Horse Care

Peace of Mind: Horse Pre-Purchase Exam Checklist

Horse vet check
Written by Natalie Gasper

New Horse Pre-Purchase Exams Made Simple

A pre-purchase exam, better known as a PPE, is an essential part of the horse-buying process.

If you’re prepared to spend any amount of money on a horse, a pre-purchase exam is a wonderful investment. Know what issues you can live with and which are deal-breakers, then listen to your vet’s recommendations.

Whether you stick with a basic exam or go more in-depth (bloodwork, x-rays, etc.) depends on what you plan to use the horse for. A PPE is an additional cost that’s more than worth it to make sure your horse can perform their job for many years to come.

Vetting a New Horse

Purchasing a horse is an expensive investment. It’s important to get a PPE before you buy to minimize risk and be reasonably assured you’re getting a sound, healthy horse capable of performing his job.

How do you evaluate a horse for purchase?

Before doing a PPE, make sure the horse is suitable for your current riding level and riding goals. Watch the horse move, both in videos and in person. Then, you and your trainer should ride the horse.

Only once you’ve completed these steps and feel the horse is a good match is it time for a PPE.

Can you buy a horse without a vet check?

You can, but you really shouldn’t. Even if you’re buying a light-riding horse or a companion, you still want to do a basic exam to check for any health issues.

When in the buying process would you get a pre-purchase exam?

Wait until you’re sure you want to buy. You may love a horse in pictures and videos, but don’t like how he feels under saddle. Once you’ve been out to see him and ride him and realize you like him, then set up an appointment with the vet.

Think of a pre-purchase exam like you might a home inspection—you make an offer, then it is contingent on an expert checking that nothing is wrong.

You don’t want to spend the money on a vet check if you can’t agree on a price. Sometimes, a pre-purchase exam might turn up something you can live with, but may give you some negotiating power for a lower price.

The Pre-Purchase Exam

The most important thing to know is that a PPE isn’t going to certify a horse as perfect. All horses have some issues, however small.

A PPE is meant to provide a snapshot and see if the horse can perform the job you’re buying him for.

Pre purchase horse exam

Photo Cred: Canva

Why should you get one?

You want to make sure your horse is healthy, capable of performing his job, and that there aren’t any hidden issues. Unfortunately, some owners may try to hide or mask problems, which is why a PPE is essential.

A PPE can also be helpful to establish a baseline for your horse’s health.

What does a pre-purchase exam include?

Your vet will start by examining the horse’s previous medical records. After that, here are some things you can expect.

  • Health check (heart, lungs, eyes, teeth, mouth, skin, temperature)
  • Physical exam (palpating, hooves, checking for heat/inflammation/lumps, overall confirmation)
  • Neurologic exam (checking coordination, balance, response to stimuli, and reflexes)
  • Assessing movement (all three gaits on hard and soft surfaces, in straight lines and circles, in hand and under saddle)
  • (Optional) X-rays of legs joints, neck, and/or back

At the bare minimum, you want to do a basic health check. Have your vet check:

  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Teeth
  • Breathing
  • Heart
  • Digestive sounds
  • Hooves
  • Physical exam (touch everywhere to check for heat, swelling, sensitivity, etc.)
  • Neuro check (coordination, stimuli, balance)
  • Movement (all three gaits in a range of conditions, with or without flexion)
Horse getting teeth checked

Photo Cred: Canva

After that, your vet may recommend further tests, like bloodwork or x-rays. If you’re buying a mare and have any intention of breeding her, check for reproductive soundness.

Horse hoof xray

Photo Cred: Canva

How much does a pre-purchase exam cost?

The price can vary depending on where you live and what your PPE includes.

A basic exam can run between $250 to $500, more if you add options like x-rays or bloodwork.

How do you check a horse before buying?

There are a few checks you can do yourself when you visit the horse. I check his ears, eyes, teeth, gums, and hooves, and run my hands over his whole body (checking for heat, swelling, lumps, and general sensitivity).

If I see no issues and I like the horse, I’ll call my vet for a full PPE.

What x-rays are recommended when vetting a horse?

Not every horse will need x-rays, and which ones your vet may recommend depends on what they find during a basic exam. The most frequent locations checked are stifles, hocks, hooves, knees, and fetlocks. Some buyers also do neck and back x-rays.

Horse leg xray

Photo Cred: Canva

General Veterinary Care

What does a routine vet check consist of for a horse?

A routine vet check, or an annual wellness exam, is very similar to a basic PPE. Your vet will check all of your horse’s senses and vital organs, as well as do a neurological check-up.

They will check your horse’s hooves, watch them move, and do a hands-on exam to check for heat and swelling.

What kinds of medical records should you expect to see from the seller?

Ideally, the seller should give you (or your vet) permission to view all the records they have. At a bare minimum, they should provide vaccination and Coggins records.

Be wary if a seller doesn’t want to show you the vet records. At best, they don’t have any because they haven’t owned the horse for long. At worst, they’re hiding a previous lameness or surgery.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Who pays for a pre-purchase exam on a horse?

The buyer always pays for the pre-purchase exam. Occasionally, a professional seller may provide recent x-rays (usually within the past year), to expedite the purchasing process. If this is the case, still have your vet perform a basic PPE and let them decide if the standing x-rays are sufficient.

Q: Is there a form for a horse pre-purchase exam?

Most vets have a form they use for a PPE. Here’s one example from AAEP.

Q: What should a pre-purchase exam look like for a yearling horse?

Yearlings typically need a basic exam. Since they’re so young, not in work, and still growing, it can be hard to identify issues. Check for eye issues, heart murmurs, hernias, and do a general limb check (to make sure they’re growing straight).

Parting Thoughts

A PPE is a necessary step when you’re preparing to buy a horse. It’s important to make sure your next partner is healthy and able, and you’ll appreciate the peace of mind.

P.S. Enjoy this article? Trot on over to: 


Prepurchase Examination of Horses – Clinical Pathology and Procedures – Merck Veterinary Manual (

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About the author


Natalie Gasper

Nancy loves retraining off the track Thoroughbreds and working with her dogs!