Pre-Purchase Examinations

A pre-purchase veterinary examination (commonly referred to as “vetting”) is a valuable tool in providing a prospective purchaser with sufficient veterinary information to come to an informed decision as to whether or not they will purchase a particular horse for their particular needs. The pre-purchase examination is always conducted on behalf of the individual or party who is buying the horse. It would be unethical for a vet to perform a pre-purchase exam if they are doing so on behalf of the vendor as there would be a direct conflict of interest.

“Vetting” does not have a set format for all occasions. The examination can range from a brief and basic clinical examination to a lengthy and complicated procedure taking many hours and costing a great deal of money. The purchase price, the previous and future intended use, and your (the purchaser) experience in assessing a horse all play a part in determining what is the most appropriate type of pre-purchase examination. Purchasing a horse, as with any investment, involves an element of risk. No horse is risk free and at best, as veterinary surgeons, we can aim to identify, assess and quantify the degree of risk to give you as the purchaser the information to decide whether or not to proceed with the purchase.

By the time of the pre purchase exam, all considerations such as colour, height, type and suitability for the task should have been decided upon. If in doubt then prior to engaging a vet you should consult with your trainer, or someone with experience in the field in which you intend to use your horse.

  • Choose a veterinarian known to you or recommended to you.
  • Choose a veterinarian who is familiar with the breed, sport or use for which the horse is being purchased.
  • Choose a veterinarian who does not have prior relationship with the owner or the horse in question to avoid a conflict of interest.

Our veterinarians often travel long distances to examine horses on behalf of our regular clients, but if the distance involved is too great or if economics prevents this we are happy to recommend a vet in virtually every region of the country.

Types of Examinations

The Full 5-stage Examination is the recommended type of pre purchase exam in all cases. This is the most comprehensive and detailed veterinary pre-purchase available and therefore provides the purchaser with the most information. Opting for a less involved examination increases the risk that less obvious problems will not be found, and you should not expect to get the same opinion for a considerably lower fee. The 5-stage vetting is an examination carried out on a particular day and the opinion relates to the findings on that day only. No long term warranty or guarantee of health can be expected.

Vets do not classify horses as “sound” or “unsound”, nor do we say that a horse has “passed” or “failed” a vetting. The vet will give their opinion that “within the limits of the examination there is/is not evidence to suggest that the horse is unsuitable for use as a ..…..”

The Examination

There are basic requirements for the environment in which the full vetting takes place. These are as follows:

  1. A dark quiet stable in which to examine the eyes.
  2. An area of hard level ground on which the horse can be walked and trotted in hand. This should preferably be concrete or tarmac.
  3. An area in which the horse can be safely ridden, including the ability to do a hard canter or gallop as required.
  4. In addition, the ability to lunge or trot on a hard circle is often of great benefit.

The actual examination takes place in a set routine individual to each vet but will always include the following

  1. Initial examination, starting in a stable- heart, lungs/eyes/head, teeth, throat etc. and general assessment of type and condition.
  2. Outside in daylight to observe the whole horse when standing square. Then walk and trot in hand in a straight line. Turning and backing. Probably flexion tests. Possibly lunging or trotting in a circle.
  3. Examination under saddle. This will include mounting, walking, trotting, cantering and probably galloping depending on the type and fitness of the horse. The exercise should be both in circles in both directions and in more extended straight lines.
  4. While the horse cools down from exercise a more detailed examination of the hooves, limbs and body, noting and assessing any abnormalities. The formal identification will probably take place now.
  5. Once the heart rate has returned to normal the following will be carried out
  • The final trot up which may include further turning, circling and flexion tests.
  • Taking of blood sample to be tested for anti-inflammatories and pain killing medication (optional but highly recommended).

This is followed by a discussion with the purchaser of the findings and production of a written report.

Limited 2-stage Vetting – It is possible to ask for a limited 2 stage examination which involves only the first two steps outlined above (basic clinical and lameness examination). In this case you will be required to complete and sign a legal waiver beforehand to show that you understand and accept that such a limited exam will not give you such comprehensive information as a 5-stage vetting and that some defects may not be discovered.

Do not choose this type of examination just save on expense as you may well end up buying a horse with hidden problems which will cost much more in the long run.

Limitations and extra tests

In addition to the clinical examinations outlined above, there are many options for additional tests including radiography (x-ray), endoscopy (scoping), ultrasound and blood testing. A pre-purchase exam does not, unless specifically requested, include any examination of the reproductive system or examination for pregnancy. Any additional testing should be discussed with the veterinarian beforehand to discuss the limitations of these procedures.

Radiography and ultrasound require sedation and are always carried out at the end of the clinical examination. Radiographs are not necessarily the black and white answer that everybody hopes for. They may even complicate rather than clarify an issue. Our recommendation is that unless specifically requested by the purchaser (or in some instances by an insurance company) the decision whether or not to x-ray should be left up to the examining vet based on clinical findings at the time of examination.

Endoscopy is best performed before and immediately following fast exercise to accurately assess airway function. For more on any of these procedures please see our SERVICES menu.

Reproductive examinations of mares and fillies should be conducted in a crush to facilitate a thorough exam and to provide safety for both horse and veterinarian. Reproductive examinations of stallions are best performed by veterinarian with specialised equipment for semen collection and evaluation.

If routine blood samples for haematology and biochemistry are required they should be collected before exercise.  It is always recommended that a blood sample be taken for anti-inflammatory testing on the day of the examination.   If the horse has been administered any anti-inflammatory medication it can cover up a pre-existing lameness problem.  Even if it is never tested it is usually a good deterrent to tell the vendor that a sample will be taken.  In the event of a positive result the findings of the examnation are irrelevant.  It is not uncommon for a horse to pass the pre-purchase exam with flying colours only to “suddenly” go lame when the new owner takes it for their first ride.

If possible documentation of the age of the horse should be obtained prior to purchase. The ageing of horses by dentition is notoriously inaccurate even in experienced hands.
It is important to note that any pre-purchase examination relates to the findings on that particular day only and no accurate assessment can be made regarding future or past problems.


Warranties are a matter between the vendor and the purchaser. It is advisable that the purchaser obtain a warranty from the vendor that the horse is free from allergies, vices (such as crib biting, windsucking and box walking), and is safe to shoe, load and be ridden.

It is worth enquiring about the horse’s previous medical history and also to ask the vendor for a simple written statement confirming that the horse has not received any medication likely to affect the results of the examination.

Client Confidentiality

As veterinary surgeons we have a strict duty of care to the client who has instructed us to carry out the vetting. Any information that is revealed during the examination is for the person or party requesting the examination only.

Whilst not ideal, it is quite acceptable for us to examine a horse known to our practice; however in these cases, all relevant clinical history that we are aware of can only be disclosed to the purchaser with the agreed consent of the vendor. If such consent is not forthcoming we will either not examine the horse, or will be unable to disclose any relevant previous clinical history to the purchaser.