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Pre-purchase examinations

Here at Spring Paddocks Equine we have a particular interest in the pre-purchase examination “vetting”, in terms of assessing the veterinary suitability of the horse for the owner’s requirements and believe that it is advisable for all horses to be examined by a vet before purchase.

Procedure for 5 stage purchase examination

In order to standardise the "vetting" procedure a process has been laid down by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons. There are five stages to the examination:

  1. Examination of the horse at rest. Examination of passport & microchip.
  2. Trot up in hand and flexion tests.
  3. Strenuous exercise - can be ridden or lunged or both, sufficient to raise heart rate and assess 'wind'. This will depend on the proposed use of the horse and its level of fitness.
  4. A period of rest - during which stage, markings may be recorded.
  5. Second Trot-up (and flexion tests if appropriate) and possible lunging on a firm/hard surface.

There may be additional steps required either by the request of the purchaser or because of points of concern raised during the standard examination. These may include X-rays, Ultrasound scans, Endoscopy or Gastroscopy.

Some insurance companies require X-rays if the vetting is for insurance over a certain value. Purchasers and horse owners should be aware that X-rays and other imaging techniques could be as problematic as they are reassuring. If X-rays are taken on behalf of an insurance company, then any abnormalities identified are likely to lead the insurance company to place exclusions on the policy related to those abnormalities.

Some insurance companies place blanket exclusions based on these X-ray findings, such as excluding the whole limb. This is unfair in most cases and providing the vetting examination did not reveal clinical abnormalities, then discussion with the insurance company may help narrow the range of the exclusion and if appropriate, place time limits on the exclusion, ie. If no claim made in 2 years, and X-ray changes not progressed, then the exclusion may be removed.

It should be noted that the pre-purchase examination is not a diagnostic process, which means that if lameness is identified, the examination does not go into making a diagnosis as to why the horse is lame.

There are certain things that aren’t covered by the examination, unless specifically requested, e.g. the pregnancy status of mares, or the breeding potential of mares or stallions and detailed examination of the teeth.

2 stage purchase examination

Under certain circumstances, it may not be appropriate or desired to have the full 5-stage examination and some purchasers’ request that just the first 2 stages are performed. We do require purchasers requiring this reduced examination to sign a request form which states that as they are requesting a reduced examination they are aware that some abnormalities may not be identified as a result of the shortened examination.

Points for consideration when booking a pre-purchase examination

Before requesting a pre-purchase examination it is worth considering the following points

Is the horse fit to be examined?

It can sometimes be difficult to perform a 5-stage vetting on an un-broken or unhandled youngster. If the horse is known to be lame, then there is little point in a Vet going out until it is sound again, similarly if the horse is unwell.

Is the horse's owner an existing client of the practice?

We try, where possible, not to examine horses that are owned by an existing client of the practice, for reasons of a potential conflict of interest. We will declare this to the potential purchaser and it is then their decision to proceed or to contact another veterinary practice. The vendor must also be aware that the horse's case history will be declared to the potential purchaser.

Are the premises at which the examination is to take place, suitable?

We will need a stable; preferably one where reduced or lower light levels are possible for full examination of the eyes. There needs to be a level firm surface for the trot-up and somewhere suitable for the strenuous exercise phase. There also needs to be someone to ride the horse.

When was the horse last shod?

We prefer the horse to have been shod within the previous 4 weeks so that loose shoes or over-long feet etc do not compromise the examination. Likewise we prefer them not to have been shod within the last 48 hours as we see abnormal gaits arising from changes in foot balance, slightly tight shoes etc.

Has the horse got a valid passport?

It is illegal now to sell a horse if it does not have a legal and valid passport. Make the vendor (person selling the horse) aware of this and ask them to have the passport present at the vetting. 

The pre-purchase examination should not be thought of as something black and white that the horse passes or fails; rather an assessment of that horse on that day, which identifies the abnormalities that can be detected so that you as potential purchaser can make a decision based on the risks associated with those abnormalities identified. It will detail the faults identified on that day and give you the vet's opinion as to the suitability of the horse to do the job for which you have declared the horse is being purchased for.

There are some things that will be obvious fail points, e.g. a lame horse is clearly not suitable for purchase. When we identify something that is that severe, we will usually pause the examination at that stage and contact you to discuss the findings, so please keep your phone available for contact.

Booking a pre-purchase examination

When you ring Spring Paddocks Equine clinic on 01926 612937 to book an appointment for a pre-purchase examination the receptionist will ask you for:

  • Your name, address and contact telephone number(s)
  • The name, address and telephone number for the vendor (person selling horse)
  • Address where horse is to be examined and directions to that address 
  • Details of the horse, name, age, colour, breed and sex
  • The proposed use of the horse
  • Any particular points that are of concern to you

An optional blood sample will be offered, and it will be sent to be stored at the Horseracing Forensic Laboratory in Newmarket. It can then be tested for the presence of painkillers or sedatives should this be suspected at a later date. The option for not taking a sample should be taken with extreme caution since once the opportunity is missed; any potential claim you may wish to pursue against the vendor will be significantly weakened without the evidence of the blood sample.

We will also require a credit or debit card number, as we will charge that card with cost of the examination (including the visit charge and blood sample fee etc) before we issue the certificate.

If a potential purchaser, only requires a 2-stage examination we will fax or send the form instructing us to perform the reduced examination, to you to sign, prior to the examination. If this is not possible and you will be at the vetting, we may get you to sign the form before we start the vetting.

If the horse you wish to purchase is at premises which are not suitable for a vetting then we may be able to perform the examination at the clinic but this has to be arranged around our daily clinical cases.