One must not forget that owning a horse is an emotional investment in addition to a monetary expense. Once the horse becomes a resident on the family farm, who could deny it love and care if it becomes obvious that the animal has serious health concerns? Most purchases are “as-is”, so it is crucial to know ahead of time whether the horse will be able to meet its intended purpose, or if it will be a charity case that may test the owner’s limits financially as well as emotionally. It is obviously wise practice to be sure that a horse purchase is a good “business decision”, but it is still more important to understand who will be emotionally responsible for the humane care of the animal should there be a serious problem discovered after the purchase. Just like a used car should be inspected by a qualified mechanic to assess its condition, every horse no matter how perfect in outward appearance, should be thoroughly evaluated by the veterinarian to verify its current health and vitality. This evaluation is called a pre-purchase examination, or purchase exam for short.
Pre-purchase examinations vary greatly in the depth of investigation and screening that is undertaken by the veterinarian. The difference is dependant upon the intended use of the animal and directly affects the cost of the exam. Competition animals could undergo a battery of tests and be examined by multiple experts. Companion animals should be examined too, but possibly to a slightly lesser extent that still gives reasonable assurance that the horse is healthy. Keep in mind that the pre-purchase exam cannot absolutely rule out future health problems that may arise.
The buyer should feel comfortable with what will be assessed during the pre-purchase examination. If communication is unclear about what will be included in the exam, what can be ruled in or out, and what will remain uncertain about the horse during the exam, the owner may want to explore other avenues. The veterinarian should be very familiar with the breed and must be aware of the history and future intended use of the animal. Be sure to inform the doctor if you plan to breed or show the horse. The buyer and seller may both be present during the examination, but the veterinarian should represent the buyer. He or she should be willing to discuss the findings in private with the prospective new owner.
The owner should not expect a “buy” or “don’t buy” answer from the veterinarian concluding a pre-purchase exam on an apparently healthy horse. The doctor will instead help the buyer to make an informed decision by discussing the findings objectively. While it is difficult to predict the future, the veterinarian will try to explain any abnormal findings and their significance. If a connection to an active disease process can be found, the treatment options, other diagnostic tools that can be explored, and prognosis will be discussed so that the new owner is fully aware of what to expect.
Pre-purchase exams are designed to protect a buyer from investing in the proverbial money pit. They will also help preclude serious heartache after the emotional investment is made in an equine companion.