some clients do not wish to be identified by the seller for a number of reasons, and the veterinarian should honor their preference. One reason for this could be that the individual might be planning to buy out a partnership. The seller often wants to know who is interested in the horse, so a reserve price can be estimated for the horse.

One practitioner said, "One or more of us will look (at horses) for the same person. Is it harassment (for sellers to demand to know the veterinarian’s client)? In all fairness, who’s on this horse (interested in buying it) and knowing what agents are buying for certain people (eliminating buyer confidentiality) takes away the auction standpoint."

About the Author

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief

Stephanie L. Church, Editor-in-Chief, received a B.A. in Journalism and Equestrian Studies from Averett College in Danville, Virginia. A Pony Club and 4-H graduate, her background is in eventing, and she is schooling her recently retired Thoroughbred racehorse, Happy, toward a career in that discipline. She also enjoys traveling, photography, cycling, and cooking in her free time.

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