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You should seek the help of a vet because they are trained to evaluate horses on a variety of levels. Not only can they look at a horse's general health and pinpoint lamenesses, they can also look at conformation issues and help gauge the horse's ability to excel in a discipline. A pre-purchase exam is a collection of information and data. There is no pass or fail. Every horse has faults; the exam is a process by which they are uncovered for the prospective buyer to evaluate.
It normally takes a veterinarian about an hour to do a pre-purchase exam. Most veterinarians have a checklist that they go through when they do the exam. Some of the key areas they look at include:
# Heart and lungs. Your veterinarian will listen to the horse's heart and lungs using a stethoscope to make sure the heart's beating normally and to determine whether the horse's lungs are clear or not. Many healthy horses have heart murmurs, though sorting out an “athletic” murmur from one that could indicate heart disease is not always easy.
# Musculoskeletal system. Your vet will palpate and preform flexion tests to carefully check each leg for any soundness issues. If your veterinarian has any doubts about the soundness of the horse's legs, X-ray films may be in order.
# Teeth. Your veterinarian will look at the appearance, shape and degree of wear and tear on the horse's teeth. If there's a question as to the horse's age, your veterinarian can determine the approximate age of the horse by examining his teeth.
# Nose and throat. The nose and throat are examined to make sure that they're clean and free of discharge or growths.
# Ears. The ears are checked over to make sure that they're free of lice, mites or other small bugs and don't have an excessive buildup of earwax or foul discharge.
# Eyes. An ophthalmoscope is used to examine the horse's eyes for any cloudiness or other abnormality.
# Skin. Your veterinarian runs his hands all over the horse's body and legs, searching for swellings, cuts, lumps or scars. If the horse has had an injury in the past, the veterinarian might be able to tell by examining the horse's skin.