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To pre-purchase or not to pre-purchase, that is the question

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  • To pre-purchase or not to pre-purchase, that is the question

    So I'm back in the horse market again because I need to retire my current guy due to knee arthritis. I have a low budget because current retiree also had colic surgery in August. So here's my dilemma - First horse I ever bought - no pre-purchase done - was sound until I sold him and is still great today. Second horse - did pre-purchase with xrays of fetlocks and hocks - ended up having kissing spines and an arthritic knee that looks to be from an old injury (potentially would have shown on X-rays 3 years ago when purchased considering the severity - flexed sound)
    So barring doing a full body MRI - what do most people do??? I'm very conflicted.
    Harmonys Maestro: 1992-2008 RIP
    Harlequinn - redhead extraordinaire

  • #2
    In one of the other threads, someone commented that if you purchase a young horse (2-3), a pre-purchase probably isn't warranted if they are straight and flex ok. If the horse has some mileage, different story.
    "Punch him in the wiener. Then leave." AffirmedHope


    • #3
      In 30+ years of owning, buying, and selling horses for myself and my family, I have moved away from pre-purchase exams. We have had several pass a PPE with flying colors and come down with career ending soundness issues within a few years and those that haven't passed a PPE that remained sound for years. Now, we have never bought a horse for more than $10K (most under $5K) and we aren't riding at Olympic level - if I was doing either or both of those things, my opinion may be different.

      I look for good conformation and movement as well as clean legs. I typically buy horses with as few prior owners as possible in a private sale (no brokers or trainers), so I know the history (or a fair bit of it) and can get a gut/intuitive feel for the honesty of the seller. I also don't normally buy horses with a lot of miles. I know what I am looking for and, so far, this has been as good a predictor of soundness as a PPE, in my personal experience.


      • #4
        what is your plan for the horse? Upper levels? Training max? I would vet something I wanted to do prelim+ much differently than a N/T max horse.......

        that said, I would want flexions/general vet check on any horse and be using a good sports vet as well - that will palpate back, legs, etc. A good vet should be able to tell a horse has more effusion in one joint over the next, and perhaps urge you to walk away before spending an excess amount on xrays

        when looking for something that would be potentially sound for upper level, i did feet, hocks at the very least, all OTTBs had back xrays - most of the horses that "failed" the vet checks had some very bad things going on in their front feet (which would be why I wouldn't think its out of line to get front feet xrays even on a lower level horse). Front feet/balance films are something i'd want regardless, and baseline hock xrays are a nice to have. Back xrays are also nice on OTTBs, mostly from KS experience, its something I'd want to know about up front, not when things have already gone downhill and the horse is responding to pain (refusing, bucking, etc). The last horse I bought was not yet started under saddle, so i didn't find it necessary to do back xrays.


        • #5
          On the one hand, I don't think my first horse would've passed a PPE if we'd done one on her. Her front legs were pin-fired and she had some other flaws too. But that mare was also sturdy as a tank and we had many fantastic years together without a single soundness issue.

          On the other hand, I had a PPE done on a cute little three year old gelding I was considering. My vet ended up discovering some early signs of possible neurological problems, so I passed on him. His owner decided to do some further investigation, and ended up euthanizing him a few months later because he began rapidly deteriorating.

          PPE's can provide you with a lot of good information, but it's not a guarantee either way. I make my decisions on PPEs and how in-depth I want my vet to go based on the specific horse I'm looking at. Things like their age, history of racing/competition, known issues, cost of the horse, and so on all go into determining if I want my vet to just look at the horse and confirm it probably won't die tomorrow or if I want to get into doing x-rays and so on.


          • #6
            I probably don’t do a PPE more often than I do but a lot depends on You. Your goals. Your situation.

            What also REALLY matters to me is who I can get to do the PPE. I’m more likely to do one if my own vet or a vet that I know and trust can do it. I put much much less weight and benefit on a PPE by some random vet.

            And lastly....I NEVER view. PPE as some guarantee or anything more than it is... a quick snapshot. So I think whatever you decide is fine as there really is no right answer.

            This year Ive seen more people walk away from good horses. Most were very inexperienced people who couldn’t understand what the vet was saying and who didn’t have an experienced horse person (some had trainers who didn’t assist in this way) help them break down what the findings were. They were looking for a vet to say a horse is perfect (which rarely happens). Even vet was shocked they walked away. Others I hear looking for perfect but also not wanting to spend money.

            ** Tact is the ability to tell someone to go to hell in such a way that they look forward to the trip. ~Winston Churchill? **


            • #7
              A PPE is really a tool to help you decide NOT to buy the horse. Since the purchase price is typically the cheapest part of the horse purchase, it can be important to know if you are buying a problem that could have long term consequences.

