California Riding Magazine • May, 2013

Eyes Wide Open!
Be proactive about your prospective new horse's pre-purchase exam.

by Robyn Ranke

What are your expectations when you are buying a horse? Are you relying solely on the opinions of those advising you to reach your decision to buy? The vast majority of amateurs do. The point of this article is to encourage buyers to embrace the pre-purchase examination with eyes wide open – to consider factors beyond the opinions of those advising you before making an offer to buy. These factors adopt a common sense approach to the decision making process much like that of buying a house or a car.

Be aware the difficulty with a horse transaction is that no statutory laws exist specifically designed to protect the buyer in a horse sales transaction. By comparison, there are specific statutory laws enacted to protect buyers in real estate and automobile transactions. In general, these statutory laws were enacted to protect buyers against fraud, nondisclosure and hidden defects and set forth provisions such as fiduciary responsibilities, seller's written disclosure statement, buyer's rights and remedies, and the like. We don't see that with horse sales transactions (with the exception of the dual agent statute which mandates a written bill of sale and commission disclosures, however, the statute is limited in scope and not exhaustive. Calif. Bus. & Prof. Code section 19525)

Crucial to your understanding is that, at the time of the pre-purchase examination the prior history of the horse, medical history and other factors, is not considered. Rather, the exam is a "snapshot" of the horse's condition on that day at the time the exam is being performed. The veterinarian's objective is only to identify current factors that affect, or may affect, soundness for buyer's intended use within the confines of the moment in time when the horse is being examined. So a buyer needs to ask themselves what does this mean exactly to my ultimate decision to purchase the horse? Consider if your pre-purchase veterinarian was equipped with the horse's prior medical history, your veterinarian's opinions and findings of the horse's suitability for your intended use may change – without which the opinions and findings are limited. By analogy, if the foundation of the house is cracked and goes undisclosed, you, the buyer, are making a decision to purchase based on a solid foundation.

Get The Facts Up Front

As attorneys, we view the case after-the-fact – after a horse is purchased and turns up lame. We legally dissect the horse sales transaction in reverse. So this article is about letting buyers know what we've found from the legal perspective and to encourage buyers to get thoroughly informed about what additional information to ask for before you make a decision purchase the horse.

Unfortunately, experience has taught us that a common practice in the industry is to mask the truth of the horse's prior history of lameness, prior injury, or medical condition with half-truths about the horse's more "current" suitability, performance, and soundness – because arguably "there is no perfect horse." If there is no perfect horse then you, the buyer, have a right to know just how "imperfect" the horse is in order to make an informed decision of whether to buy. In many instances, the horse will be sold but at a reduced price.

How does the buyer get informed other than through their hired professional? The quandary is if your hired professional is not crystal clear with you about the process, or what they find during the process, or what they actually know, then how can you, the buyer, make an "informed decision" about whether to buy or not? In fact, you, the buyer, are relying upon the hired professional to do their job and leave no stone unturned in the process. Although not exhaustive, things a buyer should consider before the pre-purchase examination include:

  • The American Association of Equine Practitioners has not adopted a uniform standard of practice for equine veterinarians when conducting a pre-purchase exam. This means veterinarians perform the exam with clinical and diagnostic procedures according to their own protocol; no one veterinarian performs the exam exactly like another;
  • The pre-purchase exam is but a "snapshot" of the horse on that day at that time the exam is being performed – What does this mean exactly for you, the buyer? The horse is good today but not tomorrow?;
  • It is not up to the veterinarian to 'pass' or 'fail' a horse but to identify current factors affecting soundness for intended use – What does this mean exactly to you, the buyer's, overall decision to purchase?;
  • Prior written medical history from seller or seller's agent is typically never asked for or considered;
  • Prior pre-purchase records and radiographs are typically never asked for or considered;
  • Prior equine insurance records on the horse to consider policy exclusions is typically never asked for or considered;
  • Equine insurance carriers do not share medical coverage information or prior claims with one another when a horse owner changes insurance carriers;
  • A copy of the horse's show record is typically never asked for – even when the show record is obtained a thorough analysis of the show record is often times not made;
  • Buyer in many instances is not present during the examination – Is this blind trust in your hired professional to leave no stone unturned?

When buying a horse, it is advisable to request and obtain the following before you make an offer to buy:

  • Prior written medical history;
  • Prior pre-purchase exam records and radiographs;
  • Equine Insurance Records, Claims and Policy Exclusions;
  • Show Records
  • Registration Papers (confirm age, identity and breeding)
  • Written Disclosure Statement signed by Seller and Seller's Agent;
  • Pre-purchase drug screen and test results;
  • Be present during the examination;
  • Discuss with your veterinarian before the exam in detail what the examination will encompass and what recommended procedures are available that he/she may not be performing;
  • Discuss with your veterinarian his/her findings in private and be thorough;
  • Don't be afraid to ask questions or request further information about your veterinarian's findings – regardless of who's involved in the transaction.

Clear ethics conflicts with your pre-purchase veterinarian, buying agent and/or trainer.

This list of information, alone, is not exhaustive of the pre-purchase examination process conducted by your veterinarian. However, it is information that, if available, places you, the buyer, in much better position to make an informed decision and can make or break the sale. Your veterinarian should consider this information in conjunction with his own clinical and diagnostic findings and opinions because, equipped with the horse's prior history, your veterinarian's opinions and findings may, in fact, change.

Equine Attorney Robyn Ranke is an avid equestrian, experienced trial attorney, and equine legal consultant. She can be reached at her firm, Ranke Law Firm Corp., in San Diego, at 619-495-1700. Online horse contracts are available at www.equuslaw.com.