Pre-Purchase examinations (PPE), otherwise know as ‘Vettings,’ are an important and increasingly essential consideration when planning to buy a horse or pony. As an assessment of suitability, the PPE not only gives the prospective new owner valuable information as to the horse’s usefulness, but also is becoming increasingly demanded by insurance companies. Falling into five complete stages, the examination follows a strict regime developed by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, in conjunction with the British Veterinary Association, and often takes close to two hours to complete.
Stage One – Preliminary Examination
The first stage of each pre-purchase examination is a full and comprehensive clinical assessment of the animal. The actual order in which the assessment is carried out will vary from vet to vet, with all of the important body systems being examined thoroughly. The heart and lungs are examined with a stethoscope at rest, so as to identify murmurs, arrhythmias and other defects. The intestines are also examined using the stethoscope to assess normal gut motility. The skin is thoroughly and meticulously palpated in order to identify potential sarcoids and melanomas, as well as traumatic or surgical scars, and a dental examination is undertaken, though a ‘gag’ is only used if the assessing vets deems this to be necessary. In addition to this the eyes are examined externally using a bright light, and internally with an ophthalmoscope, so any visual defects such as cataracts can be discovered. A full assessment of conformation, including straightness of limbs and symmetry of musculature, is also undertaken, and the feet are examined.
Stage Two – Trotting Up
Immediately following stage one, the ‘trot up’ phase of the pre-purchase examination is designed to identify lameness in the assessed horse or pony. Again, as with stage one, the structure of the assessment will vary from vet to vet, though the full examination will always be undertaken. Beginning at walk, the vet will ask to see the horse or pony move in a straight line, and will use this to assess freedom of movement, quality of gait and lameness. The examination will then be repeated in trot, and tight circling and strides of reverse will be asked for. The stage is then concluded with flexion tests of all four limbs. As mentioned above, this stage is designed to assess lameness and freedom of movement, but is also useful in the diagnosis of conditions such as ‘shivering’ and ‘stringhalt.’ As adjuncts to stage two there are various other tests which are not included within the standard PPE. These include lunge work on either hard of soft ground, and will be used if the examining vet deems necessary.
Stage Three – Strenuous Exercise
Following stage two directly, stage three is an assessment of the horse under conditions of exertion. Once the flexion tests have been successfully completed, the examining vet will ask the handler to tack up the horse or pony being assessed. This provides useful information about ease of tacking, as well as about vices such as biting or other bad behaviour. If the horse or pony is unbroken this stage can be carried out using lunge work. Beginning with a normal warm up on a suitable surface, the vet will assess the horse or pony through ridden walk, trot and canter, as well as during transitions through the gaits. The animal will be examined on both reins, so that symmetry, movement and lameness can be thoroughly investigated. Following this the horse or pony will be asked to canter or gallop until exerted and breathing hard, allowing for a wind and fatigued gait assessment to be undertaken. Once the strenuous exercise phase is complete the animal’s recovery rate is determined, and the heart and lungs are auscultated to identify exercise induced abnormalities. Each stage of a PPE may have to be modified due to conditions and facilities, and this is particularly true during stage three. If the conditions are not suitable then the examination may either have to be abandoned, or the prospective purchaser (the client) will have to accept that there will be limitations to this stage.
Stage Four – Rest
During the ‘rest’ phase, and directly following the strenuous exercise portion of the examination, the animal is observed whilst being untacked and returned to the stable. It is during this stage that vices such as crib biting and box walking can be discovered. Stage four is often combined with the end of stage three.
Stage Five – Second Trot and Foot Examination
Once the rest phase of the examination has concluded, the horse or pony is assessed again at walk and trot in a straight line. Stage five is a repetition of stage two, and is designed to uncover lameness and gait problems which can be seen only following strenuous exercise. As with stage two flexion tests are undertaken, and other ‘non-standard’ examinations can be carried out if the assessing vet deems them to be necessary.
Following the examination a blood sample is taken from the assessed animal, to then be stored at the Veterinary Defence Society laboratory for six months. The cost of the sample, as well as postage to and storage at the lab, is included within the cost of the PPE, and is an essential service. If there is any concern following the PPE this sample can be used to check for the presence of pain killers or sedatives within the animal’s blood. Fortunately such events are rare, but as they do occur a blood sample is required from each animal examined. Once the examination has been concluded the attending vet will, as soon as is possible, relay the findings to the prospective purchaser. If the purchaser can be present at the vetting so much the better, but if not the vet will telephone as soon as possible with the results. A detailed and official pre-purchase examination certificate will then be issued and posted as soon as it is written.
A Note on PPE – Pass/Fail
Following changes to the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons guidelines to PPE, vets are no longer supposed to pass or fail assessed horses and ponies. The examination is designed to provide the client with a detailed clinical insight into the animal, and it is up to the owner, using this information, to decide whether or not to go ahead with the purchase. Following a PPE a vet may use the phrase, ‘In my opinion I can find no reason for this horse to not be suitable for Dressage,’ but not, ‘Yes, this horse has passed.’ Please appreciate that we are not being difficult when we do this; it is just that the number of litigation cases following PPE is so high that we have to cover ourselves as much as we can. The decision to buy a horse or pony is ultimately to be made by the prospective purchaser, though we will try our best to give as detailed a picture as possible, so that the decision can be made with all available information to hand.
A limited PPE is an examination which only covers the first two stages of the full PPE assessment. Better know as a ‘Two-Stage Vetting,’ this examination is very useful in certain situations – for example when the animal is unbroken or not trained to lunge. It is not a ‘cheap alternative’ to the full examination, and no information can be gathered as to exercise potential or ridden gait evaluation etc. If a Limited PPE is desired this must be discussed in advance, and a disclaimer must be signed and presented to the assessing vet before the examination begins.
In certain circumstances, when the animal in very valuable for example, the prospective purchaser may wish for further investigations to be undertaken. These include X-rays and Ultrasound examinations of various structures, usually on the limbs. At Stanley House we are more than happy to provide such services, and we can do so at the location of the vetting using our portable equipment. These examinations must be agreed upon in advance, and will obviously significantly increase the cost of the examination.
In order to book a PPE with the Stanley House Large Equine Team, please contact the large animal office with the following information:
- The prospective purchaser’s name, full address and phone number
- The vendors name, full address and phone number
- Details of where the horse is kept and directions
- The horses details – name, age, breed/type, colour, sex etc
- Expected use
- Particular concerns/points to note
It is also advisable to ensure that the location of the vetting has the necessary facilities before booking a PPE. These include:
- A flat, reasonably long surface for stages two and five
- A dark box for stage one ophthalmic examination
- An arena, either indoor or outdoor, with a suitable surface and of a large enough size for stage three
Please note that we do not carry out pre-purchase examinations on horses or ponies which currently belong to clients of our practice. This allows us to avoid conflict of interest. If a PPE on a client’s horse or pony is desired we can suggest other suitable veterinary surgeons in the area.