A standard pre-purchase exam on the horse you've chosen to buy is worth the money and could prevent you from making the wrong decision. The veterinarian should be independent from the seller of the horse to prevent a conflict of interest. How thoroughly he checks the horse will be a financial matter, and this should depend on how much you are spending on the horse. A checkup like the one listed below should suffice for a horse that is being sold for between $5,000 and $10,000.
Figure 2.1: The Parts of the Horse
Get the History
What you see when you go to look at or try a horse you want to buy is not often what you get. Obtain all of a horse's veterinary records. Ask if the horse is prone to any illnesses or whether he has any chronic lameness issues. These can often be masked for days, weeks, or much longer with drugs or special care. A horse that is prone to colic, for instance, will show no signs of this for months or years even, but will be very stressful to take care of on a regular basis, and possibly costly. A cribber might not be indulging in his vice at the farm where you are seeing him because the fences are protected with special paint or are electrified. If you know to ask these kinds of questions about the horse, you will most likely be told the truth.
Tests and Other Observations
The vet will probably be able to tell previous and current problems the horse has had, has, or might develop, such as bowed tendons, quarter cracks, splints, and founder, and whether these problems might be a factor in the job you've chosen for your horse. The veterinarian's opinion should be strongly taken into consideration in your final decision to buy the horse.
The vet will check the horse's conformation and movement to see if there is lameness or potential lameness from any evident conformation faults. He will also advise you, with your riding discipline in mind, if a conformation fault might become an issue. For instance, a horse with long pasterns might not hold up to a rigorous jumping program.
A “flex” test will further determine if the horse is prone to common joint problems, primarily of the hock, knee, or stifle. This is a simple field test where the vet folds the leg of the horse back on itself and holds it there for thirty seconds for a front leg, one minute for a back leg. The horse is then asked to trot off, which he should do “soundly.” If not, he might have or could develop a problem.
Heart and Lungs
The horse's heart and lungs will be tested before and after exercise with his age, type, and level of fitness in mind. If undue strain or fatigue is apparent after exercise, this could be a sign of an unhealthy horse and would call for further testing.
The vet will check the teeth, which can yield plenty of information about a horse's history, age, previous care, and whether he cribs. Cribbing horses should be avoided. Cribbing will be discussed further in Chapter 12, Horse Faults.
A blood test will check for healthy thyroid function and disease. This is especially important for certain breeds that are prone to specific diseases.
An x-ray will help check for navicular changes and hock changes among other diseases (congenital or otherwise), and non-conformities that are a condition of arthritis, as well as fractures and bone chips, which can be difficult or impossible to notice otherwise.
It is commonly thought that a white foot is inferior in integrity to a dark foot. Some horse dealers and auctioneers have been known to paint white feet black to conceal a white foot while they try to sell the horse. In some white feet, the consistency of the horn is weaker than in a dark foot, but this is not an absolute. Some professionals would even call this theory a mythical bias, like judging a horse's character by the size of his eye. However, like all prevailing biases, there is probably a reason why this one exists, and it is worth considering.