You have found a horse that suits your needs and you’re interested in moving forward with the purchase.

You dream of galloping across the cross country field, completing a 4th level dressage test, cruising around a 3ft hunter course, or riding at home for pleasure.

Whatever your goals, buying a horse is a large investment and it’s important to make sure this potential new partner can stand up to your needs.

To ensure you are making an educated decision, you should contact a veterinarian and book a pre-purchase examination (PPE). Pre-purchase exams shed light on current health and soundness issues. [1] They may point out predispositions to problems but do not predict future health or soundness. [2]

The goal of a PPE is not to tell you whether you should buy this horse or not. Instead, the pre-purchase exam aims to provide you with as much information as possible so that you are aware of the needs of any prospective horses.

Pre-Purchase Exam

If you are considering moving forward with a PPE, you have likely met the horse and ridden them at least once. You’ve decided their temperament, current level of training, and rideability are desirable.

Before you book a pre-purchase examination, it is a good idea to ask yourself the following;

  • What do I want to use the horse for?
  • How long would I like the horse to perform at this level?
  • What issues am I willing to live with?
  • What are my absolute deal-breakers?
  • What is my budget for the PPE?
  • What – if any – additional diagnostics am I willing to pay for?
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Responsibilities of Buyers and Sellers

As the buyer, you have several key roles to play in a pre-purchase exam, starting with the decision to move forward with a PPE and determining what exam components you would like included.

Most veterinarians will offer a standard PPE with optional add-ons to provide further diagnostics. It is your choice whether to include those add-ons. [1]

The seller also has a very important role during the PPE process. The seller must work with you to book a time and place for the exam, and most sellers will handle the horse for the exam.

In good faith, the seller should disclose any current or past issues to the vet.

Selecting a Veterinarian

The next step is to find a qualified veterinarian and book an exam. Depending on location and availability, your current veterinarian may be able to travel to the seller’s facility to conduct the PPE.

If you do not have a current veterinarian or your vet is too far away to travel to the seller’s facility, you will need to find a vet to complete the exam.

Use a vet that does not provide routine care for the seller to protect yourself from possible bias. [3] Your current vet may have suggestions for reputable clinics in the seller’s area. You can also call around and talk to vets in the area or ask for recommendations from other horse owners.

When choosing a vet for the PPE, consider these key questions:

  • Will the new vet talk to your current vet about the PPE findings?
  • Does this vet have experience with the type of horse and discipline you would like to use this horse for?
  • Does the vet have access to a portable digital x-ray machine?
  • What does this vet usually include in their PPEs and what is their cost?
  • What is the cost of any additional diagnostics?

Conducting a PPE

Once you have found an experienced veterinarian whom you trust, discuss with them what you plan to use this horse for and what your disqualifying considerations are.

For example, a disqualifying trait for a potential Grand Prix jumper may not be a deal-breaker for a low-level hunter.

A dialogue with your veterinarian about your intended use of the horse will allow them to provide appropriate guidance on what to accept versus what not to. You can also discuss potential issues with your coach or trainer to get their feedback on disqualifying issues.

If the seller is highly experienced in conducting a PPE and is comfortable handling the horse, you may not be required to attend the exam. However, if the seller is inexperienced or uncomfortable handling a horse for a PPE they may require you to be there.

There are several benefits to attending the PPE, such as getting more time to interact with your prospective horse and observing their temperament while under veterinary examination. If you are present for the exam, you can also stop the exam at any time, potentially saving you money for unnecessary diagnostic tests.

Standard Pre-Purchase Exam Checklist

Most veterinarians will recommend a standard PPE for pleasure and mid-level competition horses. A standard exam will investigate most aspects of lameness that could indicate the horse is not well-suited for the intended use.

If the veterinarian finds an issue considered a deal-breaker at any time, the seller can terminate the exam.

The exact components of the examination may differ depending on the vet, but all PPE should include the following:

  1. Medical and performa