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The examination of Horses prior to purchase (Vettings)

Phone (01423) 862121 to book an appointment or find out more.

The purchase of a horse involves the taking of a risk. No horse is risk free. As veterinary surgeons we aim to identify, assess and quantify the risk to give you, the purchaser, the information to decide whether or not to proceed with your chosen purchase.

Prior to engaging a vet to carry out an examination, considerations such as colour, height and type of horse should already have been decided upon. The horse must be suitable for the purpose intended and ideally you should have ridden/driven the horse a few times and done everything that you would normally expect to do such as picking its feet out, grooming it, changing its rugs, tacking it up, taking it in traffic and, of course, using it for the intended purpose whether that be cross country, dressage or hacking etc.

Choose a veterinary surgeon either known to you or recommended to you. If that is not possible, ask your own vet for a recommendation of a vet in the area in which the horse is.

You must talk to the vet to discuss your requirements prior to the vetting. Ideally you should be present throughout the whole procedure. There will always be things to point out and discuss with you which is difficult do over the phone!

Please note that a horse is vetted for its suitability for a purpose. Thus, a fit, keen, energetic pony used to pony club eventing and hunting may well be deemed unsuitable as a bombproof child’s first pony!

Likewise an aged, very steady heavy horse may ‘pass a vetting’ as a ‘gentle hack for older person’ but would probably ‘fail’ for use as a show jumper!

Types of examinations

Full (Five Stage) vetting

This examination has evolved over many years. It is a cost effective, professional evaluation of a horse’s suitability for a particular purpose.. The certificate issued is for the examination carried out on a particular day at a particular time. The veterinary opinion relates to that day and time. No long term warranty or guarantee of health can be expected.

Veterinary surgeons no longer classify horses as sound or unsound, nor do we say that a horse has ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ a vetting. Nowadays we state ‘that the defects noted are/are not likely to prejudice this animal’s use for ………………’

Limited (Two Stage) vetting

The limited examination waiver can be downloaded here

You can ask for a limited examination involving the first two out of the five stages of the vetting procedure. You will be asked to complete and sign a legal waiver stating that you understand and accept that the limited examination will not give such comprehensive information as a five stage vetting and that some defects may not be discovered.

Requirements for the examination

  • Daylight – this is very important. We cannot see a subtle lameness at dusk.
  • A dark stable in which to examine the eyes.
  • A hard level surface on which the horse may be walked and trotted in hand. It should ideally be concrete or tarmac.
  • An area in which the horse may be ridden safely. This would include a hard canter or gallop.
  • A competent rider.

The Examination

A more detailed description of the examination is contained in the BEVA/RCVS Guidance Notes on the Examination of a Horse on Behalf of a Prospective Purchaser (amended 2011)

Stage 1: Preliminary examination

This is a thorough external examination of the animal at rest using visual observation, palpation and manipulation to detect clinically apparent signs of injury, disease or physical abnormality. It includes an examination of the incisor teeth, a thorough examination of the horse's eyes in a darkened area and auscultation of the horse's heart and lungs at rest. Examination of the eyes does not include dilating the pupil but should include examination of internal and external structures.

The examination does not include examination of the inside of the prepuce (sheath), a detailed mouth examination with a speculum, a height measurement or any examination for pregnancy.

Stage 2: Walk and trot, in hand

The animal is walked and then trotted in hand to detect abnormalities of gait and action. Ideally this is carried out on firm, level ground. The horse is turned sharply each way and is backed for a few paces. Sometimes, flexion tests of all four limbs and/or trotting in a circle on a firm surface may be carried out if the examining veterinary surgeon considers it safe and appropriate to do so (see note below)*.

Stage 3: Exercise phase

The horse is usually ridden and given sufficient exercise to:

  1. Allow assessment of the horse when it has an increased breathing effort and an increased heart rate.
  2. Allow assessment of the horse's gait at walk, trot, canter and, if appropriate, gallop.
  3. Allow assessment of the horse for the purpose of stage five.

If ridden exercise is not possible for any reason then this stage may be conducted by exercising the horse on a lunge, but this fact should be made clear to the purchaser and on the certificate.

Stage 4: Period of rest and re-examination

The horse is allowed to stand quietly for a period. During this time the respiratory and cardiovascular systems may be monitored as they return to their resting levels.

Stage 5: Second trot up

The animal is trotted in hand again to look for any signs of strains or injuries made evident by the exercise and rest stages.

*Flexion tests and trotting in a circle: Flexion tests and trotting in a circle on a firm surface are not mandatory parts of the standard procedure, but they can sometimes provide useful additional information about a horse. There may be circumstances when the examining veterinary surgeon concludes that it is unsafe or inappropriate to perform such tests.

Blood Sample: A blood sample may be taken for storage (usually for 6 months) for possible future analysis to detect substances present in the horse's system at the time of the examination that might have masked any factors affecting the horse's suitability for the purchaser's intended use. If a blood sample is not taken then the reason should be noted on the certificate.

A discussion with the purchaser will then usually take place and a certificate will be given