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The pre-purchase exam

By Daniel M.Grove, DVM - December 1st, 2017 - Ask the Vet

AskTheVetThe pre-purchase exam is done when looking at a horse to buy, and you are looking for a professional, objective opinion on a horse prior to purchasing it.  Each practitioner is most likely going to use their own method to do it and will include or exclude certain things based on their training and experience.  The way I do my exams, they are broken down into two distinct different sections.

The Physical

The first part of the exam, I start with an in-depth physical exam.  I start at the nose and work my way back.  I look in the mouth to check the gums.  Next, I run fingers over the teeth to check for current floating status.  I move next to the eyes.  First, I check the menace response which involves moving toward the eye to see if the horse blinks.  After that, I use my ophthalmoscope to do an exam of the back of the eye, called the fundus.  I examine the optic nerve and the retina.  I move to the ears, looking for parasites or masses.

After the head is done, I move to the thorax and abdomen, listening to the heart first.  I am checking for normal rhythms or abnormal heart sounds.  I next listen to the lungs checking for abnormal air sounds that could be from infection or allergic airway disease.    After this, I usually move to listening to the bowel sounds.  Are they normal?  Do I hear the abnormal sound of sand?  At this point, I usually palpate the entire spinal column from neck all the way down the back, checking for any sensitivity indicating pain or any abnormal swellings that could indicate a problem.  Lastly, I check the temperature of the horse and examine the external genitalia for any abnormalities.

Now the body is done, so I move to the limbs.  I start with the hoof.  I go over the hoof with my hoof testers, applying pressure to check for any sensitivity.  I move up the limb feeling each joint looking for abnormal swelling.  I move the limb to check the joints for normal range of motion.  Lastly, I palpate the major tendons and ligaments checking for sensitivity, or abnormal swelling that could be indicative of current injury or an old scarred injury.


Now the physical is over, the second part is an in-depth lameness exam.  First, I watch the horse trot a straight line on hard ground.  Most all of this part is done at the trot because it is a symmetrical, two-beat gait.  I am looking for any lameness or abnormality in gait, but this is also my baseline for the flexion tests.  The flexion test places mild stress on the joints of the limb for a predetermined time and then the horse trots off to see if any lameness has developed.  The front limbs I do for 45 seconds.  The hinds, I do for 60 seconds.  As this is a general exam and not one that I am trying to localize a lameness, I do the whole limb at once.  This helps us pick up potential problems that might be lurking around the corner, or exacerbate things too subtle to see at the regular trot.

After the flexion tests are done, I move to lunging.  Either in a round pen or in an arena, I like to spend some time watching the horse move in a circle.  This allows me to study the gait more from the side rather than from behind or in front of the animal.  This also places different pressures on the legs that causes some lameness issues to show up that have not on previous parts of the examination.  I watch the horse go in both directions.  At this point, the routine, clinical examination is concluded.


Some potential purchasers like more information, some of the most common additional exams and tests are:

1)Radiographs-  This allows us to look at the joints and bones and evaluate them

2)Upper airway endoscopic exam-This allows us to look at the upper airway for abnormalities

3)Reproductive exam- To check a mares potential for breeding

4)Semen evaluation-To check for a stallions breeding potential

5)Routine blood testing-To check the general health of the horse

6)Drug testing-To see if the horse has been given anything that could calm the behavior, mask pain,   performance enhancing, etc.

I try to tailor each exam to the potential buyer’s needs.  Some want to know everything possible and some only have a certain budget.  I treat this as a fact-finding mission for my client to attempt to give them an idea of what they are buying and trying to protect that investment.  Unfortunately, not everything can be avoided, but the pre-purchase examination can help mitigate some of the risk by giving the buyer additional information.


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