A horse is a substantial financial investment, and not just for the purchase price: it requires ongoing care in the form of boarding, feed, supplies, and, of course, veterinary care. Therefore, it is often recommended to have a pre-purchase exam performed by a qualified veterinarian before making the final decision to buy a given horse.
The depth, breadth, and expense of a pre-purchase examination can vary greatly depending on the price of the horse, the intended use, the prior history, and the buyer’s investment in finding out all available information. At a bare minimum, the veterinarian will inspect the horse systematically, observing its body condition, vital signs, and overall health.
A thorough history will be taken, and the horse will be check for evidence of prior surgery (such as neurectomy or colic surgery). The veterinarian will examine the eyes and mouth for evidence of vision problems or underlying dental disease, and the horse will be watched in motion to look for signs of lameness.
If requested, blood can be collected to test for drug administration (sedatives, pain medications, and more) or to screen for various conditions (Cushing’s disease, organ dysfunction, etc.). Radiographs are often recommended, but the number and location of radiographs will depend on the findings during gait evaluation and the buyer’s intentions. The horse may be exercised to look for evidence of respiratory disease or cardiac arrhythmias. Additional diagnostics may be recommended based on the findings of the exam.
At the end of the evaluation, the veterinarian will present his or her findings to the potential buyer. It is important to note that horses do not “pass” or “fail” a pre-purchase examination. Instead, the vet’s job is to evaluate the horse and inform the buyer of any potential health issues that have been discovered; the final decision rests entirely on the buyer, although the vet can advise accordingly on the basis of professional opinion. In some cases, the buyer may request that the seller pursues treatment for a given condition, and the pre-purchase exam can be repeated at a later date, with the sale contingent on the resolution of a certain problem.
A pre-purchase exam is not a guarantee of future soundness, health, or suitability to a given discipline. Instead, it is a “snapshot” of a horse in time, taking into account its provided history and the examination findings on a given day. The pre-purchase exam does, however, give the buyer and seller confidence that an impartial professional is evaluating the horse as objectively as possibly, and giving each the information needed to proceed with an educated decision.