Vettings; The Pre Purchase Examination

Choosing a new horse can be a daunting task. Many of you may decide to have a pre-purchase examination (PPE) performed by a vet, before committing to buying a new horse.  

A PPE is carried out by a vet on behalf of the purchaser of the horse, not for the seller. The PPE is a recognised examination, carried out in five stages. Sometimes the examination is not completed if the horse fails in the early stages, or when a two-stage (limited) examination is requested. This consists of only the first two stages of the examination and the vet will form an opinion based on a restricted set of findings. In this case, the prospective purchaser will need to sign a form before the vetting to confirm that they understand and accept that the examination is limited and may not reveal certain conditions. It may also have implications for insurance cover.

To arrange a vetting the potential purchaser should contact a veterinary practice, where they will take details of the horse, the name and address of the current owner and importantly the purpose the horse is intended to be used for. They will also ensure that the vendor or agent has the facilities which are required to complete the vetting, these include; a dark stable in which to examine the eyes, a flat concrete area for trotting up and an area for cantering the horse. If these are not available, arrangements should be made for the horse to be brought to the practice for the examination. It is recommended that the purchaser be present at the vetting, however, if this is not possible the vet will make contact prior to the vetting to discuss the client’s requirements for the new horse, insurance requirements or any other concerns in detail.

A Full 5 stage vetting:

Stage 1 – Preliminary examination

The horse is examined in the stable, at rest, is checked against their passport and the microchip scanned to verify identity. The heart and lungs are listened to and the eyes examined in a dark stable with an ophthalmoscope. The horses’ teeth are examined to look for abnormalities, it is not a requirement of the examination to use a dental gag to do this. The horse is checked for lumps, scars and joint swellings.

Stage 2 – Walk and trot in hand

The horse is examined standing square, is backed up, turned in tight circles on both reins and is walked and trotted in straight lines on a firm level surface. Flexion tests are usually performed. The legs are flexed, in turn, for 45-60 seconds and the horse is trotted away in a straight line. If the horse takes more than 3-5 steps to return to a normal gait then these tests are considered positive. The significance of these findings will be considered in the light of the rest of the examination. Lunging on a hard level surface is often considered a hard test of a horse, but this is commonly performed in a PPE, as it can demonstrate lameness that may otherwise be unidentifiable. If the ground is uneven, slippery or the horse is inexperienced this test may not be possible.

Stage 3 – Exercise phase

The horse is preferably ridden, however, if this is not possible, exercise can be on the lunge or by loose schooling. In these cases the vet cannot comment on how the horse behaves with a rider. The horse is observed in walk, trot and canter and any abnormalities noted. The horse is given enough exercise to increase the heart and breathing rates, enabling any abnormalities of either at fast exercise to be identified.  This phase needs to be tailored to suit the horse and its intended purpose. For example, a racehorse would need to be galloped, whilst a child’s lead rein pony would not.

Stage 4 – Period of rest and re-examination

The horse is returned to the stable and the tack removed. Normal behaviour is observed in the stable and an identification drawing will be completed. A blood sample is taken to be stored for six months, during which time it can be tested for the presence of sedatives, painkillers or steroids, if required.

Stage 5 – Second trot up

The horse is trotted in hand again, to assess any lameness that may have developed during the exercise or recovery phases.

In some cases, additional procedures such as radiography, ultrasonography or endoscopy, may be requested by the insurance company or the purchaser. These can only be carried out with the permission of the owner and will be at the cost of the purchaser.

After the examination the vet and the purchaser should have a discussion about the findings of the vetting and the vet will produce a PPE certificate for the horse. This certificate is not a guarantee, it is the opinion of the vet as to whether the horse, as seen on that particular day, is suitable for purchase for it’s intended use. There can be some findings that do not affect a horse’s usefulness but do have insurance implications, in terms of exclusions. They may also affect the resale value of a horse in the future. Additionally, pre-existing conditions, such as Cushing’s disease, arthritis or sarcoids would be excluded from insurance cover and so this may need to be taken into account for the future financial management of the horse.

Whatever a horse or pony is being purchased for, a five-stage PPE is recommended to try to avoid purchasing a horse that is not suitable for the intended use.