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Pre-Purchase Examination

Buying a horse is a big financial and emotional investment. Pre-purchase exams prior to acquiring any horse, whether it will be used for performance or pleasure, are very important. Pre-purchase exams (PPE) are routinely performed by the veterinarians at Vermont Large Animal Clinic-Equine Hospital (VLAC-EH) for a large variety of equine disciplines. This exam will determine if the horse is physically suitable for its intended use, regardless of level.

We strongly recommend the buyer be present for the examination, but we understand in some cases it is not logistically possible. A pre-purchase examination cannot evaluate on behalf of the buyer if the new horse “feels good under saddle” or if the horse is a good match for the new owner. Our veterinarians focus on the health aspect of the horse being considered.

When VLAC-EH performs your pre-purchase exam, you are ensured a written report of the exam findings, your x-ray images can be shared with your trainer and veterinarian digitally on the same day as the exam (no CD’s in the mail anymore), and we will consult with your veterinarian about the findings of the examination. We also provide the latest technology with state of the art Equine specific digital x-ray and digital ultrasound systems.

Each PPE performed by our veterinarians includes the following:

Complete baseline examination:

  • Hear rate, auscultation for murmurs, and arrhythmias
  • Respiratory rate, listening to both lung fields and trachea, look for presence of nasal discharge, and palpating the trachea and upper airway
  • Temperature
  • Eye examination: verifying presence of eye lid abnormalities, cornea scars, and cataracts
  • Oral exam: verifying the horse’s age and making sure there are no obvious dental abnormalities
  • Scars, bumps and nodules: look over the whole horse to identify any indications of previous injury or skin disease
  • Palpation of the back and neck looking for sites or soreness or abnormalities
  • Orthopedic exam: palpate every limb to assess joints, ligaments and tendons and examine feet with hoof testers
  • Lameness exam: horse is evaluated at the walk, trot and canter. Horse is also evaluated on the lunge line in both directions
  • Flexion tests: each limb is flexed and the response is graded and recorded

Ancillary testing (not included) in baseline pre-purchase examination:

  • Reproductive examination: If considering a horse as a brood mare or a stallion, additional examinations, testing, or ultrasound may be needed. If you are considering using your new horse for breeding, please make sure to inform us ahead of the pre-purchase examination so we can be prepared.
  • Radiographs: X-rays are taken at the time of the pre-purchase examination and allow diagnosis for current orthopedic issues affecting soundness. These images also reveal potential issues not yet evident clinically which may affect the future soundness of the horse. However, radiographs do not reveal soft tissue lesions that may affect soundness. With hundreds of bones in the equine skeleton, imaging every joint is not practical. Instead, we recommend consulting with the veterinarian prior to the exam to determine what views may be necessary. These views vary based on the intended use of the animal, current level of training, age, intent for resale, and any abnormalities found on physical exam and lameness evaluation.
  • Ultrasound: Orthopedic evaluation may reveal areas of soreness or lameness in the soft tissue structures of the horse. To further evaluate these areas, an ultrasound may be indicated.
  • Endoscopy: Certain airway conditions or identification of gastric ulcers may require further examination with an endoscope.
  • Coggins test: This test checks for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) antibodies in the horse's blood. Blood samples must be sent to a state approved laboratory. This test is often needed to take your horse to a show and whenever you transport your horse across state lines.
  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) and Chemistry profile: We recommend running these blood tests of horses being considered for purchase. We can determine if the horse has an underlying infection, or if there are early (non clinical) indications of liver, kidney, muscle and other diseases. These tests are run at our clinic and we have results on the same day as the pre-purchase examination.
  • HYPP testing: For horses whose pedigrees indicate that they may be carriers of genetic conditions, such as HYPP, the buyer may want to include appropriate testing as part of the pre-purchase exam.
  • Drug testing: Buyer can request to have blood tested for drugs in the horse’s system or to have the blood drawn at the time of the examination and kept on file at our office for at least 60 days after the exam, so that if the horse's behavior or soundness changes dramatically after purchase, the blood sample can be tested for drugs.
  • Lyme disease testing: We strongly recommend testing every horse that is pre-purchased in our area for Lyme disease. Vermont is currently ranked 2nd in the nation for incidence of Lyme disease.
  • Vitamin E and Selenium testing: Based on physical findings, VLAC-EH may recommend testing the horses’ Vitamin E and selenium levels. Low Vitamin E and selenium can cause poor muscling, muscle weakness, severe neurologic signs, and lameness in horses in our area.


