The Value of the Pre-Purchase Examination

The Value of the Pre-Purchase Examination
Nov 11, 2020

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By Mike J. Schoonover 
Sir Winston Churchill once said, “There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man,” and I wholeheartedly believe this is true. Unfortunately, the “trading” of horses has been viewed as a source of dishonesty since the Gilded Age. Most horses are sold “as is,” and prospective buyers must be able to identify horses with pre-existing conditions that may make it unsuitable for their intended use. Additionally, horses can be expensive.
The purchase price of a horse is often the cheapest part of horse ownership. Boarding, feed and hay, tack, training, shoeing, entry fees, transportation costs, veterinary bills and other expenses can quickly exceed the monetary value of a particular horse. Therefore, any prospective buyer should consider a pre-purchase examination before completing the transaction. It is better to financially invest in a sound, heathy horse than one with a condition that makes it unfit for its intended use.
A pre-purchase examination is a veterinary evaluation to determine the current health and soundness of a horse prior to purchase. The horse’s age, intended use, level of training and many other factors, including the buyer’s intent regarding resale, can influence the extent of the examination. Thus not all pre-purchase examinations are equal both in cost and complexity. Furthermore, it should not simply be a “pass” or “fail” examination. If that were the case, very few horses would “pass” because most, if not all, will have a flaw of some sort.
It is the examining veterinarian’s responsibility to do a comprehensive evaluation to identify any and all imperfections the horse may have. To accomplish this, the examining veterinarian will perform a thorough physical examination and, in most cases, additional diagnostic tests such as x-rays or an ultrasound. Ailments such as a heart murmur, vision impairment, subtle lameness or prior surgery are just some underlying conditions a pre-purchase examination could uncover. Once the pre-purchase examination is complete, the veterinarian discusses the findings with the buyer so they can make an educated decision to purchase or not to purchase the horse.
It is important for the buyer to select a veterinarian that is experienced in equine medicine and lameness. The veterinarian should possess a good knowledge of the breed, discipline and/or intended use of the horse considered for purchase. A lack of expertise relating to breed or discipline specific disorders, as well as specific breed requirements, competition regulations, and other factors may handicap an otherwise capable equine veterinarian.
Open and effective communication between the buyer and the examining veterinarian before, during and after the examination is also particularly important so that there are no assumptions or misunderstandings. Remember, the examining veterinarian does not have a crystal ball that sees into the future, and a pre-purchase examination is not intended to serve as a warranty or guarantee of future health or soundness. However, a thorough examination by a knowledgeable equine veterinarian will likely bring to light significant abnormalities that could inhibit a horse from performing at the expected level, whether that be a quiet ride across the pasture or participating in a high-level competition.
Purchasing a horse today is a very different process than it was in the late 1800s. Prospective buyers often seek a pre-purchase examination to provide as much insight into the health and soundness of a horse as possible. The examination can give a buyer confidence in their purchase or save them the considerable expense and heartache of a poor purchase. Either way, a pre-purchase examination is a win for the buyer.
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