Vetting a new horse

Before asking your vet to carry out a pre-purchase examination, you can save time, effort and expense by doing a few simple checks.

Have a list of questions ready before telephoning to arrange to view a prospective purchase.

  • age
  • height
  • any vices. Ask about them by name: crib biting, wind sucking, box walking,weaving, rug tearing, rearing, kicking, biting, napping, bolting
  • any “phobias” – pigs, men, travelling
  • any allergies – sweet itch, dust, hay, straw
  • previous medical history – lameness or coughing;
  • are there exclusions on an insurance policy?

    Keep a record of the answers and, if you are happy with them, arrange to see the horse.

    Remember, your vet’s job is primarily to establish whether the horse is clinically sound with no medical problems, not to uncover his temperamental foibles.

    Ask for the horse to be stabled when you visit and that his “paperwork” – breeding papers, passport, vaccination card and insurance policy be with him.

    Making observations

    When you arrive, lean over the stable door and observe:

  • does the horse have a friendly demeanour?
  • is there evidence of stable vices – chewed wood, churned up bedding?
  • is the horse bedded on shavings, paper or peat, as opposed to straw, and is the hay soaked, rather than dry? Both may be stable policies, but sometimes can indicate a dust allergy.

    Ask for the horse to be led out and stood up square on a level surface. Check that he matches the ID on his passport or vaccination card, if he has one.

    Observe and keep note of everything.

  • does he look well?
  • is he too fat or too thin?
  • is his coat shining?
  • does he have clear, bright eyes and clean nostrils?
  • is his breathing barely perceptible or is he heaving or coughing?

    Stand in front of the horse and look at him square on:

  • are his front feet a pair, or is one upright and boxy and the other spread out with collapsed heels?

    Stand behind and compare the shape of each hindquarter:

  • is one more raised than the other?
  • does one look “wasted”?

    Run your hands over the horse and keep a note of any lumps, bumps or swellings:

    If the light is poor, shine a torch between the hind legs and underbelly. This is a common site for sarcoids and they can be missed.

    Look in the horse’s mouth, even if it is just to assess his reaction.

    Ask to have the horse walked and trotted up in-hand on a hard, level surface, if possible.

    Watch his head as he trots towards you and away from you. Note, the head goes up as the lame leg hits the ground and bears the weight.

    If you suspect all is not right, ask to see the horse lunged – some lamenesses are more apparent on the circle, particularly at a trot. If this confirms your suspicions, but there is nothing obvious, you may ask if you can return to see him again.

    Many lamenesses are temporary knocks and the horse could be fine within a few days.If all is well, you will then want to try him ridden after which you will have a good idea of whether you like the horse enough to have him vetted.