Pre-purchase examinations are an important component of acquiring a new horse, whether it is purchased at a cost or free. It is a complete physical and lameness examination performed for a potential buyer or new owner, by a licensed Veterinarian. Pre-purchase examinations are used to determine if there are any health or lameness concerns for that horse today and if any future issues may develop. It is not a pass/fail examination. Almost always, there is some problem worth discussing with the potential new owner. However, it is with this information that the potential new owner can decide if it is a problem or problem(s) worth living with or not. You need to decide why you want this horse and what for.
The pre-purchase examination is divided into three parts: (1) Physical examination(2) Lameness examination (3) Additional tests, including blood/drug tests & radiographs. The first two parts, which are always performed during a pre-purchase take approximately an hour to complete. The physical exam includes: listening to the heart, lungs, and intestines, taking their temperature, an ocular and oral examination, estimation of age based on teeth,as well as a palpation of the outer part of the body. If asked, we can also perform a rectal examination and vaginal/uterine assessment. This would depend on what the horse is needed for. Those latter things are not normally performed during a routine pre-purchase exam.
Most of the time is spent on the lameness exam. We are looking for any inflammation or swelling, increased digital pulses, and lumps/bumps. Each limb is palpated and manipulated, looking for pain and swelling. This included bone, joint, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. The back is also palpated along the spine to look for back pain. Next, each hoof is picked out and examined visually, as well as with hoof testers to determine if any pain is present in the sole of the hoof. Once this is performed, flexion tests are then performed. Flexion tests involve flexing a joint up for a period of time. After 30sec-1min of flexion, the horse is trotted off. If the horse limps during the first few strides, this is considered a positive flexion test and indicates soreness in that area. Flexion tests of the front legs are performed on the fetlock and knee joints. Flexion tests of the hind legs include the fetlock and hock joints. The hind leg is more difficult to localize if soreness is present with the flexion tests because when one joint is flexed, all the joints are flexed. Following these tests, we evaluate the horse in the round pen. We trot and lunge the horse in either direction looking for any signs of lameness. We will also move them in tight circles to look for this. Sometimes, the horse is tacked during this process to see how the horse is under saddle.
The third part of the pre-purchase examination involves any radiographs or nerve blocks, as well as blood tests. These are all helpful in discovering sources of illness or lameness. If there was a positive flexion test, joint inflammation, or obvious other lameness during the examination, joint blocksand radiographs would be strongly recommended to determine the cause. If the entire examination was normal, you may still elect radiographs depending on the need of the horse. Typically, radiographs of the front feet are performed to determine if there are any changes in navicular bone, pastern, or coffin bone, which could be a lifelong problem. In many performance horses, hock radiographs are recommended. It is common for them to develop arthritis. Or if young, to make sure no OCD lesions are present.
The potential new horse owner may also elect to have blood tests done. The blood tests would check for evidence of anemia, infection, liver/kidney/muscle disease, as well as chronic inflammation. This would especially be useful in an older horse that is more likely to develop illness that can go undetected for long periods of time before it shows outward illness. A drug screen can also be performed if elected. This tests for many of the drugs that are used to mask symptoms of lameness or drugs used to sedate a horse that may not normally be so calm. The results are usually not available for several days, but could be very important and useful for the new owner.
Many people elect not to have a pre-purchase examination performed on their potential new horse, but it almost always provides important incite on to what you are purchasing. Most of the time, the horse ends up being purchased after our examinations and is great. However, we have had several cases that pre-purchase exams have determined detrimental lameness/illness that the new owner would not have known until well after purchasing that horse. Not only is that a waste of money, but also emotional after bonding with the new horse. Investing a small amount of money into the pre-purchase examination goes a long way!
Middletown Animal Hospital