Examine Your Horse Before You Buy

Filed Under: Horses, General Care

Buying a horse is a serious investment. Before you make any decisions, it’s wise to have a veterinarian who specializes in horses perform a prepurchase evaluation on the horse you’re interested in.

An equine prepurchase evaluation is essentially a comprehensive physical exam, the extent of which is usually determined by the sale price of the horse in question, and the intended use of that particular horse by the purchaser. A prepurchase examination is not a warranty on a particular animal. The evaluation is conducted to determine the health of the horse, and in most cases to offer some assurance the horse is not lame. 88% of failures in horse sales relate back to some assessed lameness. The veterinarian performing the prepurchase exam for a buyer should have no professional connection to the seller, thereby eliminating any conflict of interest.

Tthe vet conducting the exam should be familiar with known breed disorders and specific performance issues regarding the horse’s intended use. Review previous medical history when available, including how the animal was fed, feed supplements used, medical treatment given by a veterinarian and any home medical treatment conducted by an owner without vet supervision.

Take pictures of the horse’s current condition. Make a complete description of the horse, including markings and blemishes, and review the horse’s registration papers. The result of the last Coggin’s test should be made available to you by the seller. A Coggin’s test should have been conducted within the last 3 months. Federal law prohibits the horse from actually changing hands while a Coggin’s test is still pending.

A routine physical should include the temperature, pulse and respiratory rate of the horse.
Auscultation of the chest should be conducted at rest and again after exercise. A complete oral examination should be conducted, and the wear and tear of the teeth should correlate with the age of the animal. The hearing will be evaluated and the eyes will be thoroughly examined. The eyes should be dilated after completing the soundness portions of the examination to fully rule out recurrent infection, trauma or hereditary disease.

Suggested blood work includes a CBC, fibrinogen and complete chemistry panel, especially in older horses. A urine collection is recommended for drug use surveillance. Horses that are being imported or exported should have additional tests taken for diseases or other conditions that are endemic to their country of origin or destination.

The most important portion of the prepurchase examination is the soundness examination. Three areas should be thoroughly evaluated:

  • The conformation of the horse should be evaluated, taking into context the intended use of the horse.
  • A musculosketal palpation of all joints should be conducted. Any pain, swelling or crepitation should be noted. Complicated and special horse shoes may need to be evaluated by an expert farrier. How the shoes are worn, and the response of the horse to hoof testers in various portions of the hoof should be noted. The horse should be checked for the presence of any back or neck pain and should exhibit good neck flexibility. Enlarged or sensitive tendons should be noted and further examination may include ultrasound of these affected areas.
  • Active Lameness Evaluation should be conducted to see how the horse moves in all gaits in a straight line and in circles. This evaluation should be conducted both with and without a rider. The horse should be trotted for at least 15 minutes to fully evaluate fitness.

Radiographs are requested with 62% of all prepurchase soundness examinations. The front feet are evaluated in 87% of cases, with 69% of exams requesting radiographic evaluation of the tarsus. Any swollen or creptious joints should also be evaluated by radiographs.

A reproductive examination may also be required, especially in all mares with genetic merit since they may be eventually be used as broodmares. The reproductive history of the mare and her estrus cycle should be noted. When possible, a teaser male should be used to evaluate her libido while in estrus. A visual examination of the perineum should be conducted to note the conformation of the area, and indication of previous trauma or the presence of any abnormal discharges. A rectal exam may be conducted to evaluate the ovaries, uterus and cervix. If necessary, ultrasound examination may provide additional information when needed. The use of a vaginal speculum may reveal scars, adhesion and abnormal discharges within the vaginal area. In the young horse, a persistent hymen may be noted by an inability to insert a vaginal speculum. If the horse’s primary intended use is as a broodmare, an endometrial biopsy or swab may provide important information regarding the presence of acute or chronic endometritis. Culture can provide assurance that Taylorella equigenitalis is not part of the vaginal flora. T. equigenitalis is the causative agent of Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM). CEM is a highly contagious venereal disease in horses.

A breeding stallion should have a physical exam of the testes and epididymides to assure there is no abnormal swelling, and that they are of normal size and texture. The stallion should have his libido tested by a mare in estrus. The stallion should have an erection shortly after exposure to the mare. The semen should then be collected, preferably through the use of an artificial vagina. The semen is then evaluated for count, motility and percentage of sperm containing defects. The smegma of the prepuce and the surface of the penis, especially in the urethral fossa, should be cultured for the presense of CEM.

Geldings with stallion-like behavior should be evaluated for cryptorchidism (retained testicles). Since there is considerable difficulty in the removal of a retained testicle, especially if contained in the abdomen, a horse may be represented to you as a gelding without removal of the retained testicle.

Not every possible disease or condition may be readily visible on a prepurchase examination. A horse will also undergo stress during its transfer to a new owner and environment. Stress can cause disease to manifest itself or cause its development. The transfer of ownership may be stressful for any particular horse, especially when environmental factors are taken into account. It is good to have a horse insured during the time of purchase to prevent significant financial loss.

Topics: adoption, lameness

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