In brief - A qualified vet can determine whether the horse is in good condition
As with any investment, you should conduct due diligence and ensure that the horse is in good condition and not affected by injuries or health problems.
What is a vet check?
If you are buying a horse, or considering buying a horse, you have no doubt considered whether or not you should obtain a prepurchase examination, more commonly referred to as a vet check.
This is because buying or selling a horse is a big step and in most cases, a big investment. As with any investment, you need to ensure that you’ve done your due diligence.
By way of example, a good analogy is when you’re buying a house. A usual condition of purchase is that a building and pest inspection is conducted on the house to ensure that the building is sound and not full of termites.
A vet check is similar to a building inspection. You want to ensure that the horse you intend to buy or sell is sound, in good condition and not affected by injuries or health problems.
Vet checks can vary in scope depending on the required level of investigation
A vet check occurs when a qualified veterinarian examines a horse to identify whether it is healthy, sound and injury free. A general examination will include, but is not limited to:
• an examination of the coat, eyes, heart, respiratory system, mouth, feet and conformation
• flexion tests at various stages of a workout
• observation of movement at a walk, trot and canter
The scope of a vet check can vary, ranging from a general external examination and observation of movement for soundness, to the inclusion of bloodwork, internal examinations (eg. endoscopy), scans, ultra sounds and x-rays. The extent of the vet check will depend on the level of investigation the buyer wishes to undertake.
Why should I get a vet check for the horse?
The traditional legal principle which used to apply (and to some extent still applies today) in connection with the sale of a horse was caveat emptor – let the buyer beware. Nowadays, when buying a horse, purchasers generally ask for more certainty from a seller than simply that the horse is a horse.
A purchaser wants to be certain that the horse is sound, injury free and fit for the purpose for which it is being purchased. Because purchasers ask for more information, sellers will usually offer that information, sometimes without thinking about whether the representations that they are making to the purchaser are accurate and the impact that those representations may have.
Vet checks are a fantastic way to achieve peace of mind in relation to the purchase or sale of a horse, regardless of the representations that are made. A vet check will either support the representations that have been made in relation to the horse, or contradict them. Another alternative is that health issues may be discovered which were not previously known to the owner of the horse.
Either way, the person who has requested the vet check will receive an independent opinion on the health of the horse which will assist the purchaser to make a fully informed choice about whether to proceed with the purchase.
How detailed should the vet check be?
This is ultimately your decision. You will need to consider whether the costs of the vet check are worth the expense associated with obtaining a vet check. X-rays, scans and bloodwork will usually come at extra cost. However, the certainty that is given as a result of having a vet check performed and extra tests conducted is priceless.
What happens if the horse doesn't have a vet check?
If you do not obtain a vet check, you are at risk of purchasing a horse that has health problems or injuries. This may be because the seller has deliberately misled you, or because the seller was unaware of the health problem or injury at the time of sale.
A horse with health problems or injuries can end up being costly to treat and in some cases the horse may ultimately be completely unfit for the purpose for which it was purchased.
Horse sellers who deliberately mislead purchasers
Sometimes, if it can be established that a seller was aware of the health problem or injury and misled the purchaser, there will be grounds for the purchaser to return the horse, insist on a refund of the purchase price or alternatively, claim damages.
However, this reactive approach is fraught with difficulty, is costly and can sometimes be unsuccessful, especially if it cannot be firmly established that the seller was aware of the health problem or injury. As the old saying goes, prevention is better than cure.
Consequently, it is more commercially sensible to take the initiative and obtain a vet check to be certain about the health of a horse prior to its purchase, rather than relying on the potentially misleading (intentionally or not) opinion of a seller.
Think of a vet check as a wise investment, not an expense
Ultimately, it is a personal choice as to whether or not a vet check is warranted and worth the expense. Perhaps obtaining a vet check should be viewed as a potential cost saving instead of an expense. A vet check will be considered a wise investment in the event that you discover that there is something wrong with the horse prior to purchasing it.
Speak with your vet if you would like further information about the vet check process. Seek independent legal advice if you would like more information about misleading and deceptive conduct or remedies available to you in relation to a horse which was not fit for purpose or in relation to the recovery of a purchase price.
This is commentary published by Colin Biggers & Paisley for general information purposes only. This should not be relied on as specific advice. You should seek your own legal and other advice for any question, or for any specific situation or proposal, before making any final decision. The content also is subject to change. A person listed may not be admitted as a lawyer in all States and Territories. © Colin Biggers & Paisley, Australia 2021.