I'm currently shopping for my first horse. I'm not a competitive rider, so I'm shopping with what I think is a reasonable budget (about $4k) to buy my first horse. I want a horse that is safe and will help me build my confidence as a first-time horse owner. I have heard differing opinions about whether or not to do a pre-purchase exam on a potential horse. I still don't know the answer. What do you think?
Dear Horse Shopper,
Just like everything else with horses, there isn't really a cut and dry or black and white answer. It depends on many factors.
One factor is how old is the horse? Also, what was he used for most of his life? Most likely, since you are looking for a first horse and don't want to compete, I'm going to guess you are looking for a teenage horse. If the horse appears sound and hasn't been heavily used its whole life, a pre-purchase might not be necessary.
What breed is the horse? Certain breeds of horses are prone to certain conditions. For example, quarter horses commonly get Navicular disease. Navicular is a disease that varies – it ranges from being managed with shoes to making a horse unrideable. If you are purchasing a breed of horse that is prone to having a certain health problem, it is worth it to get a pre-purchase done in my opinion.
If the owner of the horse mentions any past injuries or health issues, I would definitely recommend getting a pre-purchase done just to make sure that everything is good and the horse will hold up to whatever it is you want to do. Also, a pre-purchase is good in these situations because it educates you more about whatever it is the vet is checking. It also gives you a chance to find out how it may affect the horse in the future. Also, if it is on medication or maintenance, find out what the potential cost of that will be.
It really is a matter of whatever makes you feel more comfortable in your purchase. Pre-purchase exams vary in cost depending on how in-depth you get. For example, if they take any x-rays, bloodwork, etc., a pre-purchase exam can cost $500-$1,000 or more depending on the vet and what area of the country you are in.
With older horses, pre-purchases can sometimes be frustrating, because you may come across things wrong, things that aren't major or things that aren't even affecting the horse at the time—things like arthritic changes that might be a problem in the future. Then you have to decide whether or not you are willing to take the chance. The vet can hopefully give you some advice on whether or not they think the horse will hold up for your plans.
Since you are new to horses, I would encourage you to horse shop with your instructor or a more experienced friend. They might maybe pick up on things you wouldn't. They might notice a red flag of some kind and then suggest you do a pre-purchase exam. It may be something that you didn't notice yourself.
If the owner of the horse refuses to let you do a pre-purchase exam or seems opposed to it, that in its self would be a red flag that something is wrong.
If you end up having to sell the horse for any reason, being able to show the potential owner a pre-purchase exam that you did can be a selling point, assuming the pre-purchase doesn't show anything majorly wrong! That way, the buyer has the peace of mind and may not feel like they need to do a vet check themselves.
Remember, if you do do a pre-purchase and the vet finds something, it is not necessarily the end of your story with that horse. It may be something minor or something you can afford to maintain. It is just better to find out before the fact rather than after you have already bought the horse.
A pre-purchase exam is no guarantee. Unfortunately, with big fragile animals like horses, there are no guarantees. My horse passed a pre-purchase exam with flying colors and was totally unrideable a few years later. You just never know.
Take into consideration the age of the horse, the breed, what you plan on doing with the horse, what the horse has been doing, and the price being asked can help you decide whether or not a pre-purchase exam would be a good idea.
It's about buying a horse while being practical with your money and having the peace of mind that you are buying a healthy horse that you can enjoy for years to come.
Good luck with your search and decision whether or not to pre-purchase exam!