Our vets are happy to carry out pre-purchase examinations (PPEs, often referred to as ‘vettings’) on behalf of our own clients and on behalf of non-registered clients, either at the seller's yard or at Rossdales Equine Hospital, if suitable facilities are not available. A pre-purchase examination consists of a standard five stage clinical examination performed by a vet to determine whether a horse or pony has any lameness or medical problems that may deem it unsuitable for the prospective purchaser's intended use of the horse.
In some circumstances a two stage examination may be suitable, for example for young, unbacked horses. This consists of only the first two stages outlined below and so the vet will form an opinion based on a restricted set of findings. Prior to the examination the prospective purchaser will need to sign a “Limited Prior to Purchase Examination Form”, which confirms that you understand and accept that a limited examination may not reveal certain conditions which may have been discovered during the course of a full five stage examination.
A full Five Stage examination comprises:
- Stage 1: Physical Examination The horse will be checked carefully against the passport and scanned for a microchip. The eyes are examined in a darkened stable with an ophthalmoscope and the heart is listened to on both sides of the chest. The front (incisors) teeth are assessed and an estimate of age given, along with an examination for wolf teeth and any sharp edges on the front cheek teeth. It is not a requirement to put a dental gag on the horse for assessment of teeth but most vets will for safety. The horse is checked over for any lumps and scars including melanomas and sarcoids, and these will be recorded.
- Stage 2: Walking and Trotting Up This phase includes an assessment of the horse at walk and trot in a straight line on a hard, level surface as well as on the lunge on both soft and hard surfaces, if facilities are suitable. Lungeing on a hard surface is a tough test for most horses and will show up lameness that may not be evident elsewhere, however if the surface or the horse's temperament is not suitable, this test may have to be omitted. Flexion tests are also performed at this stage. A flexion test is considered positive if the horse takes more than 3-5 steps to correct to a normal gait. A positive flexion test could indicate problems with joints or soft tissue structures and will be considered along with the rest of the examination. The horse will also be asked to back up and perform tight turns on both reins during this stage.
- Stage 3: Exercise Phase The horse is asked to walk, trot and canter under saddle. The aim is to for the horse to perform strenuous exercise to increase the heart and respiratory rate in order to assess the way the horse moves, any abnormal behaviour under saddle and any respiratory noise that may be associated with poor performance.
- Stage 4: Rest Phase The horse is returned to the stable and the heart and lungs listened to as the horse recovers from the exercise phase. The horse’s normal behaviour in the stable is also observed to see if any vices such as crib biting are evident, or to see if any stiffness induced by the exercise become apparent. The horse’s markings are normally recorded at this time and the passport examined.
- Stage 5: Second Trot Up A second examination of the horse at trot in hand. This is primarily to check that the strenuous exercise has not exacerbated a subtle underlying lameness problem. Flexion tests or trotting on a small diameter circle are sometimes repeated at this time. A blood sample will be taken which is stored for six months and can be used, if concerns arise after purchase, to test for substances that may have masked certain conditions.
It is usual for a blood sample to be taken at PPEs. The sample is stored for 6 months and a test can be requested for any drugs (e.g. the presence of sedatives if the horse subsequently develops a problem that may have been altered by medication during the PPE).
In some cases the vet performing the pre-purchase examination or an insurance company may recommend or require additional radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound scans or an endoscopic examination of the lungs and throat. These may only be undertaken with the consent of the current owner and will incur an additional expense. An insurance company may request a full set of x-rays if the horse is to be insured above a certain value.We are happy to advise on the requirement of these more detailed diagnostic tests on an individual basis.
Following this comprehensive examination the vet will form an opinion as to whether any of their findings may have a significant adverse effect on the suitability of the horse for the purchaser’s intended use. They will then discuss their findings with you, the purchaser, either over the phone or in person if you have attended the vetting. A written certificate will follow. The report also includes a summary of the vendor’s declaration which is obtained at the time of the examination and includes any previous veterinary history. However, it is the purchaser’s responsibility to obtain a seller’s warranty with respect to vices, height, previous conditions or surgery and this should be arranged directly between purchaser and seller.
The PPE report will note all aspects of the pre-purchase examination and any findings. These not only influence a decision to purchase the horse but can affect exclusions placed on insurance policies. This will not preclude whether the horse or pony will be suitable to undertake the task for which it is to be purchased, but allows planning and budgeting for ongoing care. Understandably, insurance companies will not usually provide insurance cover for a pre-existing condition.