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How to Buy a Horse
by Jim Hamilton, horse vet.

In these situations where a pre purchase exam cannot be done, you can only 
hope to pick up a "Red Flag" suggestive of some problem the horse may have.
Unfortunately these flags may be subtle. As the horse may have been rested 
prior to your exam or he may have received some type of medication that 
would make him appear better than he really is.

With that in mind, you want to examine the horse from nose to tail for anything 
that is swollen or warm when compared with other parts of the body. Run your 
hand down all four legs and compare appearance and feel of the left vs right. 
You may pick up an old bowed tendon or a fluid filled knee that's a warning of
developing joint arthritis. Make sure to flex as many of the horse's joints as you 
can. Arthritic joints don't like to flex.

Now stand back and look at general body condition, haircoat, foot quality, 
muscle development and attitude. These things will hopefully give you an idea 
of the general health of the animal and how well he was taken care of. Is the 
weight of the horse appropriate for its size and frame? Does it have average 
muscle development and is it equal on both sides of the frame? These are 
hints  about the amount of exercise and training the horse has had recently.

The third phase of your exam should be to watch the horse move - walk, trot 
and canter. Is he comfortable or are his ears pinned and tail switching? Is 
there a head-bob, suggesting lameness? Does the horse make a louder than 
normal breathing noise? You must try to observe the horse under saddle as 
this will not only give you information about his soundness, but also an idea 
of his attitude and ultimately how well suited he is considering your level of 
riding experience.

As a horse vet who has examined many horses for purchase, I honestly feel 
that there is no replacement for a thorough prepurchase exam done by a 
veterinarian. It has saved many people money and anxiety and I believe it is 
one of my most important functions. The exam outlined above is an excellent 
screening method for a person considering the purchase of a horse. You will 
undoubtedly miss a few things but the more of them you do, the better eye 
you'll develop. Be observant, critical and above all, take your time. Purchasing 
a horse is much like finding a spouse; neither should be done in haste.

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