8 Pre-Purchase Exam Tips Before Buying a Horse

8 Pre-Purchase Exam Tips Before Buying a Horse

by Gabriella Cellarosi Daniel, Esq. 

Pre-purchase exams are an important component of any horse sale. They can identify current problems and offer insight into future issues the horse may have. Some problems may affect a sale, some may not. And horses, like humans, can get various infirmities as they age. Here are 8 tips to help you get the most out of your pre-purchase exam. This list is not exhaustive, but some pointers to keep in mind as you get one step closer to purchasing your next horse.

1. The buyer should select the vet.

The prospective buyer should ensure that the vet selected to perform the exam is free from any conflicts of interest and/or undue influence and it will be an “independent examination”. “Knowledge is power” – ask questions in advance. If there are affiliations, those should be disclosed.

The seller should not request or pay for the exam. If the vet has ever performed any kind of work for the seller, consider picking another vet. However, in some cases, it may prove difficult, such as a small town area with a few local vets. There can be the advantage of having the seller’s vet perform the PPE because the vet, similar to a person’s “treating physician”, will likely have an intimate knowledge of the horse’s health history. If you do decide to use the seller’s vet for the PPE, because of this knowledge of the horse’s health history, you may want to have a clause in the sales contract that the horse’s complete health records will be disclosed and provided prior to the PPE. The buyer should take the time to review the records with their local veterinarian to see if anything jumps out.

2. Who is the information for?

The potential purchaser of the horse is the client. Therefore, the information generated from the PPE, the “PPE report”, is owned by the purchaser of the horse. It is typically confidential between the purchaser and the veterinarian and sometimes the purchaser’s agent/trainer, depending on what the parties decide. Discuss who the report will be sent to – i.e. in some cases, the report may go directly to buyer’s agent.

Consider requiring that the PPE report go directly to the buyer and then the buyer discloses to his/her agent as appropriate. As a potential purchaser, do not rely solely on the opinions of others, such as your agent or trainer. Confer with others as appropriate, but make sure to personally review the report and personally speak to the vet that performed the exam.

Keep in mind that if litigation ensues, the PPE report may not be deemed “confidential”, e.g. if there are alleged medical conditions at issue with the horse that go to the heart of the issues in a case, such as whether defects, if any, were disclosed with respect to the horse.

3. The Sales Agreement and Timing.

Before investing the money in a PPE be sure that you have a signed sales contract in hand – otherwise the seller could change their mind about selling the horse or sell the horse to another buyer after you have invested time, money, and energy into the PPE. Also, be mindful of the time period in which you have to complete the PPE. The sales contract should specifically provide for enough time to complete a comprehensive veterinary work-up.

For example, what if the initial exam indicates a potential problem and the buyer wants to have a second opinion (or a specialist) look at the horse, but there is a time lag in between vet #1 and vet #2? If the sales contract does not address this issue, the seller could sell the horse to another buyer before the work-up is complete. Consider including a clause within the sales contract that buyer has 10 days to complete the PPE.

4. What if the seller requests findings from the exam?

Sometimes the seller requests the findings from the exam. If that happens, consider making the request be signed off on in writing. If the parties’ sales contract is contingent upon a “passing” PPE, as a seller, consider including a clause within the sales contract that if the horse does not “pass” the exam, that aspect of the exam that caused the horse to “fail” will be disclosed to the seller. Such a clause will protect the seller from a purchaser who got “cold feet” and/or is attempting to utilize the PPE as a bargaining chip.

As a seller, it also may be beneficial to include a clause that if the vet performing the PPE discovers an untreated or undiscovered injury or illness that is affecting the horse’s health and well-being, that such be disclosed to the seller so that the seller can timely address the issue.

5. The intended use of the horse.

What is the intended plan for the horse – hunter/jumper, children’s hunter, dressage horse, breeding animal, trail mount, racehorse, etc.? Do not get side-tracked by problems or conditions that do not necessarily impact your plan of use for the horse.

Likely every horse has some issues, particularly the older it is. Also, consider whether the nature and extent of defects “materially” impact the horse’s ability to perform for you. Ask yourself and confer with your vet, as needed – does “x” issue impact “y” use for which you want to horse to do? For example, splints or “paddling” are likely not deal-breakers for most. Nonetheless, as a purchaser, you want to be informed about the problem so that you can make an educated decision whether to buy the horse.

6. The horse’s history.

Involve the seller. “Ask the person who knows.” In addition to requesting the horse’s records and/or speaking to the horse’s current vet (and potentially the horse’s current farrier), ask the seller directly about the horse’s health history. Inquiries should be made whether the horse is currently on any medication, is receiving or has received treatment for any illness or lameness, whether it has had surgery or any other therapeutic care, vaccinations, worming, and more specifically, has the horse had colic surgery. Depending on the situation, in some cases, insurance providers may require an exclusion for death resulting from colic and intestinal disorders.

7. Scope of the exam.

In order to get a full picture of the horse, consider asking the seller for all of the horse’s vet records and have the horse ridden as a component of the exam. Depending on the discipline that the horse will be used for, will likely impact the parameters of the exam. Fees (including for diagnostics and number of them) should be discussed and agreed upon up front. Analyze the expense of extras against the cost of the horse and your intended purposed of the horse (e.g. personal use, competition at high levels, or investment).

Potential extras can include but are not limited to:

• radiographs (can show degenerating joints, bone chips, soreness);
• blood work (evaluation of performance of the horse’s internal organs);
• drug screen (can protect you against an unsavory seller, alert you to temperament and/or soundness problems);
• a coggins (checks for equine infectious anemia);
• other special tests for broodmares/stallions; and
• an endoscopic exam (detects viral abnormalities).

 Discuss with your vet to determine which tests should be done.

8. If possible, be present at the exam (applies to both buyer and seller).

Being “boots on the ground” is usually a good thing. You can be there to see first-hand the scope of exam, including how the horse behaves and responds, and otherwise obtain “scuttlebutt” from the vet. You also may later avoid a hearsay situation if buyer and seller (or agents) are present.

From a practical standpoint, if present at the exam, buyer can address questions as they arise and potentially decide to stop the vetting if an issue arises that is a “deal-breaker” and avoid additional costly diagnostics. Be proactive and communicate with your vet on the day of or after the PPE to determine what he/she did or did not find.

Just because a horse has problems or conditions does not mean that the horse should not be purchased. Horses, like humans, may present with various abnormalities. Further, some abnormalities may not impact that work that you want the horse to do or may be manageable.

Gabriella Cellarosi Daniel, Esq. writes about horses, law, and lifestyle at gabrielladaniel.com. She is an attorney in Washington, D.C. with Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC, and has worked clients to set up their equine businesses. She also handles litigation, mediation, and dispute resolution, as well as counsels clients on liability prevention. If you have any questions about this article or your equine legal issues, please send an email to gcellarosi@eckertseamans.com or call 202-659-6612. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship between you and the article’s author. This article is not a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.