H&H question of the week: getting a horse vetted — how does it work and is it worth it?

Rick Farr of Farr & Pursey Equine Vets shares his expert advice on how a pre-purchase exam works, what to expect and whether getting one is always worth it

Q: Pre-purchase vettings: “How much does it cost to vet a potential horse? And what’s the difference between the different stage vettings? Also can you use any vet or do people tend to use the seller’s if travelling long distance to view for example? Would you recommend always getting a horse vetted and is there still a pass and fail system?”

A: Vettings are probably one of the most stressful events for any horse owner, whether you are a buyer or seller alike. However, I can fully admit as a vet, I too find them very stressful!

So why is this so? If you have taken the time, effort and expense to get a vet to examine a horse prior to purchase you are committed to the horse you have chosen — you don’t want it to “fail” (I will get to this term later, which I feel is no longer valid). If you are selling the horse you might not be aware of any potential problems — once again, you want the horse to be sold without issue. As a vet we want to be impartial, methodical and pragmatic when it comes to vetting — no pressure!

Continued below…

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So to break your questions down…

Cost: This is a difficult one to generalise as it is highly dependant on the individual practice you are dealing with. I have therefore tried to average the prices from some of the practices I have worked in in the past. With this in mind there are four main points to consider:

1. Whether you want a two stage or five stage vetting: as a general ‘ball park’ you could expect to spend anywhere between £100-£200 for a two stage and £200-£300 for a five stage.

2. Travel time to the vetting itself: You should also take into account there is often a visit charge for getting to the vetting. Most practices tend to base this on a visit zone or an hourly rate — this is very individual to the practice you deal with.

3. Taking bloods: Taking bloods for prohibited substances (such as pain killers or sedatives) is recommended in most vettings — this again incurs a cost of around £50.

4. Additional tests: In some circumstances additional diagnostic tests might be required. These can range from survey X-rays to pre-movement Strangles blood tests. This is often dependant on insurance policies you wish to take out for veterinary fees/loss of use etc, or requests from yards you wish to move to.

Different stages: There are two main forms of a ‘vetting’ — two and five stage. I have listed the stages below and what they entail:

Two Stage vetting:

Stage 1: Preliminary examination — this involves a thorough clinical examination of the horse at rest. This involves everything from looking into eyes, listening to hearts and lungs and palpating the horses entire body looking for any obvious anatomical irregularities.

Stage 2: Walk and trot in hand — during this stage we are looking for any gait anomalies, in addition the vast majority of horses are also seen on the hard and soft lunge.

Five Stage vetting:

This encompasses the previous stages one and two, in addition to…

Stage 3: Exercise phase — this means the horse is required to undergo strenuous exercise. In essence we are looking for any potential issues with the cardiovascular system (heart and lungs and upper respiratory tract) when placed under stress. Furthermore, whether any gait anomalies are also evident. This is also a useful phase to see how a horse responds under saddle, however this is not essential as this phase can involve lungeing/loose schooling if the horse is young or unbroken.

Stage 4: Period of rest and a re-examination — this involves assessing level of fitness post exercise, in addition to looking for any potential vices. Most vets also review the horses official paperwork/passports during this phase.

Stage 5: Second trot up — this is designed to see if any gait anomalies are evident post exercise. Often most horses are lunged again on a hard surface during this phase.

Who can complete your vetting?

Any vet can complete a pre-purchase exam, however in order to remain impartial, methodical and pragmatic as stated before most practices will not conduct the examination if there is a conflict in interest. Therefore if the vendor (person selling the horse) and purchaser are both clients of the practice, or if the horse is a patient of the practice a conflict is highlighted and most veterinary practices will advise the purchaser to use a different practice. This guideline is used by most practices, however it is once again down to the individual circumstances.

If the horse you wish to purchase is a considerable distance from your local area most vets will offer to travel to complete a pre-purchase exam, however as I have previously stated this often incurs as cost — therefore using a local veterinary practice close to the vendor may be applicable. If this is the case look for an equine specific veterinary practice to assist you.

Would I recommend a horse to always be vetted?

Put simply, yes. You can never guarantee the perfect horse — however trying to minimise the risk of purchasing a horse with a condition that will affect its use is the key. The standard vetting procedure will help to identify the majority of these cases.

Is there a pass or fail system?

Again, put simply, no. On the bottom of all standard vetting certificates (supported by the British Equine Veterinary Association, Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, The Veterinary Council of Ireland and Veterinary Ireland) there is this statement:

“In my opinion, on the balance of probabilities, the conditions reported do/do not prejudice this horses suitability for purchase to be used for…”

This essentially means we now vet for purpose and not solely for purchase, which is an important distinction. It also states on the “balance of probabilities…”, which emphasises that as much information as possible has been duly noted and considered before a decision has been made.

I feel I should also clarify that as the visiting veterinary surgeon we are only seeing a ‘snap-shot’ of that one horse in a single moment in time (usually less than two hours) — evaluating everything from a horses demeanour or temperament, to its ability to cope with new environments/riders/management routines is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. Therefore, there are components to having a new horse that cannot be assessed.

Buying any new horse can be stressful, but doing your research and trialling horses whenever possible should make the whole process infinitely easier. If you have any other questions or queries about the pre-purchase examination contact your local veterinary practice for more information.