BY STEFANIE MAZER, PSY.D.
I am involved in a lot of horse transactions. This is one of the most fun and rewarding jobs, but it can also be a nightmare! From the beginning of 2018 to May 1st, I leased, sold, or bought 24 horses and ponies. That is an average of 1.5 per week, and of course each transaction came a pre-purchase vetting (PPE).
In my opinion, the pre-purchase can be a wild card. I try to do my best to get to know every animal I represent, and fairly represent them. When I outline a horse, I include everything I would want to know. Frankly, people don’t seem to know what to do with all the info so they become suspicious. Why would she tell us that? I tell what I know because it’s the truth, and it’s obviously not a big deal or else I would not represent the animal in a transaction.
Every sale horse that comes through my barn that I represent goes through a protocol. I get the background and history and have my vet do a clinical exam upon arrival. Every horse will likely have something show up, and ironically the ones that “pass with flying colors” are some that come to mind that I just couldn’t get to the ring for one reason or another. The question is what can’t and what can you expect from a pre purchase vetting?
Sometimes the forest gets lost for the trees, and protecting one’s self sometimes supersedes acquiring the most suitable, quality partner that your budget will allow given what is currently available in the marketplace. In my experience, the safest animal to buy is the one currently doing the job and is either with someone who you either have a trusting relationship with or that is represented by someone who has a reputation for fairly representing a horse or pony. As a horse owner, trainer, seller, and agent it has been my experience that the horses with the best PPE results don’t necessarily have better outcomes and results then the horses I have pushed or chosen to move forward with who have failed a vetting.
What I can expect from a PPE that will help me in my decision making process is making sure the blood work is clean. Mistakes happen. If something comes up positive and it appears to be a mistake — go back a few weeks later. I can think of two mistakes in my career that were unpreventable and that I still don’t understand. But nevertheless, it’s not the end of the world if it appears to be a mistake. However, if the variables add up and there are a cluster of indications that the milk is sour… then there is likely a problem.
One bad flexion or one thing taken in isolation that can’t be interpreted in black and white should be noted, not diagnosed, in the buyer’s mind. Obviously if there is a diagnosis that is not treatable or will more than likely cause problems in the future, or the horse is baseline lame at the trot that we would not consider serviceably sound these scenarios would not warrant consideration.
I look for more concrete answers in other areas, like drug screens and radiographs. Does the horse have drugs in its system and if so does the vet need to come back and pull blood again and do another clinical exam? Is the blood work an indication of any disease, malfunctioning, or systemic issues? Are the X-rays clean? This is important for resale, and knowledge so owners can be prepared if there are things that can be rectified with surgery should there be any changes in soundness related to the X-rays. Sometimes things can be easily corrected with surgery, and sometimes they can’t.
PPE’s can help determine baseline soundness on grass and footing. Horses show on footing and grass — not rocks or concrete. Sure, if you want to make a diagnosis and the horse isn’t showing you very much, it helps to make the conditions more challenging so that you can maximize the lameness, but again a single indicator versus a cluster of systems are two different scenarios. I have a horse that when you turn him left in a tight circle on hard surface falls the first step always. So naturally, he is going to fail every PPE. This same horse has never missed a lesson or show, won numerous under saddles with the best in the country and never goes any different. You can also find out about heart murmurs, allergies, breathing, and eye sight issues that may be chronic or progressive conditions that would interfere with the horse’s ability to perform.
What you can’t expect from a PPE is how the horse will match with your rider, their ring behavior and attitude, and what kind of future issues tomorrow will bring. There are two reasons horses don’t make it to the ring:
1. Health/soundness related
It is just as important to consider the horse’s behavior and attitude as it is when considering soundness and health, but that is not something you can expect from a PPE. And you simply can’t predict the horse’s future if it doesn’t have a definitive diagnosis, and is consistently able to do its job with whatever condition the vet hones in on.
It is important when doing a PPE to work with a vet that you know well, and who knows how you manage your horses. It is always a good idea to have the vet come watch the horse show and be informed of any and all medications the horse is showing on. When I show horses and my vet is observing for a pre-purchase exam, I never give them anything at all. You want your vet to see them show as they are.
Thinking about the pre-purchase exam from all angles will help it be an educational experience for everyone involved.