Investing in a horse is a significant decision that requires careful consideration and thorough evaluation of the animal’s health, soundness, and suitability for the intended purpose. While an equine pre-purchase examination doesn’t guarantee your horse will experience long-term soundness and good health, the assessment can identify conformation problems that may cause issues in the future and pre-existing conditions that aren’t readily apparent. Our Rustebakke Veterinary Service team explains what an equine pre-purchase examination involves. 

Equine pre-purchase examination goals

An equine pre-purchase examination is not a pass/fail evaluation but rather a snapshot in time of a horse’s soundness and health on the assessment day. The pre-purchase exam serves horse buyers’ and sellers’ purposes such as:

  • Assessing health and soundness — A pre-purchase examination’s primary goal is to evaluate a horse’s overall health, soundness, and fitness for their intended use. By conducting a thorough physical examination, lameness assessment, and diagnostic testing, our team can identify existing health issues or potential concerns that may affect a horse’s performance and longevity.
  • Minimizing risk — Investing in a horse is a significant financial investment, and buyers want assurance they are making a good choice. A pre-purchase examination helps minimize a horse buyer’s risk by identifying conformation or health issues that may lead to costly veterinary bills or decreased performance.
  • Negotiating terms — Buyers can use the information obtained from a pre-purchase examination to make informed decisions and negotiate fair terms for a horse’s purchase. 
  • Legal protection — In the event of a dispute or disagreement regarding a horse’s condition or suitability post-purchase, having documented evidence regarding a horse’s health status at the time of purchase can help resolve disputes and mitigate potential liabilities.

Equine pre-purchase examination elements

When performing a pre-purchase examination, the first step is to gather information from the seller about the horse’s health, work level, wellness care, current medications and supplements, and any lameness issues the animal has experienced. Knowing a horse’s intended use is also important for our team. After receiving this information, we perform a thorough, systematic examination that involves assessing the following factors:

  • Cardiothoracic — We listen to the horse’s heart and lungs to check for murmurs, arrhythmias, and respiratory abnormalities. 
  • Dermatologic — Our team examines the horse’s body for masses, surgical scars, depigmentation, and other skin abnormalities.
  • Ophthalmic — Using an ophthalmoscope, we check the horse’s eyes for issues such as cataracts, uveitis, and corpora nigra cysts.
  • Oral — Our team checks the horse’s mouth for dental abnormalities, such as missing teeth or parrot mouth, which may require additional dental care and maintenance. 
  • Reproductive — If the horse’s intended use is for breeding, we perform a breeding soundness examination.
  • Neurologic — Our team assesses the horse’s reflexes, coordination, pupil response, and muscle tone.
  • Musculoskeletal — We thoroughly assess the horse for lameness issues by closely examining each limb, assessing their joints’ range of motion, applying hoof testers to each foot, and watching the horse move at a walk and trot in a straight line and on a circle to the left and right. We then flex every joint of each limb individually and watch them trot off to determine if the stress caused discomfort. We also palpate the horse’s neck and back to identify issues in the spinal cord or back musculature.
  • X-rays — In some cases, X-rays are recommended to rule out potential problems such as navicular and osteoarthritis. 

Once we complete the examination, we provide the buyer with a detailed written report summarizing the findings. Our team notes any significant abnormalities or concerns identified during the evaluation.

An equine pre-purchase examination provides valuable information about a horse’s health, soundness, and suitability for the intended use and helps the buyer make an informed decision before investing in a particular animal. Whether you are purchasing a competitive athlete, pleasure mount, or companion animal, a pre-purchase exam is a smart way to minimize your risk and help ensure you acquire a horse that meets your needs and expectations. Contact our Rustebakke Veterinary Service team to schedule your appointment.