Pre purchase examinations – vettings

5th March 2016

Healthy horses

The aim of the pre-purchase examination is to carry out a thorough clinical examination on behalf of a potential purchaser to identify and assess factors of a veterinary nature that could prejudice the horse’s suitability for its intended use. Each pre-purchase examination is carried out on behalf of a specific prospective purchaser so that the opinion can be based on that purchaser’s individual needs and intended use of the horse.

Vettings are performed in either 2 or 5 stages. A 2 stage vetting is also known as a ‘limited prior to purchase exam’ as it doesn’t allow the vet to fully evaluate certain body systems (such as the respiratory system for example). See below for more details of the steps involved.

Many insurance companies require your horse to have had a ‘vetting’ prior to insurance and depending on the value and intended use of the horse may specify if they require a 2 or a 5 stage vetting and where any x-rays are also required.

  • A darkened stable
  • A safe firm trot up area (in addition an area to lunge a horse safely on a firm surface is preferable)
  • An area for increased exercise, such as a school or a dry paddock (5 stage only)
  • It is preferable for the horse to be shod unless he/she is usually barefoot

This is a thorough external examination of the animal at rest using visual observation, palpation and manipulation to detect clinically apparent signs of injury, disease or physical abnormality. It includes an examination of the incisor teeth, a thorough examination of the horse’s eyes in a darkened area and auscultation (listening with a stethoscope) of the horse’s heart and lungs at rest.


The animal is walked and then trotted in hand to detect abnormalities of gait and action. Ideally this is carried out on firm, level ground. The horse is turned sharply each way and is backed for a few paces. Flexion tests of all four limbs and trotting in a circle on a firm surface may be carried out if the examining veterinary surgeon considers it safe and appropriate to do so. The aim of the flexion tests are to identify subtle lameness that may not be apparent on a standard trot up. The response to a flexion test however has to be assessed carefully and in correlation with the rest of the findings of the examination.


The object of this stage is to exert the horse, not exhaust it. Its age, condition and fitness should all be taken into account. During preferably ridden exercise, close evaluation of the horse’s gait at different paces is observed. Symptoms of head shaking or back pain may also become apparent whilst being ridden. The horse should be given sufficient exercise to make it breathe more deeply and rapidly so that any unusual breathing sounds may be heard. Immediately following exercise the heart is again listened to, to check for any cardiac abnormalities that may be accentuated by exercise. Unbroken horses or horses too small to be ridden may be lunged instead.


The horse is allowed to stand quietly for a period. During this time the respiratory and cardiovascular systems may be monitored as they return to their resting levels. We will often use this opportunity to check if the horse has been microchipped and also has a blood sample taken for storage. The passport will then be checked to ensure all details concerning the age, colour, breed and identification are correct. A final assessment of the horse’s foot balance and general bodily conformation are then made.


The animal is trotted in hand again to look for any signs of strains or injuries made evident by the exercise and rest stages.


Flexion tests and trotting in a circle on a firm surface are not mandatory parts of the standard procedure, but they can sometimes provide useful additional information about a horse. There may be circumstances when the examining veterinary surgeon concludes that it is unsafe or inappropriate to perform such tests.


A blood sample may be taken for storage (usually for 6 months) for possible future analysis to detect substances present in the horse’s system at the time of the examination that might have masked any factors affecting the horse’s suitability for the purchaser’s intended use. If a blood sample is not taken then the reason should be noted on the certificate.


The horse may have received previous or concurrent veterinary treatment unknown to the examining veterinary surgeon. This may be so even where the examining veterinary surgeon is the seller’s regular veterinary surgeon and has access to clinical records for the horse. At the time of the examination the horse may have been subject to some previously administered drug or medicament having the effect of masking or concealing some disease, injury or physical abnormality that might otherwise have been clinically discoverable. A blood sample taken at the time of the examination may be used later to seek to determine this.


Without appropriate paper records from foalhood it is not possible to confirm the age of a horse with accuracy. Estimates of age based on a dental examination are imprecise and unreliable and exact ageing using dentition alone should be avoided. In the absence of documentary evidence, the term “aged? may be used to refer to a horse considered after examination to be over 15 years of age.


Vices are objectionable habits, but are not necessarily detectable during the examination. However, if vices, or evidence of vices, are observed during the examination they should be reported to the purchaser and recorded on the certificate and taken into account in the concluding opinion.


For the purposes of this examination, the height of a horse or pony is not the concern of the examining veterinary surgeon.


If a purchaser wishes to obtain a warranty covering such matters as height, freedom of vices or the animal’s existing performance as a hunter, showjumper, riding pony, eventer etc.., they should be advised to seek such warranty in writing from the vendor, as these matters are between the vendor and the purchaser and are not the responsibility of the veterinarian.


The certificate should report the findings of the examination including all significant signs of disease, injury or physical abnormality. The certificate should also include the examining veterinary surgeon’s opinion as to whether or not, on the balance of probabilities, those findings prejudice the horse?s suitability for purchase for its intended use.

This opinion of the examining veterinary surgeon is given in the following format:

“In my opinion, on the balance of probabilities, the conditions reported above do / do not prejudice this horse’s suitability for purchase to be used for…”

This wording reflects the fact that there may be other reasonable interpretations of the findings, but it in no way reduces the responsibility of examining veterinary surgeons to examine and observe the horse carefully and to apply to the full their professional knowledge and experience.

If the examining veterinary surgeon considers that the clinical history represents a greater than normal risk of the horse developing future problems (i.e. recurrence or delayed consequences of a prior condition), or that it may do so, this should be indicated on the certificate along with an explanatory note. Despite such observations, the horse may nevertheless be suitable for purchase based on a risk/benefit analysis.


Where possible and if required, the prospective purchaser is advised to confirm that they are able to obtain suitable insurance cover before purchasing the horse.

NB. Pre-purchase examination certificates are suitable for submission to insurance companies with a proposal for insurance of the horse. Insurance examinations carried out for an existing owner of a horse may follow the same format as the five-stage pre-purchase examination, but they will not include an opinion and should not be interpreted as a pre-purchase examination. Insurance examinations should be recorded using the “Certificate of Examination of a Horse for Insurance Purposes”.

To organise a pre-purchase examination simply fill in the form below and email it