The purpose of the examination is not to pass or fail a horse, but to alert the buyer to any pre-existing conditions determined during the examination. This information ensures that an informed decision can be made.
Veterinarians work to a set protocol in performing these examinations. There are 5 stages to complete, each stage follows on from the one before it.
This involves a full clinical evaluation while the horse is standing at rest. All body systems, including the heart, lungs, eyes and teeth are examined. Conformation, foot shape and shoeing details are also noted. During this stage, the back should be examined for flexibility. Any scars and lumps and bumps are noted.
During this stage of the examination, the horse’s gait is assessed while being lead ‘in-hand’ at a walk and a trot. A straight, even surface is essential, preferably in a quiet area so the horse’s attention is not distracted. In some cases the horse is asked to trot in a circle on the lunge line. Any lameness or unevenness is noted. Turning and backing the horse up is designed to assess coordination of movement. Flexion tests should be carried out in this part of the examination. These involve loading individual joints in full flexion for 60 seconds and then immediately trotting the horse away. Attention is paid to any lameness that was not noticeable initially. The fetlocks, front feet and hock joints should be examined in this way.
The aim of this stage of the examination is to assess the horse’s gait at speed and its cardiovascular response to strenuous exercise. The type of exercise will depend on the intended use the horse is being purchased for but generally the level of intensity should have the horse sweating and its heart rate up to 120 beats / minute.
The aim of this stage of the examination is evaluate the speed of recovery. The level of fitness has to be taken into consideration when recovery is prolonged.
During this stage the horse is walked, trotted, turned and backed to see if the preceding strenuous exercise has induced any lameness that was not noticeable during the preliminary stage of the examination.
There are several ancillary examinations that maybe necessary, depending on the results of the initial 5 stage examination.
Radiographs are often taken routinely, usually of the navicular bones, fetlocks, knees and hocks. Care needs to be taken in interpreting radiographs as it is common to find changes that do not relate to a clinical problem. Radiographs should always be interpreted in conjunction with a clinical examination. In some cases the buyer may request that radiographs only be taken of a suspected clinical problem in order to keep the cost of the examination within their budget.
Endoscopy of the upper respiratory tract may be required to check for lesions or laryngeal paralysis ( the cause of ‘roaring’)
Tendon ultrasound scans are a useful ancillary test to detect any small lesions in the superficial and deep flexor tendons that may not be apparent on the preliminary examination.