Frequently Asked Questions:

Should I be present for the pre-purchase examination?

Yes. A buyer can learn valuable information that may not be in the veterinarian’s notes following the exam. This includes how the horse behaves for the veterinarian during the exam and for the prospective buyer to better put into perspective the findings during the examination.

Do you pass or fail a horse during the pre-purchase examination?

Veterinarians have moved away from passing or failing a horse in a pre-purchase exam. We focus on conveying information to the buyer and trainer about the horse’s condition, and it is up to them to decide whether the horse is suitable for their intended use of the horse. The buyer should be aware that a pre-purchase examination is rarely completely "clean," as a diligent veterinarian can nearly always find something of note. This is particularly true for performance horses, who typically show evidence of hard work, such as arthritic changes in their joints or soreness in their suspensories after a long showing season. If the exam reveals conditions that are not deal-breakers, but reduce the value of the horse, the buyer can use that information to negotiate with the seller on price.

What should buyers have done during a pre-purchase examination?

All horses should receive a thorough physical exam as listed above.  Most buyers should also consider having basic bloodwork performed to check for any indication of infection, poor health or organ dysfunction.  A Coggins test is recommended if the horse does not have a current negative test already and required if the horse is crossing state borders.  Lyme disease testing and Vitamin E and Selenium testing is also strongly encouraged in our area. Occasionally, buyers elect to have the horse drug tested to rule out the use of anti-inflammatory or calming medications that could be used to sell a horse. Most buyers of horses to be used for riding also elect to have radiographs taken of the horse.  We recommend radiographs of the front feet and hocks on all horses, as these are by far the most likely areas to have joint disease.  We also recommend radiographs of any area/joint for which the horse flexed positive (was lame following joint flexion test) to identify any disease in those areas which would affect management and possibly the decision to buy the horse. 

Who owns the information gathered during a pre-purchase examination?

The most important thing for a buyer and seller to know is that the buyer is the "client" and the person who is calling the shots for the exam.  The presence of the seller of the horse does NOT entitle the seller to expect diagnoses or advice on any condition that may be discovered in their horse.  Furthermore, the pre-purchase report is the sole legal property of the BUYER (the person who is paying for the exam).  The reports and radiographs CANNOT be disclosed to the owner, or any future buyers, without express written permission of the current buyer.  The vet performing the exam is under no obligation to discuss findings with the seller. The seller and current owner of the horse is entitled to look after their horse during the exam.  Any procedures including sedation of the horse for examination, radiographs, or administration of any other medication need their permission.

Is a pre-purchase exam a guarantee?

A pre-purchase exam is not a guarantee of any form towards the health and soundness of the horse. Insurance exams are NOT acceptable pre-purchase exams; however, a pre-purchase exam is often acceptable for insurance purposes.

Who are the responsible parties involved in a pre-purchase exam?

The buyer is responsible for communicating to the veterinarian the intended use for the horse in question, as well as voicing any concerns he/she may have. The seller (the current owner or agent) is responsible for providing full, honest disclosure regarding the horse’s health and behavior. The veterinarian conducting the exam is responsible for informing the buyer of the horse’s current health and behavior. He/she is also charged with explaining the horse’s imperfections and how those might impact the intended use.

Should I have my personal veterinarian look over the x-rays as well?

Yes, absolutely. You have an ongoing relationship with your regular veterinarian, so involving them in the decision to purchase a horse is very important. Radiographs can be interpreted in many ways, and other veterinarians may have different levels of concern on specific findings. To have the buyer, pre-purchase veterinarian and your regular veterinarian all on the same page prior to buying the horse is crucial.

If I don’t buy the horse, that’s all wasted money, right?

Not at all. If you spend several hundred dollars to discover that a horse isn’t suitable, the pre-purchase exam will have served you well. Investing in a pre-purchase exam is like paying your mechanic for a buyer’s check on a used truck; if you learn that the frame is bent and the axles are cracked, or, in your case, that the horse’s legs are unlikely to stand up to your demands, you’ll be glad you got that information before closing the deal.

Please have all essential information available when you call to set up your account and exam (current owner information, location of the horse, preferred time/day for the appointment, intended use of the horse, concerns that you would like addressed at the exam and preferred diagnostics). Keep in mind if you purchase the horse, you will need a current coggins and health certificate in order to cross state borders. VLAC-EH will need the name, address, and phone number of the destination and shipper in order to complete the health certificate. If you are interested in setting up a Pre-purchase exam with VLAC-EH, please call the office at (802) 893-6800.

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