This is the starting point for any pre-purchase examination. A full, thorough and detailed examination is performed at rest. This includes an ophthalmic examination to examine the eyes, heart and lung auscultation, careful assessment of the skin, body, limbs and feet with use of hoof testers, as well as appraisal of the horse's conformation.
Detailed examination of the premolar and molar (cheek) teeth of the horse is not routinely performed as this requires placement of an oral speculum (gag) and is not always well tolerated. The horse's incisors will be assessed for damage or disease and ageing of the horse is performed via dentition and verified against the horse's passport.
We pay attention to the horse's temperament throughout the entire process, not only when we are physically examining the horse, but also how they respond to the handler and environment in which the examination is performed.
This stage entails assessment of gait and closer foot examination. It is standard practice to see the horse walk and trot in a straight line on a hard surface (ideally concrete/tarmac); back up, turn on the spot and in tight circles; as well as perform flexion tests on each leg in turn. Flexion testing is a process by which we are able to exacerbate any subtle lameness, most commonly associated with joint pain. Each leg is held up with gentle pressure for 60 second, then placed on the ground and the horse asked to trot up so the gait can be assessed.
Neurological competence is determined both at rest and during the gait assessment. If we have any concerns regarding neurological problems we may ask the horse to walk on different surfaces, cambers, with a blindfold or other tests.
Where possible we would then examine the horse lunged in small circles on both hard and soft surfaces at trot, and sometimes at canter (on the soft only). Lunging on the hard surface is performed with consent of the vendor and where a suitable surface/conditions are available.
This completes a stage two vetting. The following highlighted stages are only performed during a five stage vetting.
Strenuous exercise is performed ideally in the manner for which the horse is intended. The term 'strenuous' is interpreted in light of each individual horse's age, breed, fitness level and current work load, to avoid injury. The horse will be exercised until the heart rate is sufficiently elevated. Generally this means we will see the horse ridden under saddle. Racehorses are best assessed on the gallops to ensure a complete gait assessment is performed, driven horses may be ridden if broken to saddle, or driven if the purchaser prefers. Horses required as elite athletes within a specific discipline may be required to perform relevant activities, e.g. jump a certain height or performed select dressage manoeuvres.
The main purpose of this stage is demonstrate soundness and temperament at exercise, assess the wind as the horse's is placed under greater respiratory demand to identify potential problems such as roaring (laryngeal hemiplegia) or soft palate displacement problems.
This stage involves monitoring of the horse's recovery from exercise. Exercise may stimulate unusual heart rhythms so careful monitoring immediately post exercise is essential with a stethoscope. We also observe the horse carefully for any vices that may be exhibited. Stage four is completed once the heart and respiratory rates have returned to their resting values.
Finally, the horse's gait is re-examined. This is very similar to stage two; however, unless there is cause for concern it would not be routine to repeat flexion tests or lunging. This helps to pinpoint any lameness which may occurred following exercise, which would other wise be challenging to identify.