Purchase Examination and Evaluation

Purchasing a horse can be a very exciting yet intimidating proposition for anyone.  It is not uncommon to hear about someone purchasing the horse of their dreams, only to have it become lame or have behavioral problems that cause distress for everyone involved.

As a veterinarian, my role is critical in evaluating the horse to “weed out” so to speak those issues hopefully BEFORE the purchase occurs.  The following is meant to help explain this process and why things are done in a certain order and how the exam will differ according the type of work (discipline) the horse is meant for and future expectations such as breeding, resale etc.  As you may have noticed, NO mention of how much the horse cost was brought up. It is my opinion, that a little girl’s first pony may be worth much more to her than any money could buy, so I approach all exams without knowing cost so as not to be biased in my opinions as onlookers watch whether they be a seller looking to make money or a mother looking to keep their kid safe for riding. They ALL require the same intense scrutiny for the buyer.

That also brings up another question.  Who does the vet work for in these situations?  Most always unless screening horses for sellers to sell later, the vet is working for the interest of the buyer.

In my practice the exam starts with visiting with the client (buyer or trainer for the buyer), and discussing discipline and level expected, what has this horse done in the past, and what type of work is it doing currently.  Once that is established, I get to visit with the horse and get an idea of things such as temperament, conformation and body condition score. (See body condition score (BCS) in another article in the Client Education Library.)

I prefer to do the exam in order as follows:

1) Physical exam, conformation exam, palpation of all four legs for scars or lumps and bumps, palpation of abdomen for surgery scars such as previous colic surgeries. An exam of the mouth and including the estimated age is assessed. A full dental exam is not possible without sedation and a full mouth speculum, therefore this is just the intial exam of what part of the mouth the horse will allow at this time.

2) Ophthalmic or eye exam in a dark area with a light source and ophthalmoscope and magnifying loops

3) Hoof tester exam of feet

4) Exam of chest and abdomen with a stethoscope for possible heart murmurs etc.

5) Neurological exam

6) Exam on hard surface in hand at a walk and trot in straight lines

7) Exam on a longe line on hard surface and soft surface at a walk, trot and canter

8) Performance Exam with rider on depending on trainer preference and discipline

9) Neurological exam circling in hand etc.

10) Standing exam of flexions including back and neck maneuverability and willingness is done at this time.

11) X-rays and/or Ultrasound exams of areas of interest or concern will be done last as sedatives are usually required for imaging to be performed.

12) Reproductive exams including ultrasound of mares are done at this time which usually include sedation.

Purchase exams may entail x-rays of areas interest according to discipline and performance level expected such as front feet, hocks, stifles and fetlocks for some breeds especially hind fetlocks looking for things such as OCD’s in the joint. The findings of the exams above also will play an important role in what may be needed in imaging for example if a lump or bump near a joint is in question or lameness was seen on the exam.

I feel it is very important that however the exam is performed that there be a pattern so that nothing is overlooked. Horses are a living working animal so they change daily. It is important to remember that the purchase examination is designed to assess that specific animal at that one point in time. But it is also important to help the buyer be aware of problems that may occur in the future as well as findings that may affect resale although those same findings do not affect intended use by this buyer to be serviceable for their intended use.

After all these procedures have been completed, then the real conversation begins.  Now that the client or trainer has all of the findings out on the table a decision can be made hopefully with less stress now that so much information is available.