Vettings – What Does a Vetting (Pre-Purchase Exam) Involve?

Examination of Horses Prior to Purchase

The purchase of any horse involves you in the taking of a risk; no horse is risk free and at best we can aim to identify, assess and attempt to quantify that risk for you so that you can reach an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with your intended purchase.

By the time that you have a pre-purchase examination (PPE) or vetting carried out on your behalf you will already have chosen that particular horse. In other words, considered colour, type, age, height, temperament and experience for the task will have been decided and you should already have concluded that the horse will be suitable for you, providing it is also suitable from a veterinary medical viewpoint.

Choose a veterinary surgeon either known or recommended to you.  If that is not possible, ask your own veterinary surgeon for a recommendation of a vet in the area in which the horse is.  Ensure that you talk with the examining vet to discuss your requirements before the examination, or be present at the time.  The choice of a vet is a personal one but as a general rule it is better to instruct an experienced equine vet.

The Examination

The vendor should have a passport available at the examination.

There are certain requirements and facilities for the environments in which the examination is to take place, unless you are to compromise the opinion. These are:

A dark stable in which to examine the eyes
An area of hard level ground on which the horse may be walked and trotted in-hand. This should preferably be concrete or tarmac
An area in which the horse may be safely ridden, including the ability to do a hard canter or gallop as required
In addition, the ability to lunge or trot in a circle on the hard may be of considerable benefit
If the vendor does not have such facilities, consider moving the examination to a different location. We can perform PPE at our clinic by arrangement. The actual examination usually takes place in a set routine according to personal choice and includes the following stages:

Types of Vetting

There is only one type of PPE that gives you the complete picture and that is the full five-stage examination.  Other, shorter inspections leave out certain parts of the full list of examinations and may therefore not give you a full and complete picture of your chosen horse and may not be able to give you an accurate assessment on which to base your decision.  Beware, you choose the cheaper, shorter option at your potential peril and, if you do, it must be a conscious decision of yours to take the additional risk.

The five-stage vetting has evolved over the decades and it is intended to provide you with a cost effective professional evaluation and assessment of a particular horse’s suitability to perform a certain task.  It is an examination carried out on a given day and the opinion relates to that day; no long term warranty or guarantee of future health can be expected, although obviously the vet will advise you about the long term implications of any abnormality detected.

Please note that we no longer classify a horse as sound or unsound, nor should we say that they have either passed or failed a vetting.  The opinion given nowadays is that the defects noted above are / are not likely to prejudice the animal’s use for………………  Consumer legislation and changing requirements have forced this new wording on the profession but the opinion still remains a worthwhile and effective guide to your chosen horse’s suitability.

Stage 1

Initial examination in the stable. General inspection and assessment including eyes, heart, lungs, mouth, ageing, etc

Stage 2

Outside standing square on concrete, to observe the whole horse.  Then walk and trot in hand in a straight line. Probably flexion tests. Lunging or trotting in a circle on a hard surface is now a normal part of this procedure and may be performed at stage 2, 3 or 5.

Trotting up on a firm flat surface

Trotting up on a firm flat surface

Stage 3

Examination under saddle/strenuous exercise.  This is to include mounting, walking, trotting, cantering and probably galloping depending on the type and fitness of the horse.  This exercise should be both in circles and in more extended straight lines.

Stage 4

Whilst the horse cools down from exercise a more thorough and detailed examination of his hooves, limbs and body noting and assessing any abnormalities.  The formal identification may also take place at this stage. A passport should be available.

Stage 5

Final trot up, which may include turning and backing and repeat flexion tests

  • The taking of a blood sample for future medication analysis, after a request to the vendor for permission.
  • Discussion with the purchaser of the findings and production of a written report.

Limitations and Extra Tests

The PPE is a clinical examination and does not routinely involve laboratory or diagnostic tests.  It does not include a test for pregnancy, unless requested.  The ageing of horses is notoriously inaccurate and comprehensive research over the last few years has indicated the previously accepted methods of ageing a horse by its teeth may be quite inaccurate, even in experienced hands.  Therefore, whenever possible, request the documentary proof of a horse’s age (breed papers).  X-rays are not necessarily the black and white answer that everybody hopes for and they may, indeed, even complicate rather than clarify the situation.  Unless specifically requested by the insurers or client the decision whether to x-ray or not is best left to the examining vet based on his clinical findings.

Routine pre-purchase x-rays are usually not nearly as helpful as expected.  Similar arguments can also be made for routine endoscopy, ultrasound  scanning and blood testing for health, but discussion with the examining vet before and after the vetting will enable you to obtain the most appropriate advice for your circumstances and your horse.

The examination does not include examination of the inside of the prepuce (sheath) nor any examination for pregnancy.

Unless the horse’s temperament precludes it, we will always examine the mouth using a haussman gag.

A blood sample is routinely taken for storage (usually 6 months) and possible later testing for the presence of any medication that might have affected the examination.


These are a matter between the vendor and the purchaser, and the purchaser should obtain a warranty from the vendor as to vices, suitability, behaviour when shod, clipped or boxed, etc.  The only satisfactory conformation of a pony’s exact height is a current JMB Height certificate and, in cases of doubt, this should be obtained before purchase.

Riding should be fun!

Riding should be fun!


Communication between vet and client is the key so that both sides know the intentions and limitations of the examination and can therefore come to the most satisfactory conclusion, with the purchaser receiving cost effective advice to enable them to make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed with the purchase of their chosen horse.

Note that a vetting is not the same as an insurance examination.  It is quite possible to pass a vetting yet later to find that getting full vet fee insurance cover proves difficult because of the findings.  The vetting assesses a horse’s suitability for the purchaser’s intended use whilst the insurance companies are more interested in making exclusions on anything that is not strictly normal.  It is always wise to obtain insurance cover before purchase, rather than afterwards, in case any exclusion might change your opinion as to whether or not to buy.