Many people believe that inexpensive horses or horses purchased from friends do
not require pre-sale examinations. A pre-purchase examination cannot predict or guarantee future soundness but is intended to inform a buyer of all the historical and conformational issues that can be discovered through thorough physical examination of the horse at rest and in motion. Many times as we are performing examinations subtle lamenesses or conformational abnormalities are found that can be discussed with the seller prior to sale- often the seller is unaware of the issues if the horse has not had significant problems. The goal is to inform the buyer of all the minor or major imperfections in the horse and comment on the impact that may have on it’s intended function and long term soundness. There are no “perfect horses” and we often find imperfections however there are many imperfections that will not affect the intended use of the animal and are incidental findings.
The basic pre-sale includes collection and discussion of history of nutrition, parasite control, vaccination, shoeing, dental care, medical and surgical interventions, and supplementation. We perform evaluation of the major body systems – eyes, oral cavity, heart, lungs, GI, dermatology, palpation of all limbs both soft tissue and joints, hoof testing, conformation discussion and acupuncture evaluation. We then watch the horse travel on the lunge line at all gaits and in a straight line at the trot. The heart and lungs are rechecked and a brief neurologic examination is performed.
The next level examination also includes flexion of fetlock, carpus, and shoulder of each forelimb, and the fetlock and upper limb of each hind limb. The horse is also evaluated under saddle as some lamenesses are only apparent when ridden.
When purchasing any horse, it is best to be an “informed consumer” so that all parties are aware of existing issues prior to forming an emotional attachment to your new 4 legged companion. If there is a potential for resale of an animal then it is very important to perform pre-sale examinations as the future sale value and ease of sale may be influenced by issues that can be found at a current examination. We often recommend radiographs to look for boney changes in those horses with potential resale.
Unfortunately, it is fairly common for people to buy horses for their children from trusted friends without veterinary examination and shortly after purchase the new horse comes up lame from a problem that had been slowly developing and could be career changing.