|www.SpeakingEquine.com||Volume 2, Issue 5|
Speaking Equine is
brought to you by:
Dr. John Canning, DVM (970) 963-4573 www.drcanning.com
Buying a Horse
I remember when we bought our first horse. My husband went to a sale and this pretty, little six-month-old Belgian colt "talked to him." Yes, that is exactly what he told me- "This colt talked to me! " He said the colt told him, "Take me home, I want to live in the mountains with plenty of green grass and a pasture to roam in." Buying a horse is very exciting, but my loveable husband did not follow best practices. Following are some suggestions to help assure that you choose the animal that best fits into your future and life style.
Buying a horse is the beginning of a long term commitment. That cute little Belgian colt has grown into a 2200 pound hay burner. Owning a horse involves time, money, and emotion. Of course, my husband thought he knew about horses. We have found that, much to hubby's chagrin, there are things he does not know. Thanks to a very good equine veterinarian, we are learning.
Your decision about which horse you choose should be based on a number of factors. Possibly the most important is the intended use of your future equine companion. Are you looking for a family pet, a horse for your grandchild, a pleasure mount, a breeding animal, or a high performance athlete? Listen to the advice of your veterinarian and trainers before you make your decision.
Talking to a veterinarian early and often can help you outline the criteria for your selection.
The Veterinarian's Role
It is important that you hire a veterinarian to perform a pre-purchase examination. The veterinarian works for you and is on a fact finding mission on your behalf. The role of the veterinarian is not to tell you whether or not to buy the horse; but rather, to present facts about the horse so that you can make an informed decision based on possible physical abnormalities that may interfere with the horse's intended use. Your veterinarian will inform you about the horse's general health and soundness, not whether this is the horse for you.
The importance of the pre-purchase examination cannot be over-emphasized, when you considering the large responsibilities that comes with owning a horse. You should be aware of the long term costs of keeping and caring for a horse with health problems. Before you choose a horse with health problems, you should take into consideration the costs of caring for the horse, including the potential for special nutrition needs, medical treatments, and emotional challenges you may face.
Choosing the Veterinarian
Talk to your own veterinarians about the pre-purchase exam. They may suggest hiring a veterinarian who has experience specific to the breed and intended use of your new horse. For example, they might suggest hiring an equine reproductive specialist for the evaluation of a brood mare or they may feel a veterinarian, who specializes in performance horse/lameness needs, can provide a better evaluation of a sport horse.
Remember that the veterinarian works for you, choose someone who understands your needs, whom you are able to communicate with, and someone you trust.
The Pre-purchase Examination
It is important to understand that the pre-purchase exam is a fact finding mission. It is the evaluation of the horse on that one day, at that one time. Your veterinarian will be able to give you a snapshot of how the horse appears on that clinical exam, as well as the need for any other diagnostic tests. The pre-purchase exam is not a guarantee of future health, or an assurance of past health. Your veterinarian will only tell you the apparent condition of the horse at the time of the exam. They will not tell you whether or not to buy the horse.
Prior to the pre-purchase exam, your veterinarian will need a completed, signed release form from the present owner granting permission for your vet to conduct the exam.
The procedures they will perform will be based on your intended use of the horse. Procedures and cost should be agreed upon prior to the exam, with the understanding that more or less may be done based on the findings. If possible, your veterinarian will acquire the complete medical records from the horse's current veterinarian. The buyer and the seller should both be present at the exam.
The pre-purchase exam may include several components. The veterinarian will perform a general physical exam of the easily accessible, body systems including: assessment of general attitude/energy, temperature, eyes, ears, mouth (including teeth), nostrils, superficial lymph nodes, musculoskeletal condition, hair and skin. Your veterinarian will use a stethoscope to evaluate the heart, lungs, including heart and respiratory rates, and the abdomen. The heart and lungs may be examined both at rest and after exercise. A basic neurological exam will typically be included. The veterinarian will likely palpate all of the limbs at rest and use their hoof tester on each hoof. The gait will be evaluated during a walk, trot, and possibly canter, before and after warming up and possibly under tack.Joint Flexion Tests
Since most people buy a horse with the intention of riding it, an evaluation of the limbs is usually emphasized in the pre-purchase exam. In addition to the exam described above, your veterinarian may perform joint flexion tests to evaluate the flexibility of the joints and any resulting lameness. The joint flexion test involves flexing the joint and holding it flexed for 30 to 90 seconds or longer, then immediately trotting the horse off upon release of the joint. It is important to view the results of these tests in light of the rest of the exam and any additional testing performed. It is not uncommon for a horse to limp for a few steps after having a joint flexed and held. The same thing would happen to us if we were to crouch for a minute or two and then immediately run. Research suggests that flexion tests are not very meaningful in a horse that is otherwise normal. If a horse limps for a few steps after a flexion test, that alone does not mean it has a lameness problem. On the other hand, if problems are detected during the first parts of the exam, flexion tests may help to locate an area of pre-existing disease.
Depending upon your intended use of the horse and the results of the above exams and testing, your veterinarian may recommend additional diagnostic tests. These may include such things as radiographs, nerve blocks, blood work, urinalysis, ultrasound, and endoscopy. Radiographs and nerve blocks may be used to further work up lameness. Blood work and urinalysis may be evaluated for general health or to detect infectious agents or drugs. Ultrasound likely will be used as part of a reproductive exam, and endoscopy is used in the evaluation of the upper airway. Your veterinarian will not recommend running additional tests without either clinical evidence or a related reason to support the need for them.
Interpretation, Understanding, and Decision Making
Review the results of the examination with your veterinarian. Be sure to ask questions, you want to have a good understanding of the health of the horse.
When making your final decision you should: review the results of the pre-purchase exam, your intended use of the horse, other input you have received, all before making your final decision.
You will find that, just like people, no horse is perfect in every respect. Some medical conditions or conformation faults may not seriously affect the horse's performance. If special care is required, decide if the added expense and work is feasible for you.
Whether or not you decide to buy the horse, you will find that having a pre-purchase exam is well worth the money.
We strongly encourage horse owners to seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy. After all, it is your horse's life.
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Speaking Equine® Newsletters and other documents provided pursuant to this service are for informational purposes only. The information is provided "as information only" without warranty of any kind. The user assumes the entire risk as to the accuracy and use of the information. Speaking Equine and participating equine professionals strongly recommend that you consult a veterinarian before providing any medical treatment to animals.