Veterinarians should be prepared to document everything they find during prepurchase exams for upper-level sport horses—good, bad, or indifferent. Make notes during the process, then complete a thorough report for the buyer after the exam.
Melissa Welker, DVM, of John R. Steele & Associates, in Vernon, New York, said she likes to look at the horse in his stall at the start of the exam to get a sense of his temperament, evaluate his posture, and watch for any stereotypies, such as cribbing or weaving. This is also a good time to check the horse’s passport (if he has one) and scan for a microchip.
Next, she begins the physical exam, which includes:
- Taking the horse’s temperature;
- Listening to the heart, lungs, trachea, and gastrointestinal tract;
- Palpating the head and jugular groove;
- Touching the ears and poll to check for earplugs that could be masking behavioral issues; and
- Looking at the teeth to identify potential medical conditions and be sure the horse’s dentition matches his age.
Welker also recommended conducting an eye exam in the darkest location possible.
“Be quick to add a specialist if you see something abnormal,” she said, as eye issues can progress rapidly and cause significant issues for sport horses.
She encouraged practitioners to take a step back and look at the horse’s conformation, paying close attention to the body’s overall balance, the length of the back, any angular limb deformities, and hoof conformation and size.
“Conformation faults will catch up with them eventually,” she said, “even it they haven’t been a problem thus far.”
Surgical scars can also provide information about the horse’s past, so Welker recommended taking time to check for them. Common scar locations include the throat latch (from respiratory surgery), pasterns and hind cannons (from orthopedic surgery), and the abdomen (from colic surgery).
“Have a statement in your exam report about scars but be sure to note whether the horse is clipped,” Welker said. “We can miss scars on unclipped horses.”