Friday, April 2, 2010

4/2/2010 - The Prepurchase Exam

Vet tip of the Day: The Prepurchase Examination
Key Words: Intended Use, Physical examination, X-rays
 Today I am going to discuss some theoretical considerations regarding prepurchase examinations.  Tomorrow I will go over the nuts and bolts of the prepurchase exam including what you should expect your veterinarian to do during the exam, and how to determine if x-rays or blood work are indicated.  Right now let's begin with a look at the issue of suitability.

Today I completed a prepurchase examination on a 15 year old arabian endurance horse.  The horse was experienced, with 5,000 competition miles and no history of lameness problems.  The buyers were looking for a safe, experienced horse to do 25 to 50  mile endurance rides, but not at a highly competitive level.  The horse had not been competing for the past two years, but had been consistently ridden as an athletic trail horse.

I share this information with you, and chose this picture of the little cowgirl riding her barrel patterns on what appears to be a very wise old mare, for a reason.  The arabian gelding I saw today, and the old quarter horse poking around the barrel are two very different horses, but each is appropriate for their rider's needs.

A prepurchase exam is a veterinarian's evaluation of a horse's physical well being based on a single evaluation which takes from 45 minutes to a couple of hours to complete. While a tremendous amount of valuable information can be gathered based on a thorough physical examination, lameness evaluation, and diagnostic imaging, even the most rigorous prepurchase exam cannot replace a good history on a horse's past performance record and a buyer's solid understanding of their goals in purchasing this horse.  Obviously the little cowgirl's horse needn't demonstrate the same athletic ability as the 15 year old endurance horse.

As a veterinarian, one of the most challenging situations when performing a prepurchase examination is trying to evaluate a horse with an unknown history which is not performing the job for which it is intended.  For example, last fall I was asked to evaluate a 9 year old thoroughbred mare being purchased as a children's show jumper.  The mare had done some showing as a 5 and 6 year old, and then for an unknown reason had become a brood mare.  She had 2 foals then didn't conceive last year and now was for sale. 

Evaluating a horse like this is really difficult.  She has not been in any kind of exercise program for 3 years and there is no explanation for her change from performance horse to brood mare.  She may have a perfect prepurchase examination on the day I look at her.  She may be sound, have good conformation and pass all my flexion tests and limb palpations with flying colors.  She may have normal x-rays of her hocks, and front feet.  From my perspective, she is a sound horse.  However, I always caution buyers of such animals that the horse is not performing at the level of intended use and has an incomplete history therefore it is impossible for me to have great confidence in assessing the horse's long term prospects for continued soundness.   In fact, when this mare was put back in regular work and began jumping she developed a hind limb lameness that was attributed to a suspensory injury, which very possibly had been the reason she became a brood mare in the first place.

The moral of the story is this:  when purchasing a horse, always look for an animal that is in work, and performing at least close to the level at which you intend to use it.  It is then much more likely that your veterinarian will be able to accurately identify issues of concern and discuss them with you.  Make every effort to obtain a history of the horse's past performance and ask the seller why the horse is for sale.

A prepurchase examination is a very important part of making a wise investment.  Often I identify problems during a prepurchase exam about which the seller was unaware - that is why we subject the horse to unusually rigorous conditions during the examination such as trotting small circles on very hard and very soft surfaces.  But at the end of the day, the ethical horse seller with a complete history on their horse can be equally as valuable as your veterinarian's assessment.  Tomorrow I will discuss in detail what you should expect from your veterinarian during a prepurchase examination.

The wind is howling - Mother Nature has been very restless throughout March and appears to be continuing her mood right into April.  Keep your head down and your spirits high.

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