Vetting or pre-purchase examinations (PPE) are carried out before buying a new horse to determine the suitability of the horse for their desired use. It is not a guarantee of the horse’s future soundness but it helps the prospective owner make an informed decision regarding the purchase of the horse. A PPE is a very detailed clinical examination to provide information of a horse’s faults that may affect that horse’s suitability to carry out a particular equestrian activity. This intended use must be carefully explained to the veterinary surgeon because this can fundamentally affect the interpretation of the findings.

The horse needs to be stabled for at least 2 hours before the vetting commences to ensure that any stiffness that could have been reduced by walking around the field is elicited.

The horse’s feet should be clean and in good condition; they should have been recently shod (ideally in the previous fortnight), but preferably not in the previous 2 days. If a horse is not normally shod, its feet should have been recently trimmed. It is not unheard of for a horse to be failed at a PPE for having over-grown feet!!

Therte are two “standard” vettings available which can be distinguished by the different numbers of stages. There is either a 2-stage vetting or a 5-stage vetting.

2-stage vetting

This is a limited examination because it only comprises the first two stages of the PPE and does not include the exercise examination. Obviously most horses are intended for some form of athletic performance and omitting this from the vetting is not recommended because there are many problems that can only be identified during exercise.

If the limited 2 stage vetting is chosen, we require a disclaimer to be signed to confirm that the prospective owner is aware of the limitations of this vetting. However, there are some situations when a 2-stage vetting is acceptable, such as a young horse that is too young to be exercised or a brood mare that is not intended to be ridden.

5-stage vetting

We recommend horses to undergo a 5-stage vetting as you can obtain significantly more information about the horse, particularly with regards to the exercise. The full 5 stage vetting is more likely to show up any subtle lameness or heart/respiratory problems that may only be evident after strenuous exercise.

The procedure normally takes approximately 1½-2 hours and involves the first two stages of a 2-stage vetting with the additional exercise and recovery stages as well as a final trot-up as follows:-

Stage 1Clinical Examination at Rest. This occurs in the stable and initially involves assessing documents such as the passport and checking the microchip. Age is estimated from checking the teeth and mouth although this is not regarded as particularly accurate and with passports and microchips compulsory, the documentation is the only reliable way of aging a horse. The clinical examination is done to assess the horse in terms of its conformation and any “defects” identified such as scars, lumps or other abnormalities. Although a horse may have many “defects”, they may not necessarily affect the horse’s suitability for a particular activity.

Heart and lungs are listened to using a stethoscope, and the eyes examined using an ophthalmoscope. Hooves and feet are examined closely for conformation and hoof testers are used to test the soles. A Hausmann’s gag is used to get an accurate assessment of the mouth and teeth, in particular the cheek teeth, for any damage or abnormalities.

Stage 2 – Lameness examination in hand. This assesses the horse on a hard surface in a straight line at walk, trot, and after flexion tests. It is important to have an area of flat, level and even hard surface of at least 30 metres to allow this to be carried out.

Stage 3 – Exercise. This is the part of the vetting to increase heart and respiratory rates. Lunging on a hard and soft surface is also performed as some types of lameness may be more pronounced on the turn rather than in a straight line. The ridden examination is a fundamental part of the PPE and involves seeing the horse tacked up and mounted before ridden at walk, trot and canter. Obviously it is important that a rider and the horse’s own tack is available. The vet listens for any abnormal respiratory sounds particularly when the horse is extending the canter or galloping. The heart and lungs are assessed immediately after strenuous exercise.

Stage 4 – Rest period. This is a period of half an hour to allow the heart and respiratory rate to return to normal after exercise. During this period, the identification sketch is normally done and any other examinations may be carried out such as the eye examination (some horses are more relaxed after exercise and tolerate the ophthalmic examination better at this time) and a further foot check.

Stage 5 – Final Trot-up. This stage involves the final trot up and flexion tests in hand. It is used to assess if any lameness has developed after the exertion of stage 3 followed by the “cooling down or stiffening up” of stage 4. The horse is always turned in a tight circle and then backed up to assess co-ordination and to look out for problems such as “shivers”.

A blood sample will be taken and is normally stored for 6 months to allow for testing if deemed necessary. In some cases testing may be carried out immediately although this is unusual. Testing is carried out if there are any concerns regarding substances being present in the horse’s system such as sedatives or painkillers which may have been used to disguise bad behaviour or hide lameness.

Other tests can be performed such as radiography (X-ray), ultrasound scans or endoscopy if there are any concerns about any findings. These may also be requested by the owner or by insurance companies particularly if purchasing a performance horse or one of high value.

ON THE DAY

Appointments for vettings are made at a specific time to allow the preparation (at least 2 hours in the stable before the examination) and to ensure the availability of a handler and/or rider.

We are commonly accompanied by the prospective purchaser at a PPE to allow discussion about any findings to take place. These findings may be significant and the vetting may be stopped at that point; this especially applies where lameness is identified because to continue the PPE could cause permanent damage to the horses. If the prospective purchaser cannot be present, these conversations can occur over the telephone.

Discussions with the buyer are a good opportunity to explain the significance (or not) of any findings.

A Pre-Purchase Examination Certificate is provided with identification details, including a sketch, and information on the findings. An opinion is given “on the balance of probabilities” if the horse is suitable for the intended activity or use. This certificate may be requested by insurance companies when a newly purchased horse is insured.

Flexion Tests

These are a fundamental part of the PPE and can be used to identify problems that may not be obvious from observing the horse moving normally. We are aware that they do not have universal popularity especially amongst vendors but they provide vital additional information. It may be true that excessive pressure placed on a joint can cause lameness even in a sound horse but when flexion tests are carried out by supporting the limb carefully, they are invaluable.

Insurance Companies

Unfortunately insurance companies may use the findings on a PPE certificate to add exclusions onto a policy. We are required to write all findings on the certificate which can lead to unnecessary exclusions and although these can be challenged by the buyer’s vet at a later date, it does not guarantee that they will be lifted. It may be necessary to consult an insurance company BEFORE completing the purchase.

Re-sale

Purchasers must be aware that some findings may progress with time and if there a chance of a future re-sale of the horse, it may “fail” a subsequent vetting.

Major Findings

Lameness of any form is a “fail” unless the intended use is as a broodmare.

Sarcoids have a huge potential to multiply. Therefore, even if one or two sarcoids are identified, the horse is “failed” because of the likelihood or possibility of many more appearing at a later date.

Extensive cataracts have implications for horses injuring their riders and commonly lead to a “ fail”. Obviously if a horse “spooked” whilst being ridden, this could be blamed on any cataracts with legal implications.