It's an exciting time: You've ridden him, you've witnessed his stable manners and you've spent time with him. And you've decided to go ahead and "vet" your potential new horse.
Before you do, consider what you're willing to spend on a pre-purchase exam and what you want to find out. Just like a home inspection, a pre-purchase exam may reveal some defects that would scratch a deal, and others that are acceptable but might need maintenance.
The depth and breadth of a pre-purchase exam will depend largely on what you plan to use your new horse for. If he's a backyard trail horse, for example, you may decide that you don't need an X-ray of every single bone.
Well-done pre-purchase exams are head-to-tail affairs: The veterinarian (not the horse's usual one, but one unrelated to the seller) will assess the horse's conformation, general health and musculoskeletal soundness. You may also want to order a full set of X-rays, a dental exam and have the horse's feet looked at by a trusted farrier.
The Merck Veterinary Manual notes that pre-purchase exams include four parts: General vital signs, a look at the horse's eyes, teeth and general body condition make up part one. The second part includes flexion tests and watching the horse move on different surfaces. Some veterinarians like to watch the horse being ridden, as well. The fourth part includes X-rays and other, more advanced diagnostic techniques.
The results of a pre-purchase exam are confidential between the prospective buyer and the veterinarian. The seller and the buyer should both be present during the exam, and it should be done at the horse's home barn if possible.
The veterinarian will describe to the buyer any concerns, and whether the horse may have limited use for the buyer's needs. It is not the veterinarian's job to assess the value of the horse-that's between the buyer and the seller.
Horses are rarely perfect. Just be aware of what's acceptable and what's not before you commit to your new horse, no matter how much you want him.