Horse Veterinary Exam

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The Veterinary Exam

excerpt from  Horse for Sale, How to Buy a Horse or Sell the One You Have

  2008 Cherry Hill   Copyright Information

A pre-purchase veterinary examination is often a contingency in a written sales contract or an informal contingency in a verbal offer. The prospective buyer selects the veterinarian, schedules the exam, and pays for it. In order to avoid conflict of interest, the veterinarian should not be the seller's regular vet. The information obtained during a pre-purchase exam should be summarized in writing. It may be necessary for the buyer to formally request this from the veterinarian. The written report becomes the property of the person who paid for it, the potential buyer. If someone else, such as the seller, wants a copy, the only way he should be able to get it is through permission from the potential buyer. It is privileged information contracted between the veterinarian and the prospective buyer. Often both the owner and the seller are present during the pre-purchase exam. With the permission of the buyer, the veterinarian can verbally report findings throughout the examination.

If you are at all concerned about a horse's health or soundness, he should have a thorough pre-purchase exam performed, especially if you are inexperienced. It is not wise to accept a seller's claim that the horse has already been "vetted" because all that might mean is that at some time the horse was looked at by a veterinarian.

A pre-purchase exam is a fact-finding session and can be a useful tool for both the buyer and the seller. It is not a guarantee, an insurance policy, or a value appraisal and it is not a certificate of ability, temperament, or merit. It is a physical examination for evaluating health and serviceability on a particular day. It is a window in time. A pre-purchase exam should not be thought of as a soundness exam (a term used in the past) because the term tends to give a false sense of insurance for the future. All horses have defects. Any horse can develop a future unsoundness or health problem.

The pre-purchase exam should be performed at the horse's home barn by an equine vet with the buyer present. It is best for the seller to be present also to answer questions on the health history of the horse. The better the equine practitioner, the more valuable the results of the exam. Beware of using a veterinarian that is a specialist unless that specialty is specifically why you hired him or her. For example, some equine veterinarians specialize in reproduction and might not have as broad a base of experience in equine lameness as another vet.

You also may wish to retain the opinion and services of a qualified farrier. The greatest emphasis in the examination of a riding horse is centered around the legs and hooves. In examining the hooves, the veterinarian may request that the shoes be removed, so it may be necessary to schedule a farrier to be present to pull the shoes and to reshoe the horse. Also the farrier can often shed additional light on hoof related problems such as severe cracks, sole Horse For Sale by Cherry Hillbruising, under-run heels, club feet, evidence of founder, etc. In this case it might be best to talk with the horse's regular shoer but have a qualified, unbiased farrier look at the horse as well. (See Horse Hoof Care for more information.)

The results of the exam are more reliable when conducted on a horse that is physically fit and in regular work. If a horse has been idle, he may appear sound during the exam, but if purchased and put into serious work by the new owner, he may develop problems.

Pass or Fail?

The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) guidelines for reporting purchase exams suggest that "The veterinarian should list all abnormal or undesirable findings discovered during the examination and give his or her qualified opinion as to the functional effect of these findings."

If a veterinarian is very concerned about not offending the seller and passes a horse with a cursory clinical examination, there could be problems for everyone. This can pose a real threat for the veterinarian because the courts often take the position that if a veterinarian calls a horse "sound" or "suitable for intended purpose", he or she may be liable if the horse shows up with a pathological process during an autopsy.

The AAEP suggest "The veterinarian should make no determination and express no opinion as to the suitability of the animal for the purpose intended. This issue is a business judgment that is solely the responsibility of the buyer that he or she should make on the basis of a variety of factors, only one of which is the report provided by the veterinarian."

Veterinarians approach pre-purchase exams in various ways. Since most liability claims against veterinarians are not based on incorrect interpretations of findings but on failing to disclose findings, some vets go over a functionally sound horse with a fine tooth comb pointing out every blemish and irregularity and read the x-rays with an air of impending doom. They are trying to protect themselves. While this approach may keep a vet safe from legal action from either party, it often kills the sale. Such an approach is not only hard on the seller but also on the buyer who may be scared away by a long list of what might actually be acceptable irregularities that have technically intimidating names.

Therefore, the ideal situation for all parties is communication and cooperation. Ahead of time, develop with the veterinarian a reasonable level of "perfection" that the horse must exhibit for the use you have in mind. Ask the vet to describe potential problems and together decide on which tests should be administered. The veterinarian then performs the tests and reports the results. You, the buyer, then decide whether the horse passes or fails the pre-purchase exam based on your previous criteria and the results of the tests. This is the best type of pre-purchase exam but it does take preparation and time.

If a horse shows a significant problem after a sale, some buyers complain to a veterinarian, "Why didn't you tell me about this?". That's why it is best to set up your custom needs ahead of time, communicate throughout, and make sure the reports are in writing.

Excepted Conditions

Before the exam, such as when you are conducting your buyer exam or test ride, a seller might point out a condition of the horse that could cause it to "fail" a veterinary serviceability exam but would still allow it to be suitable for a particular buyer's purpose. One example of this would be a cribber. A horse might be a good riding horse but has the incurable habit of cribbing. If it is something you can accept and are willing to manage, then cribbing might be listed on the pre-purchase agreement as an exception to the forthcoming exam. Another example is an infertile mare. She might be a suitable mount but would fail a breeding evaluation. If you and the seller have discussed such a condition and you agree that it is not important to your use of the horse the seller might want you to agree that it is an exception to the findings of the pre-purchase vet exam. That means if everything checks out OK on the horse, except for the previously excepted condition(s), you have essentially accepted the horse "as is". It is important to understand this distinction because your veterinarian might strongly suggest you do not buy the horse because of the condition. But if you have already signed an agreement accepting the excepted condition, the seller might be entitled to keep your earnest money deposit because you acknowledged and accepted the condition. That's why it is important that you fully understand any habit or condition which the horse has before agreeing to accept it.

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