What exactly is a pre-purchase exam?

A pre-purchase exam is a thorough physical given to a horse prior to its possible purchase. This exam is meant to help you (as the possible buyer) determine if the horse under consideration is physically capable of meeting your needs and is suitable for you.

Who performs this exam?

A pre-purchase exam is performed by a veterinarian of the potential buyer’s choice, or by a veterinarian acceptable to the potential buyer. It is typically not suggested to use the veterinarian the current owner uses to avoid a conflict of interest

What is examined during a pre-purchase exam?

Particular attention is paid to the cardiovascular system, the musculoskeletal system, the respiratory system, the digestive system, the nervous system, the skin, and the reproductive system ( if breeding is the intention)

What should you expect to get from a pre-purchase exam?

As the potential buyer, a pre-purchase exam should provide you with medical information that will assist you in determining whether or not that horse will meet your requirements. The exam is not meant to pass or fail a horse but to determine if the horse will suit your needs. Remember, the ultimate decision whether to purchase resides with the buyer, not the veterinarian.

How much will this exam cost?

Unfortunately, there is no set cost for this type of exam. The base price typically depends on your area, however, if additional blood work, x-rays, lab work, endoscopy, or ultrasound scans are required, the price goes up from there. Keep in mind that this price is dependent upon location and the extent of the examination; a more thorough exam results in more accurate information.

How long will this exam take?

Depending on the type of work you ask the veterinarian to perform and the on-hand equipment, expect to spend at least an hour and up to a full day performing this exam.

Who pays for the exam?

As the potential buyer, you are responsible for paying the veterinarian for the pre-purchase exam. After all, he/she is working for you and in your best interest.

Who is present at the exam?

In a perfect world, the potential buyer would be present during exam or at least potential buyers trainer. The seller should have provided all pertinent information of the horse such as medical records, show records prior to the exam. There are no hard-and-fast rules regarding attendance.

Who owns the medical information?

As the possible buyer, you own the medical information discovered during the exam. The information discovered during a pre-purchase exam is confidential and belongs to the potential buyer and veterinarian. Radiographs and other diagnostic tests are a part of the horse’s medical record and normally are retained by the veterinary clinic.

Ask questions

Good prepurchase exams have clear communication at the core. If you have a question about what the veterinarian is doing, the reasons for conducting a test, or if you don’t understand test results, ask for clarification. The best way to to find a horse that you are happy with is by talking with the veterinarian throughout the exam. And if the veternarian does uncover some unsettling medical results, regardless of severity, make sure that you discuss all possible scenarios with either the prepurchase vet or your regular vet.


Most pre-purchase exams SHOULD include radiographs for the simple fact that this is an excellent way to see what the horse’s legs really look like. Performance horses experience a great deal of stress, so radiographs, especially if we can compare them to other films can tell us how well the horse is holding up to this high level of performance. In older horses they allow us to see how he is aging and in younger horses they tell us whether or not the horse will probably be able to handle the stress. They can’t tell us what is in his heart or how he handles pain but they do let us see if things might be headed in a negative direction. One of the basic tenets of x-rays is that they help in the interpretation of exam findings, but they cannot replace the exam itself.


The veterinarian will also take blood from the horse, primarily to run a Complete Blood Count (CBC). The CBC evaluates the red and white blood cells as well as various anemias. A blood chemistry screen is a bit different, focusing on the evaluation of the kidney and liver functions and electrolyte balances. Neither the blood count or the chemistry screen, however, test for immunity to specific diseases. It should be noted that a routine blood chemistry does not include a drug screen.