Veterinary Viewpoint: The Prepurchase Exam

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When we begin our careers, veterinarians spend a good deal of time stressed out.? A colicking horse, a client with a question we can't answer, three emergency calls at the same time: All these cause butterflies in our stomachs.

As our careers progress (or drag on for those more jaded vets), we become increasingly relaxed during stressful situations. Experience brings confidence.

But, one thing we all stay stressed over is the prepurchase examination. And for good reason: Prepurchase exam complications are the No. 1 complaint filed against veterinarians, according to malpractice insurance statistics. Sadly, in most cases, failures in communication between the veterinarian and the client (the potential horse buyer) are to blame.

The prepurchase exam is intended to provide you with facts that help you make an informed decision.? We know what to look for, and we can comment on the suitability of the horse for your intended purposes. But there are many things we can't do, and you can increase the value of that exam and reduce the severity of your vet?s ulcers if you follow these suggestions:

1) Allow the vet to perform the necessary testing to inform you thoroughly.

We don't have a crystal ball.? If we do a prepurchase exam and you don't allow us to take radiographs (X-rays), we can't tell you much about how the horse has held up or will hold up to work.? All we can do is tell you what we see on that given day, at that time.? If you choose not to pay for radiographs, it's unfair to blame the vet a year later if the horse turns up with ringbone!

Let us draw blood. it's risky not to, and it's amazing how quickly the ?truth serum? starts working once the seller of a horse sees the blood trickling into the test tube.? If nothing else, pay us to draw the blood and hold it in our freezer. We can run tests later if the horse becomes lame or crazy after you own it.

2) don't ask us to discuss prepurchase exam findings in front of the seller.

You?re paying us to advise you. THere's no reason to provide the seller with a free education about their horse. Plus, most sellers try to disqualify or argue our findings, creating tension. Exam findings aren?t negotiable.

3) Accept that the buying decision is yours, not the vet?s.

Vets can't ?pass? or ?fail? a horse.All we can do is gather information about the horse to assist you in your purchase decision. If you take a used car to a mechanic to be checked out, he can tell you if the car has had frame damage. If you're comfortable purchasing and driving a car that has been in an accident, go for it!? The same is true when purchasing a horse.

4) Keep veterinarians out of price negotiations.

Once we discover navicular bone changes or hock issues, often buyers use those findings to lower a horse's price. While this is a perfectly acceptable practice, don't involve us in the price negotiations. it's a buyer?s market in the horse world. Just confidently tell the seller what you want to pay.

5) Ride the horse and get to know the horse well before buying him.

A prepurchase exam focuses on the horse's health history, physical exam, lameness exam and ancillary diagnostics. Since the vet only sees the horse in a brief, controlled visit, we can't fully judge the horse's behavior, temperament or athletic capabilities.

I recommend that a buyer ride the horse at least three (yes, 3!) times prior to ordering a prepurchase exam. Plus, if you're going to use the horse for jumping and trails, jump the horse and take it on the trail during a test ride. We can't be responsible if a horse is ?too hot? for you or is not athletically suited to your desired discipline.

6) Read the prepurchase report.

Granted, many vets write rather short reports, but it's up to you to thoroughly understand it. If you don't understand something, ask the vet for clarification.? You?re paying for it. No reason to be bashful.

7) Be honest with the vet about what you want from the horse.

If you tell a vet that you plan to do light trail rides twice weekly with a horse, we'll use a different set of standards than if you're purchasing it as a grand prix jumper.? For example: A vet may downplay a few minor findings in the X-rays if a middle-aged horse is experienced and quiet enough not to kill the 78-year-old woman who is buying it to enjoy her life-long dream of trail riding.? But, if that woman then decides that sHe's hell bent for leather to get a silver medal in dressage on the same horse, don't come crying to us that the horse isn?t working out for you.

These are practical suggestions, intended to help the horse and new owner? be happy together.? Veterinarians can assist you in determining if a horse is well-suited for your intended purposes, but you?ve got to assist the vet too.

Grant Miller, DVM, Contributing Veterinary Editor