              I buy and sell horses every year. As a buyer sometimes I do a PPE, sometimes I don't. It depends on a horse's intended use. The last few mares I purchased for my mare band never got a PPE. But I have a specific breed and I know the breeders/programs and I can get past ownership history from my registry.

              When I sell a horse, I recommend a PPE especially in the case of a riding horse, but some buyers don't do one. And then some buyers will vet the horse within a inch of its life. I had a PPE done earlier this year where a 3rd vet (not the PPE vet or my own vet) decided the horse was completely unsound for jumping ever. This was news as the horse had always been sound and was eventing successfully. The buyer passed, we just kept on eventing the horse who never had a problem and kept winning. The buyer watching from the sidelines decided the 3rd vet was wrong and bought the horse. His price had gone up and she paid his full asking price, too. So go figure.

              I still think if you are buying a horse for some level of performance that a basic PPE is a good idea. I think a PPE is particularly important when you don't know the history of a horse. There is something to be said about buying from a breeder or knowing the prior owner history. The more you know, the better a decision you can make.

              It's all a crap shoot with horses, but there are ways to limit the risk.
              Where Norwegian Fjords Rule


              • #8
                PPE's can be a strange thing sometimes. There are horses who have clean X-Rays but who are not sound. Then there are horses whose X-Rays look horrible but are sound and appear outwardly to have no issues. Go figure.

                Last edited by SnicklefritzG; Dec. 3, 2017, 05:21 PM.


                • #9
                  Just remember, you bought it, you feed it.

                  I've bought "problem" horses and won big time. I've bought "problem" horses and lost big time. Both times I thought I knew what the problem was. On the second type a PPE was justified. On the first type the history should have sent me packing.

                  A moral to the story? There isn't one. A PPE is usually justified though, depending on who does it.
                  Some riders change their horse, they change their saddle, they change their teacher; they never change themselves.

                  Remember the horse does all the work, we just sit there and look pretty.


                  • #10
                    Haven’t read a single word except for the title. No brainer, do it.
                    McDowell Racing Stables

                    Home Away From Home


                    • #11
                      Have one done. At least heart, lungs, eyes, flexions. Unless you are good at assessing those things yourself. I would have a basic one done.


                      • #12
                        To me it's all about how comfortable you are with risk. I mean horses are a risky thing to begin with but whether or not you have your own farm, can afford to gamble with losing money, have other options for rehoming them and are flexible on careers they do all makes a difference.

                        I don't PPE anything I either have owned or buy. I run a large resale business and for the most part I buy from people that I know very very well. I review race records, pedigrees and all the information present. In some ways, buying ottb's is a bit easier in terms of figuring out soundness because there is a history if you know how to look. I have a bit of an advantage of being a buyer that buys mass quantities of horses so sellers try to be good to me and don't sell me horses that aren't sound.

                        I would say 90% of my buyers vet with most doing xrays. If I was a buyer I would xray knees and ankles. That is where almost everything shows up. I wouldn't personally waste my money on feet or hocks but that is just me. Hocks don't scare me especially if there is no effusion there and they are currently sound.

                        It's very rare that I have a horse here that doesn't pass a basic PPE meaning flexions, heart, lungs, eyes, etc. Out of 400+ sales I have had one with a heart murmur. I would say that I do know soundness very well and I think most with an experienced eye know clean legs when they see them. I can rule out breathing issues pretty well using my free area to really get a horse galloping around pretty good. It gives me a good picture of soundness.

                        I can live with quite a bit on a personal level. I think being realistic is important. I know my goal is going training level. I don't pound my horses. I am comfortable with maintaining a horse. I don't believe a horse needs perfect xray to do a job. I have never xrayed anything I own or vetted it. I prefer to judge soundness more off my eye and then not actually know how they xray. I know I am really weird but I hate knowing a horse had something on a xray because then it just makes me overly paranoid. I would rather have a sound horse and just not worry about the little stuff.

                        I find so many buyers passing over horses simply due to lack of education. Minor hock spurs...very very common and NOT a big deal but buyers run from them. Horses with hocks that have some minor changes again not scary in my opinion. Round quiet ocd's in ankles that are quiet, attached and have no arthritis present are often not a big deal. I do think people get scared of the word chip, spur, ocd, etc when it doesn't always mean it's a deal breaker.

                        It also depends what you are buying for in terms of a personal horse, resale or something else. Doing sales the horses just have to be pretty darn clean. That being said the more a horse develops a competition record the less an xray with a minor finding will knock them.


                        • #13
                          A PPE is also helpful to look at as a risk assessment exercise. I honestly think most super intensive PPEs will not come back completely clean/without issue - there could be an underlying problem, old injury that's a non issue, or even a conformational situation that indicates a possible predisposition to an issue.

