The Crucial Role of Pre-Purchase Exams in Equine Acquisitions


When considering the acquisition of a new equine partner, whether it be for competitive endeavors, recreational purposes, or companionship, it is vital to ensure that the prospective horse is in optimal health and suitable for its intended purpose. This is where pre-purchase exams, also known as vetting, play a critical role. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) strongly advocates for the importance of pre-purchase exams, as they provide an in-depth assessment of a horse's overall health, soundness, and suitability. In this article, we will delve into the significance of pre-purchase exams and shed light on their various components, while also exploring the process in more detail, the different stages of evaluation, and the potential challenges and considerations that arise during the pre-purchase examination.

The Purpose of Pre-Purchase Exams:

A pre-purchase exam serves as a comprehensive evaluation of a horse's health and soundness, aiming to identify any existing or potential issues that could affect its future performance, longevity, or suitability. The primary objectives of a pre-purchase exam are to protect the buyer's investment, ensure the welfare of the horse, and establish a foundation for a successful partnership. By conducting these exams, potential buyers can make informed decisions based on a horse's condition, reducing the risk of purchasing a horse with undisclosed health problems or unsuitability for the intended purpose.

The Components of a Pre-Purchase Exam:

a) Physical Examination: The initial step involves a thorough physical examination of the horse, including evaluation of vital signs, body condition, skin, eyes, heart, lungs, and general conformation. This examination aids in identifying any overt abnormalities or concerns that may warrant further investigation. The veterinarian may also assess the horse's dental health and perform a brief neurological evaluation to ensure there are no underlying issues that may affect its suitability.

b) Lameness Evaluation: Assessing a horse's soundness is a critical aspect of a pre-purchase exam. Through flexion tests, trotting in hand, and possibly additional diagnostic techniques such as nerve blocks or imaging (e.g., radiography or ultrasound), the veterinarian can detect subtle lameness or underlying musculoskeletal issues. In this section, we will explore the different methods of lameness evaluation, discuss the importance of a systematic approach, and highlight the role of advanced diagnostic imaging techniques in identifying and diagnosing lameness.

c) Diagnostic Imaging: Radiography, ultrasound, and other advanced imaging techniques are commonly employed during pre-purchase exams. These diagnostic tools help identify potential skeletal abnormalities, joint problems, or soft tissue injuries that may impact the horse's performance or longevity. Such findings can influence the decision-making process for potential buyers. We will delve into the various imaging modalities used in pre-purchase exams, discuss their advantages and limitations, and provide examples of common findings that may affect a horse's suitability for different disciplines.

d) Bloodwork and Laboratory Testing: Laboratory tests, including complete blood counts, serum biochemistry profiles, and drug screening, are often recommended as part of pre-purchase exams. These tests provide valuable information about the horse's overall health, organ function, and potential exposure to medications or substances that may affect performance or eligibility. In this section, we will explore the different types of laboratory tests conducted during pre-purchase exams, discuss their significance, and highlight the importance of interpreting the results within the context of the horse's intended use and individual circumstances.

e) Additional Assessments: Depending on the horse's intended use, additional evaluations may be necessary. These may include ophthalmic examinations, reproductive evaluations, endoscopic examinations, or cardiac evaluations, among others. Such assessments aim to address specific concerns related to the horse's suitability for its intended purpose. In this section, we will delve into these specialized assessments, outlining their purpose, methodologies, and relevance to different disciplines and buyer requirements.

The Role of the Veterinarian:

Pre-purchase exams should be conducted by a qualified veterinarian experienced in equine evaluations. The veterinarian serves as an unbiased professional working in the best interest of both the buyer and the horse. Their expertise and experience are crucial in interpreting examination findings, offering guidance to potential buyers, and providing an objective assessment of the horse's suitability based on the individual's goals and requirements. In this section, we will discuss the veterinarian's role in the pre-purchase examination process, emphasizing the importance of their knowledge, experience, and communication skills in facilitating an informed decision-making process.

The Buyer's Perspective:

Engaging in a pre-purchase exam is a valuable investment for the buyer. It offers peace of mind, enabling an informed decision-making process while reducing the risk of financial loss and potential heartache that may result from purchasing a horse with undisclosed issues. The insights gained through a thorough pre-purchase exam empower the buyer to negotiate price, obtain necessary treatments or interventions, or even reconsider the purchase altogether if significant concerns are identified. In this section, we will explore the buyer's perspective in detail, discussing the factors that influence their decision-making, the considerations they should keep in mind during the pre-purchase process, and the potential outcomes and courses of action based on examination findings.

Disclosure and Ethical Considerations:

Pre-purchase exams also play a crucial role in fostering transparency between sellers and buyers. The disclosure of examination findings ensures that all parties involved have a comprehensive understanding of the horse's condition, allowing for fair and ethical transactions. It is essential for sellers to provide accurate information and allow potential buyers to engage independent veterinarians to perform pre-purchase exams. In this section, we will delve into the ethical considerations surrounding the pre-purchase examination process, discussing the responsibilities of sellers, buyers, and veterinarians in ensuring transparency, fairness, and welfare for all parties involved.


In the world of equine acquisitions, pre-purchase exams are an indispensable tool for both buyers and sellers. These exams offer a comprehensive evaluation of a horse's health, soundness, and suitability, reducing the risk of purchasing a horse with undisclosed problems and establishing a foundation for a successful partnership. By emphasizing the importance of pre-purchase exams, the AAEP strives to promote the welfare of horses and enhance the overall integrity of the equine industry. Through a detailed understanding of the pre-purchase examination process, its components, and the considerations involved, buyers can make informed decisions, and sellers can ensure transparent and ethical transactions, ultimately benefiting both horses and their human partners.