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March 2, 2018

Understanding The Pre-Purchase Exam

The Pre-Purchase Exam


You have search far and long and you have finally found your dream horse. What do you do now?!!!! Before you sign on the dotted line and load the trailer you definitely want to have a pre-purchase exam done. A pre-purchase exam, or vet check, can help identify problems with horse you may not be aware of before you plunk your hard earned money down. Whether this is your first purchase or 100th horse it is always a good idea to get a proper evaluation of the candidate for purchase. The point of the pre-purchase exam is to gain information about the horse to make sure that it is a good candidate for the job you intend the horse to do. Whether it is a trail horse or high level jumper, injuries and underlying health conditions can prevent your mount from being able to perform. One of the major goals of the pre-purchase exam is to uncover any of these conditions and find out if it is performance limiting to horse.  Another is to find out if the horse is right for your needs. All horses have medical faults if you dig deep enough, but the key is to find out if that fault will prevent it from being useful for you purpose either now or in the future. The following are some of our suggestions based on hundreds and hundreds of prepurchase exams our veterinarians have performed. We first recommend you find an experienced equine veterinarian. It is advantageous to use competent equine veterinarian that has a lot of experience practicing medicine on horses. A good resource is word of mouth, you can find a veterinarian through the American Association of Equine Practitioners website. Find a veterinarian that has a lot of experience with lameness, medicine and pre-purchase exams. It is generally recommended that you do NOT use the regular veterinarian or barn veterinarian for the horse that you are considering for purchase as it is generally considered a conflict of interest.

Don’t forget about consulting the farrier, trainer, chiropractor and any other professional involved in the care of the horse. They can also be a wonderful resource on the history of the horse.


Elements of PPE:

Make sure to attain all records for the horse and get the records to the pre-purchasing veterinarian of your choice. It is valuable to have a history as the veterinarian can re-evaluate any problems the horse may have had in the past (such as a lameness).


This is the physical with the horse standing still. It is important to evaluate the horse’s conformation, mouth, eyes, heart, lungs, skin, digestive system, urinary system, reproductive system, neurological system and musculoskeletal, etc…. Don’t under estimate the importance of a good physical exam. Hoof testers should be used to evaluate feet.


This is when you watch the horse move, looking for a lameness. We highly recommend a thorough flexion examination is performed. Flexions are done to put stress on the horse’s musculoskeletal system (joints, tendons and ligaments) in order to “draw out” a lameness that may not be initially obvious. The next part of the dynamic exam is to evaluate on a longe/longline at walk, trot and canter. Some veterinarians will observe under tack and some will not, but the author thinks it is always a good idea as I have seem horses look fine on a longe and crippled under tack (example, is kissing spine). Make sure a neurological exam is completed also.


Up to now, most prepurchases include the above described evaluations, but diagnostics vary quite a lot based on how much you want to know about the horse before you purchase it. Although it is always recommended to do as many diagnostics as is needed, they can be selected based on age. For example, an ACTH (Cushings test) is most likely not needed on a yearling. Here are some of the common diagnostics:

  1. Radiographs (X-rays): X-rays are a wonderful way to get an idea of how the horse is orthopedically. Such conditions as arthritis, OCD’s, bone cysts, navicular disease, laminitis and conformational defects are just some of the conditions that may be diagnosed with x-rays. Many of these can be a big problem for even the backyard horse let alone performance horse. They may need a large financial and time investment to keep the horse comfortable and sound.   Full front feet and hocks are generally the very basic radiographs that are recommended, but you may want to consider more, such as stifles, back, pastern and fetlocks are also recommended based on age, breed, history, discipline horse has competed in and future use.
  2. Ultrasound: Ultrasound is used to diagnose soft tissue conditions. Ultrasound of tendons, ligaments to evaluate if the horse has had any injury to soft tissue or the musculoskeletal system. This can affect the performance of your horse in almost any discipline. Ultrasound of the reproductive tract can be very helpful to figure out the breeding viability of the horse.
  3. Advanced Diagnostics: MRI, CT, Nuclear Scintigraphy are not very common on a prepurchase exam. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done and is a viable way of evaluating the horse, but if it needs any of the advanced diagnostics, then it probably shouldn’t be on your list to purchase.
  4. Endoscopy: We recommend an endoscopy of the upper airway system, looking for trouble breathing that may limit performance. This is best done real-time when working.
  5. ECG and Echocardiogram: This is used to evaluate heart health.
  6. Bloodwork: There are many types of bloodwork that can be done of a PPE.


Summary and Tips:

So, as you can see there is quite a lot of diagnostics that can be done. It does not mean that you have to do them all. It just depends on how much you want to know about the horse before you buy it and how secure you want to be that the horse will remain sound after purchase. There are no rules you must follow, but I think the diagnostics are worth it to make sure you dream horse can be used as intended. Some veterinarians want to be very aggressive with diagnostics no matter what and others are happy to decide based on the exam, history and untended future use.

Some tips and answers to common questions:


I hope this article was helpful in the process of finding your new dream horse. Preparing yourself in advance means you’ll know going into the exam what to expect from the experience, and what you’re willing to deal with as a horse owner.  Communicating appropriately with your veterinarian ensures that everyone is on the same page and lets you make the most of the vet check, which will lead to making the best purchase decision.