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Pets Large & Small

The Post-Purchase Exam

Dr. Kimberly Brokaw
Walkersville Veterinary Clinic

(5/2012) Hi Doc. I just bought a horse and I was hoping you could do an exam just to make sure he is healthy.? I hate conversations that start that way. The exam should have been done before money exchanged hands. When examining a horse after it has been bought, it seems that I only end up giving disappointing information to the new owner. After all, the perfect horse doesn't exist and if it did exist you can bet that it wouldn't be for sale. Hence, your average sales horse has some degree of lameness or a temperament issue. The average horse owner is unable to tell if a horse is going to be healthy and sound enough to do what they want it do. Because of this I strongly recommend that a pre-purchase exam is performed. The pre-purchase exam gives the potential owner an opportunity to not buy the horse if an abnormality is found on exam that makes the horse unlikely to do the job that the new owner would like him to do. It also lets the potential owner know if any expensive work (e.g., surgery to remove a big bone chip in the knee) needs to be done before the horse will be suitable for his intended use.

A pre-purchase exam can vary in what is examined. A person who is purchasing a horse to take on short trail rides is not going to need a horse that is as sound as a person who plans to take their horse to the Olympics for three day eventing. While a pre-purchase exam is not a guarantee that the horse is going to remain sound, it helps in that at least if the horse is currently lame the new buyer would be made aware of that.

Recently I was called out to a farm. The woman had just purchased a horse a few weeks ago and wanted me to examine him. The horse had been purchased from a local barn. The new owner was planning on using the horse for trail rides. She had purchased him for just under a thousand dollars and as he was fairly inexpensive she had opted not to do a pre-purchase exam. While she hadn't had the opportunity to ride the horse yet, she thought that she had seen him limping occasionally in the field. I was asked to give him his shots and do an exam as she planned on taking him out on the trails this coming weekend.

When I arrived at the farm, the new owner showed me to the field to see her new horse. He was a good looking palomino but was obviously lame at the walk. She said that he was a little off but thought that he had just slipped in the mud. Unfortunately she was a wrong. Fairly quickly into the exam I found myself telling her that the horse had not recently injured himself but instead had chronic arthritis in both knees. The arthritis was so bad that you could feel the boney proliferation and while I offered her x-rays to confirm the presence of arthritis, I told her I felt confident in the diagnosis. While there were numerous treatment options including joint injections and oral anti-inflammatory medications, the horse was always going to have difficulties with his knees and suffer from some degree of lameness. While occasionally a seller will take a horse back if the new owner is not happy with the purchase, in this situation that was not an option. The new owner requested that I vaccinate the horse but said she was not sure that she was going to keep him.

To further complicate the matter, this was a younger horse and his new owner found herself in the situation where she would have to provide years of care for a horse she couldn't ride. While I wish I could tell you that the woman decided to keep the horse and take care of him, I can't. Instead she gave him enough pain killers to help him look sound and took him to the local horse auction.

Unfortunately this situation is all too common. While the ideal answer would be for people to keep their old and lame horses and continue to provide them with care, this isn't always financially possible. Keeping a healthy horse is expensive. A horse with arthritis can require expensive corrective shoeing and medications. So the question is, what do you do with an unwanted horse? Prior to purchasing a horse, one should consider some practical things such as can you not only afford the purchase price of the horse, but also the continued cost of providing food, shelter, and medical care. Horses can live for a very long time so it is important to keep in mind the long term costs as well. People often say they will just sell the horse after they have had it for a few years but that can be a difficult process. After all, if you have been riding this horse frequently for the past several years and now that it is older and lame, you are no longer willing to provide care for the horse, why would someone who hasn't had the ?good years? with the horse want to take on the expense of the ?bad? ones. Some of these unwanted horses are fortunate enough to end up at good quality rescues. Others are not so lucky and end up at slaughter houses or worse, owned by a hoarder who won't provide adequate care, and won't surrender the horses to animal control nor will he euthanize the half starved horses in his custody. There are fates worse than death and being slowly starved and neglected is one of them. The Unwanted Horse Coalition is an organization with the mission to reduce the number of unwanted horses and improve their welfare. I encourage people looking to purchase a horse to seriously contemplate the length of their commitment as well as explore options for the future care of their horse.

Horse ownership is a lot of fun. It is also a huge responsibility and involves a big risk. A pre-purchase exam is one way of decreasing the risks associated with buying a new horse.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw