The Pre-Purchase Challenge

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Whether you’re trying to sell a horse of your own or a healthy slice of your farm’s income depends on selling horses, nothing scares you more than the pre-purchase exam. A new home for a lovely horse can be sunk by either a veterinarian overzealously using technology to uncover an unimportant blemish (and then not fully explaining its insignificance to the buyer) or by a buyer toting around the mistaken idea that they’ll find a ”perfect” horse. Either way, you can’t do anything about it.

I wrote ”Veterinarians Can’t Predict The Future” (p. 13) because I’ve seen some questionable pre-purchase exams, because I’ve seen some excellent pre-purchase exams, and because I’ve heard nightmare stories about others.

Plus, developing and selling horses is the foundation beneath all U.S. horse sports, which makes it an important issue to me personally, since that’s what we do on our farm. If horsemen can’t sell suitable horses because of minor blemishes, especially ones that can be handled with good care, the ramifications are quite serious.

I hate to be critical of veterinarians, especially because I know several fabulous practitioners. But for some, poor communication skills and insufficient understanding of horse sports is a serious shortcoming. And a noticeable percentage of younger equine practitioners aren’t really horsepeople. They love horses and want to care for them, but they barely understand the horse as an athlete and have no experience with our sports’ demands.

Their short equestrian experience or weak communication skills are compounded by buyers’ unwillingness, even fear, to disregard a veterinarian’s analysis. Honestly, it doesn’t mean you’re a fool — and the veterinarian won’t be angry — if you buy a horse about which they’ve expressed concerns. As Dr. Grant Miller says, veterinarians aren’t trying to pass or fail horses; they’re taking an inventory to help you make a decision.

So I’d urge veterinary schools to teach courses focusing on the conduct of pre-purchase exams, for two reasons. First, flexion tests need to be more standardized (how long to hold the leg and at what angle), because, as Dr. Miller told me, ”Any horse can be made lame from inappropriate flexion.” And, second, because my personal beef — the eight-meter circle on the driveway — is a favorite test of some that’s almost guaranteed to make a sound horse look lame, especially if the ground isn’t perfectly level.

The challenge of pre-purchase exams is a microcosm of the greater challenge facing all equine professionals (trainers, veterinarians, farriers and others) in the 21st century: Fewer potential new horse owners have strong equine backgrounds and even fewer are truly experienced horsemen.

Somehow, we who do understand and do care for horses every day have to educate the people who own them. I don’t have a concrete suggestion how, other than to always honestly and openly explain and discuss their horses and horse care with our clients.