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Rachel Kosmal McCart is a lifelong horsewoman and the founder of Equine Legal Solutions, PC, an equine law firm based in the Portland, Oregon area. Rachel is a member of the New York, California, Oregon and Washington State bars and is admitted to practice before the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon and the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. Rachel currently competes in three-day eventing.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Pre-Purchase Veterinary Examinations

If you are acquiring a horse, you should have a pre-purchase veterinary examination. Period. Even if the horse is free.

Because horse sales are generally "as is" and "buyer beware," the buyer bears the risk that the horse may have a problem. Without a pre-purchase vet check, a buyer could inadvertently purchase a horse that requires expensive treatments to remain healthy and sound, or a horse that has a latent defect.

A pre-purchase vet check provides the buyer with valuable information about the horse's current condition and suitability for the buyer's intended use. In addition, pre-purchase veterinary exams can help the buyer avoid buying a horse that requires expensive maintenance or that doesn't match the seller's representations. If the buyer chooses to buy the horse, the pre-purchase veterinary examination can also serve as a snapshot of the horse's condition on that day, a useful diagnostic tool if the horse later develops problems.

How Do I Find a Vet to Perform a Pre-Purchase Exam?

If you are buying a horse locally, ask your regular equine vet to perform the exam. If you are buying a horse out of your local area, call the American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) and ask for a list of equine vets in the area. When calling to schedule a pre-purchase vet check, to assure that the vet can provide you with an independent opinion, verify that the seller is not the vet's customer and that the vet has never treated the horse before. Do not ask the seller to provide you with a list of vets.

Should I Be There for the Pre-Purchase Examination?

Definitely! While it may be inconvenient or expensive to attend a pre-purchase vet exam in person, a buyer can learn very valuable information that may not appear in the vet's notes. For example, the buyer can see firsthand how the horse behaves for the vet.

What Should I Ask the Vet to Include in the Pre-Purchase Exam?

At a minimum, the vet should evaluate the horse's body condition, soundness and eyesight. Many buyers also choose to have radiographs (X-rays) taken of the horse's legs, especially if the vet recommends them. Smart buyers also have blood drawn at the time of the examination and kept on file at the vet's clinic for at least 60 days after the exam, so that if the horse's behavior or soundness changes dramatically after purchase, the blood sample can be tested for drugs. If the horse's age is in doubt (such as if the horse is unregistered or sold without papers), the buyer should ask the vet to verify the horse's age. If the buyer cannot be present in person, the buyer should also ask the vet to verify the horse's height, as "height inflation" is very common in horse sales. The buyer may also want the vet to evaluate the condition of the horse's teeth to determine if (expensive) dental work is needed.

If the buyer is purchasing a stallion or mare for breeding, it's breeding soundness should be evaluated thoroughly as part of the pre-purchase examination. For all stallions, even colts of a relatively young age, this examination should include whether both testicles have descended. For stallions of breeding age (e.g., two years old and older), semen should be collected and tested for viability and motility.

For horses whose pedigrees indicate that they may be carriers of genetic conditions, such as HYPP or HERDA, the buyer will want to include appropriate testing as part of the pre-purchase exam.

For situations where the horse's ability to pass on certain traits, such as its color or coat pattern, is a material factor in the purchase, the buyer will want to test for these genetic traits as well. Many horses advertised as "homozygous" for a certain trait are simply assumed to be such because of their appearance or their production record. However, genetic testing is the only true measure of whether a horse is "homozygous" or not.

How Will I Know If the Horse Passes the Pre-Purchase Exam?

Contrary to popular opinion, vets do not pass or fail a horse in a pre-purchase exam. Rather, they provide information to the buyer about the horse's condition, and it is up to the buyer to decide whether to purchase the horse. The buyer should be aware that a pre-purchase examination is rarely completely "clean," as a diligent vet can nearly always find something of note. This is particularly true for performance horses, who typically show evidence of hard work, such as arthritic changes in their joints. If the exam reveals conditions that are not deal-breakers, but reduce the value of the horse, the buyer can use that information to negotiate with the seller on price.

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