                          But the PPE can only really indicate what's there/tangible/what they see. Any interpretation or extrapolation (old injury - will it be an issue? OCD - will it need surgery in the future? Weak patterns - what problems will this cause?) are all just trying to rely on experience to gauge odds. But like any odds-making situations, they aren't going to actually portend the future. They can only do their best to predict. It's not an exact science. So at that point: risk assessment. Is it more likely to go right? If it does go wrong, what does that mean for the owner? What's the financial interaction in the situation, too?
                          Wish it were easier!

                          that said: buying adult horses my PPEs include flex texts and X-rays of feet, hocks and depending, stifles. In the future I will also consider if I think the back should be imaged (kissing spine).


                          • #14
                            We're window-shopping right now, but a year from now we'll be in the market seriously. Competitive horses in h/j world are ridiculously expensive and we are preparing to pay in the mid to high five-figures for what we want. We are not wealthy people, far from it. We have put money into savings for the last three years, looking ahead to this purchase, and we will be doing a PPE for which I expect to pay maybe $2500. Vet inspection, flex tests, X-rays of neck and spine as well as legs. And since my daughter is an equine body-worker, serious prospects will get a good going-over with her hands to locate areas of tension and soreness that might indicate undue stress in some area. None of these precautions will guarantee that we won't end up with a horse who has problems down the road, but if that happens at least I won't be kicking myself. I will know we did everything we possibly could. A PPE is especially important if you are, for financial reasons, a one-horse family paying for board and training at an h/j barn because a) you need coaching and b) don't own your own farm. (We'll also be researching retirement/lay-up facilities in our area...because you never know.)


                            • #15
                              If you’re asking if you should, you should. Being out $200 for a lameness check is a lot cheaper and easier than having your heart broken.


                              • #16
                                Yes, do it! I've done PPEs on every horse I've bought and was going to do the least (just basic physical and flexions) on an unstarted, gorgeous moving 3 yr old. During the PPE, a nagging thought in my brain said x-ray the legs. Thank goodness because an old hock fracture that didn't affect the youngster's movement, was pretty bad looking on the rads. Sent them to 2 ortho specialists and they both said "don't go there" for a performance horse. I was heartbroken, but listened to their advice. Will never skimp on a PPE and I don't expect them to be perfect. I don't own my own farm and can't afford a horse to show and one to retire. If I could maybe I'd skimp...
                                Savor those rides where you feel like a million bucks, because there will be those where you feel like a cheap date...


                                • #17
                                  Originally posted by eventerwannabe View Post
                                  So I'm back in the horse market again because I need to retire my current guy due to knee arthritis. I have a low budget because current retiree also had colic surgery in August. So here's my dilemma - First horse I ever bought - no pre-purchase done - was sound until I sold him and is still great today. Second horse - did pre-purchase with xrays of fetlocks and hocks - ended up having kissing spines and an arthritic knee that looks to be from an old injury (potentially would have shown on X-rays 3 years ago when purchased considering the severity - flexed sound)
                                  So barring doing a full body MRI - what do most people do??? I'm very conflicted.
                                  Will the horse be resold at some point? If so, I wouldn't buy without a PPE and radiographs. Agree with earlier posters that radiographs do not guarantee a horse will or won't stay sound, but if you are going to resell, you probably don't want to buy something with problematic radiographs.

                                  We always get a clinical and radiographs which usually runs 2K to 2.5K.


                                  • #18
                                    There is really no downside -- well, except for the enormous cost, lol. If they are bad, you will be thrilled that you dodged a bullet. If they are good, you will have peace of mind and baseline xrays on your new horse.


                                    • #19
                                      I'd suggest getting one done. My ex bought a nightmare. She was told he had stone bruise but it was actually a lot of arthritis. I knew my guy was going to be expected to jump so I had him checked to know what I was getting in to. On the plus side knowing his issues up front have made it easy to care for and maintain him. A $2,500 horse you end up spending $3,500 on in vet bills maybe fixing could've been passed up on with a PPE and you could've bought you a nice $6,500 horse for the same money.

                                      Have a vet that specializes in the career you intend for your horse to do the PPE. They know what to look for and what's common issues for horses in that discipline. I don't regret spending the money for the PPE and the x-rays I had done. I knew what I was getting in to, I know how to manage my guy and he's happily being a Fruit Loop and loving jumping some pretty big stuff.
                                      If at first you don't succeed, get back on the horse and try it again!


                                      • #20
                                        I figure once I own the horse I'm going to do those x-rays anyway. Might as well be now.

                                        The reason not to do one is if you have a pasture and can just turn the horse out if it doesn't work out.

                                        If the budget is stressed, maybe waiting a bit to shop and thus saving up a few months of board is the right path, rather than potentially sticking yourself with another horse that had foreseeable problems.

                                        I'm not really a fan of flexion tests and I have doubts that they are terribly diagnostic for either the lame or sound horse.
                                        If you are allergic to a thing, it is best not to put that thing in your mouth, particularly if the thing is cats. - Lemony Snicket