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Prepurchase Exams

The end of one show season and the beginning of another has brought on a flurry of requests for prepurchase exams. This brings up the question of what is a prepurchase exam? Unfortunately, a prepurchase exam means vastly different things to different people. In some parts of the world, particularly Europe and rural areas of the U.S., prepurchase exams are rarely performed. When such an exam is requested, a brief physical may be given. In Lexington Kentucky, a place where yearlings can sell for $1 million, a presale exam may mean dozens of X-rays, fiber optic endoscopy, and nuclear scintigraphy/bone scan but the horse is never even looked at by a veterinarian to see if it is lame. In show horses however, prepurchase exams tend to focus more on the horse’s physical health

and lack of lameness than on high tech tests.

Because there are such differences between prepurchase exams it is important for the buyer to know what they want from an exam. A prepurchase exam is not a guarantee; instead it is intended to find the physical flaws in a horse, so that the buyer can make an informed decision. The buyer then decides what he or she can live with. The veterinarian does not pass or fail a horse, the buyer does. It is also important to realize that horses are living, changing entities. Problems that weren’t present on the day of the exam may surface a week later. A prepurchase exam is also not an assessment of a horse’s value or suitability. Those are the jobs of an appraiser and a trainer respectively.

So what does the buyer want in a prepurchase exam? In general, a thorough physical and lameness exam will give the information needed. The physical will include examination of heart, lungs, eyes, nervous system, mouth, and skin. The lameness exam will look for unsoundness at the walk, trot, and canter. The horse is often lunged on a small circle and the limbs are palpated for evidence of pain or old injuries. Hoof testers are applied to all 4 feet to check for sensitivity or tenderness. Flexion tests attempt to bring out soreness or inflammation of the lower joints of the leg. By flexing a specific joint in the leg for a minute or minute and a half, extra stress is placed on the joint. A slight lameness due to inflammation in that joint may become visible. The appearance of lameness on a flexion test may indicate the need for closer examination with X-rays. There are other tests that may be requested by the buyer depending on how much he or she wants to know about the horse. These include drug testing, blood chemistry and cell counts, ultrasound, EKG, fiberoptic endoscopy, and nuclear scintigraphy. In stallions and mares, breeding soundness exams are routinely preformed. This exam usually requires a facility with specialized equipment. A breeding soundness exam is designed to look at the fertility of the horse and is separate and very different from a prepurchase exam.

In cases where the horse is lame without an obvious cause, the prepurchase exam is usually stopped and the recommendation is made that the seller’s veterinarian determine the cause of lameness. This is done so that the seller doesn’t have an unfamiliar doctor working on their horse. It also eliminates any conflict of interest by having a veterinarian working for both buyer and seller in the same day. If the seller feels that the lameness is something minor, the recommendation is usually made to rest the horse for a week and reexamine after being put back to work for a week.

The important thing to remember is that prepurchase exams are intended to give the buyer information. The buyer can then make the decision if the horse is right for them or not. Sometimes one has to have several horses examined before finding one that fits their needs. After all, no horse is perfect. But if the horse’s good points outweigh its imperfections, then you may have found the right horse for you.


Dr. John Marion

Castlewood Canyon Equine - Quality Horse veterinarian Services for Franktown CO, Elizabeth, Parker and the surrounding areas.

1115 Castlewood Canyon Road
Franktown, CO 80116
(303) 660-1492

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