What's involved in a pre-purchase examination?

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If you’re thinking of buying a horse, a pre-purchase examination is the best way of checking he’s sound and free from illness

The examination is conducted in five stages, although the exact sequence may vary. The stages are:

STAGE ONE:Preliminary examination

This is a thorough examination of the horse at rest using visual observation, palpation and manipulation to detect signs of injury, disease or physical abnormality. It includes an examination of the incisor teeth, a thorough examination of the horse’s eyes in a darkened area and listening to the horse’s heart and lungs at rest.

STAGE TWO:
Walk and trot, in hand

The horse is walked and then trotted in hand to detect abnormalities of gait and action. Ideally this is carried out on firm, level ground. The horse is turned sharply each way and backed up for a few paces. Flexion tests of all four limbs and trotting in a circle on a firm surface may be carried out if the vet considers it safe and appropriate to do so.

STAGE THREE:
Exercise phase

The horse is given sufficient exercise to:

  1. Allow assessment of the horse when he has an increased breathing effort and an increased heart rate.

  2. Allow assessment of the horse’s gait at walk, trot, canter and, if appropriate, gallop.

  3. Allow assessment of the horse for the purpose of stage five (see below).

If ridden exercise is not undertaken, then this stage may be conducted on the lunge. It should be made clear on the certificate what form of exercise was undertaken.

STAGE FOUR:
Period of rest and re-examination

The horse is allowed to stand quietly for a period. During this time the respiratory and cardiovascular systems may be monitored as they return to their resting levels.

STAGE FIVE:
Second trot up

The horse is trotted up in hand again to look for any signs of strains or injuries made evident byt the exercise and rest stages.

Try before you buy

Many veterinary practices also offer a two-stage examination. This involves stages one and two only, so the horse isn’t assessed under saddle. Some insurers insist on a five-stage vetting, so check before you book.

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