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Navigating the Pre-Purchase Veterinary Exam, Part II

Don't be naive in your expectations from the veterinarian you hire.

 

     The unique litigious environment in the USA has changed the way everyone does business - and this is especially true in the medical profession; the veterinary world included. Veterinarians now feel the growing need to protect themselves from legal recourse and receive training on how to do just that.  Sadly, this has created a situation in which American veterinarians have a strong incentive to not act in a way that is working for your sale.  If they err on the side of caution, they're safe.   This is exasperating to sellers and confusing to buyers.  Understand one thing:  Most veterinarians will rarely "pass" a horse.  They will sometimes "reject" a horse but usually only if the horse is clearly unsound on the day of the examination.  Most buyers realize that much.  But what they don't realize is that there is likely to be some discussion about a bone chip, arthritis, remodeling (or whatever) that will often not have a conclusive resolve.  Many buyers drop the sale at that point because they have the feeling that because there is a discussion about "something" it must mean that there is a problem - because there is a discussion.  That's especially true for riders that haven't bought a horse for a few years.

The exam comes at an emotionally difficult time in the sale's process.

 

     Usually by the time the pre-purchase exam rolls around, you are primed for a big case of buyer's remorse.  In other words, you may be getting cold feet about your decision.  This might be happening without you even realizing it.  This (typical) emotion only makes it harder to be completely relaxed and lucid when you have to put a veterinarian's findings in perspective enough to make a decision.  Far too often buyers reject sound horses because thorough veterinarians refuse to advise them "don't worry about it.  It's probably not going to be a problem."

Be prepared to learn about the horse's imperfections

 

    Brace yourself for the veterinarian to discover problems but keep in mind that most sound horses have problems.  Expect to hear about any number of issues like: radiographic changes, arthritic changes,  degenerative joint disease, bone spurs, chips, vascular lesions, OCD, heart murmurs, retinal scars and on and on.  In years of selling dressage horses, Graemont, Inc has rarely seen horses without issues during a pre-purchase exam.  Many clients become upset in learning about these imperfections.

Veterinarians are selling the service of an investigative process and an articulate report of their findings.  If you're looking for practical advice or assurance, then ask someone who doesn't stand to be sued by you.

 

     It's important for you to be prepared for what you typically hear from the veterinarian.  Here's a paraphrase of what buyers typically hear:

  • "This problem (whatever it happens to be) represents an increased risk (of some sort)."

  • "I cannot guarantee that this won't give the horse a problem down the road."

  • "There are more tests that we can do to get more information about this (whatever it happens to be)."

  • "This could be a problem if you ever want to re-sell this horse."

  • "This may not be a problem now, but later down the road when the horse is asked to work harder..."

     Veterinarians are selling the service of an investigative process and an articulate report of their findings.  If you're looking for practical advice or assurance, then ask someone who doesn't stand to be sued by you.

Its normal to feel disappointed after the pre-purchase examination

 

     Just so you are prepared for what may come, realize that most of the time it is not completely clear to buyers whether or not to make a purchase after the pre-purchase exam.  This is normal.  It can be upsetting, but don't be too quick to bale out of the sale if you feel this is a good horse for you.  
     If you are like most buyers, you had an unspoken expectation or hope of hearing at least an inkling of encouragement, reassurance or promise from your veterinarian.  This is especially true when dealing with a familiar veterinarian with whom you feel a greater "openness."  Buyers typically assume that their own veterinarian is going to be more generous with their "true assessment" of a horse and not go on a witch hunt to find problems.  Words like "practical, fair, realistic and FRIENDS" come up more often than not in buyers speaking of their own veterinarian.  
     So it's quite normal to be at the tail end of the pre-purchase exam and be thinking about not purchasing the horse.  This may or may not be the right decision, but there are some ways to determine what to do next.  

    Notice:  This article has been published for information purposes only.  Author strongly advises reader to seek out expert advice for their particular situation.

Continue to Part III

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