Buying a Horse – The pre-purchase examination
We strongly recommend that all prospective horse purchasers obtain a full Veterinary Examination before buying. A full Veterinary examination is often called the ‘Five-Stage’ vetting and is performed according to a procedure recommended by the British Equine Veterinary Association. Many insurance companies request such an examination before giving cover. Having a full examination cannot guarantee that the horse will never develop a problem but it should mean that you at least start off as problem free as possible. The purpose for which the horse is being purchased is very important and the Veterinary Surgeon will need to know this before undertaking the examination. A horse that is suitable for dressage may be totally unsuitable as a hunter so it is important to remember that a horse may fail an examination for one purchaser but pass for another. The examination follows a standard format which has been used successfully by vets in the UK for at least 40 years with only minor updates.
The examination and associated paper work take about 1½ hour to complete and the Veterinary Surgeon will require that there is a competent rider, a safe area in which the horse can be cantered in a large circle, and a flat concrete road where the horse can be trotted up.
The Veterinary Surgeon will make a thorough clinical examination of the horse. This will include an ophthalmic examination of the eyes, and auscultation of the heart and chest. He will also feel the limbs for any sign of injury. At this stage skin lesions such as sarcoids will be noted – usually they will not result in ‘failure’ but will be discussed with the purchaser.
The horse is trotted up in hand on a hard level surface. During this phase the Veterinary Surgeon is particularly concerned to observe any sign of lameness and will often perform ‘flexion’ tests on each limb. The veterinary surgeon will also circle the horse and examine the back at this stage. In most instances the vet will also wish to see the horse trotted on a lunge – usually on a firm level surface. At the clinic we have a specially constructed lunge ring which has a safe hard surface for lunging.
Strenuous ridden exercise. The Vet will listen carefully to the horses’ wind and observe the gaits on both reins. This phase is particularly important to assess if the horse is ‘clean winded’. He will also check the heart and lungs again to see if the exercise has had any adverse effect.
The horse is rested and the recovery rate from exercise monitored. During this phase the Veterinary Surgeon will often take detailed notes of the horses’ markings which will be used to make a certificate should the horse pass the examination. It is often common during the resting stage for a blood sample to be obtained. This sample is sent to the forensic laboratory at Newmarket where it can be tested for ‘bute’ or other forms of dope, should such tests become necessary.
The final trot-up. Again the examining Veterinary Surgeon will watch carefully for any sign of lameness.
After the examination the Veterinary Surgeon will give the purchaser a written report detailing his / her findings, and will give a clear indication of the horses’ suitability for the purpose for which it is being purchased.
Some insurance companies only require the first two stages to be completed. This is the ‘2-stage vetting’, although it does yield a large amount of information, certain problems can be missed, for example, a horse that is lame only when ridden and breathing problems. For that reason we always recommend the full 5-stage vetting.