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The pre-purchase exam Ask The Vet

T by daniel h. grove, dvm

he pre-purchase exam is done when looking at a horse to buy, and you are looking for a professional, objective opinion on a horse prior to purchasing it. Each practitioner is most likely going to use their own method to do it and will include or exclude certain things based on their train- ing and experience. The way I do my exams, they are broken down into two distinct dif- ferent sections.

The Physical The fi rst part of the exam, I start with an

in-depth physical exam. I start at the nose and work my way back. I look in the mouth to check the gums. Next, I run fi ngers over the teeth to check for current fl oating status. I move next to the eyes. First, I check the menace response which involves moving toward the eye to see if the horse blinks. Aſt er that, I use my ophthalmoscope to do an exam of the back of the eye, called the fundus. I examine the optic nerve and the retina. I move to the ears, looking for para- sites or masses. Aſt er the head is done, I move to the tho-

rax and abdomen, listening to the heart fi rst. I am checking for normal rhythms or abnor- mal heart sounds. I next listen to the lungs checking for abnormal air sounds that could be from infection or allergic airway disease. Aſt er this, I usually move to listening to the bowel sounds. Are they normal? Do I hear the abnormal sound of sand? At this point, I usually palpate the entire spinal column from neck all the way down the back, check- ing for any sensitivity indicating pain or any abnormal swellings that could indicate a

A monthly column by Daniel H. Grove, DVM

Got a question for Dr. Grove? Send your inquiries to, and it could be answered by Dr. Grove in a future column. Dr. Grove is based at West Coast Equine Medicine, headquartered in Fallbrook, Calif., where he lives with his wife Kristen.

problem. Lastly, I check the temperature of the horse and examine the external genitalia for any abnormalities. Now the body is done, so I move to the limbs. I start with the hoof. I go over the hoof with my hoof testers, applying pressure to check for any sensitivity. I move up the limb feeling each joint looking for abnormal swelling. I move the limb to check the joints for normal range of motion. Lastly, I palpate the major tendons and ligaments checking for sensitivity, or abnormal swelling that could be indicative of current injury or an old scarred injury.

Lameness Now the physical is over, the second part

is an in-depth lameness exam. First, I watch the horse trot a straight line on hard ground. Most all of this part is done at the trot because it is a symmetrical, two-beat gait. I am looking for any lameness or abnormality in gait, but this is also my baseline for the fl exion tests. The fl exion test places mild stress on the joints of the limb for a prede- termined time and then the horse trots off to see if any lameness has developed. The front limbs I do for 45 seconds. The hinds, I do for 60 seconds. As this is a general exam and not one that I am trying to localize a lameness, I do the whole limb at once. This helps us pick up potential problems that might be lurking around the corner, or exac- erbate things too subtle to see at the regular trot. Aſt er the fl exion tests are done, I move to

lunging. Either in a round pen or in an arena, I like to spend some time watching the horse move in a circle. This allows me to study

the gait more from the side rather than from behind or in front of the animal. This also places diff erent pressures on the legs that causes some lameness issues to show up that have not on previous parts of the examination. I watch the horse go in both directions. At this point, the routine, clinical examination is concluded.

Add-ons Some potential purchasers like more

information, some of the most common additional exams and tests are: 1)Radiographs: This allows us to look at

the joints and bones and evaluate them 2)Upper airway endoscopic exam: This

allows us to look at the upper airway for abnormalities 3)Reproductive exam: To check a mares

potential for breeding 4)Semen evaluation: To check for a stal- lions breeding potential 5)Routine blood testing: To check the gen-

eral health of the horse 6)Drug testing: To see if the horse has been

given anything that could calm the behavior, mask pain, performance enhancing, etc. I try to tailor each exam to the potential

buyer’s needs. Some want to know every- thing possible and some only have a certain budget. I treat this as a fact-fi nding mission for my client to at empt to give them an idea of what they are buying and trying to protect that investment. Unfortunately, not every- thing can be avoided, but the pre-purchase examination can help mitigate some of the risk by giving the buyer additional informa- tion.


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