Notes relating to the Pre-Purchase Examination

The purchase of any horse involves the taking of a risk, unfortunately horse purchase and ownership is not risk free. The aim of a pre-purchase examination (vetting) is to do our best to identify, assess and quantify that risk, so that you may come to an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with your intended purchase. By the time that you have arranged a pre-purchase examination (PPE or vetting) you will have already chosen that particular horse.

In other words, you have considered colour, type, height, temperament and experience for the task and decided that the horse will be suitable for your equestrian needs. The purpose of the vetting is to assess suitability for intended use from a veterinary medical perspective. We no longer classify horses as ‘sound’ and ‘unsound’ or indeed as ‘passing’ or ‘failing’ the vetting. Rather, veterinary surgeons’ advice regarding purchase depends on whether the defects noted are, or are not, likely to prejudice the animal’s intended use.

Ensure that you discuss your requirements with the examining vet before the vetting. It may also be beneficial to be present at the time of the examination.

5-Stage or 2-Stage

There is only one type of vetting that gives you a complete picture of the horse and that is a full five-stage examination. Other shorter examinations (termed two-stage vettings) leave out certain parts of the full list of examinations and may therefore not give you as full and complete an analysis of your chosen horse.

Should the purchaser choose this shorter, less extensive two-stage vetting, they must be fully aware and prepared to accept these additional risks. The five-stage vetting is an examination carried out on an individual day, and the opinion relates to that day - longer term warranty or guarantee of future health cannot be expected.

Two stage vetting

STAGE 1: Preliminary examination both inside the stable and outside on a hard level surface, which includes identification of the horse in conjunction with its passport, examination of the eyes using an opthalmoscope, auscultation of the heart and lungs and visual examination and palpation of the horse for the identification of any abnormal lumps, bumps, swellings or anything else that may impact on the horse’s ability to perform its chosen job.

STAGE 2: Trotting up – walking, trotting, turning, backing and flexion tests, and lunging on hard and soft surfaces (dependent on available facilities and temperament of the horse).

Five stage vetting

STAGE 1+2: As above for two stage vetting plus;

STAGE 3: Strenuous exercise - walking, trotting, cantering and possibly galloping depending on the type and fitness of the horse and available facilities. Also includes

STAGE 4: Examination during and after a period of rest.

STAGE 5: A second trot up and possibly additional lunging or flexion tests depending on the veterinary surgeon’s previous observations within the vetting.

Additional Procedures

Radiography (X-Ray)

If requested, radiography of specific joints will be performed after the conclusion of the pre-purchase examination. If the horse is to be insured, it is recommended that the radiographs are sent to the insurance company for examination by their veterinary advisor, prior to purchase of the horse.


An ultrasonographic examination of the tendons and ligaments of the lower limb may be requested.


Examination of the upper airways of the horse may be performed using an endoscope, after the horse has been exercised.


Blood is routinely taken from the horse using a kit provided by the Veterinary Defence Society, and then subsequently sent to an independent laboratory near Newmarket. The blood is available to be tested for the presence of various substances which may indicate the presence of sedatives, painkillers, anti-inflammatories and other drugs within the horse at the time of the examination. The blood is typically stored (and is thus available for testing) for 6 months post vetting, or immediate testing may be requested at the time of the examination.

Additional blood tests are available to determine the horse’s status with regard to infectious diseases and general health. If you require these, select them in the form and the veterinary surgeon will contact you to discuss your requirements.

Oral Exam

The veterinary surgeon will examine the incisors and palpate for the presence of wolf teeth. Palpation of the first cheek teeth may also be possible, but a more detailed examination of the dentition of the horse requires sedation of the horse, and use of a speculum (gag), plus additional equipment, and does not form part of the pre-purchase examination.