Ah, the good ol’ pre-purchase exam, a thing that strikes fear into the hearts of buyers and sellers alike. I feel like I’ve been talking and/or reading a lot about PPE’s lately, with several friends horse shopping and the recent discussions on facebook that seem to have been spurred, at least in part, by an EN post that mentioned the term “American vetting”. I’ve heard the term before from friends that import, but this is the first that I’ve ever seen anyone publicly talk about it, and it’s definitely sparked a lot of conversation in my circles.
My English Unicorn Hunter is also responsible for arranging vettings and knows which vets will do a good job and understand how to put potential horses through an “American Vetting.” I vet all my potential horses as they would be vetted by a buyer in the USA; this means a full set of X-rays including back and in some cases scopes and ultrasounds. Many horses with minor issues which I am confident won’t be a problem, I have to pass on, as I know they will not be acceptable in an American vetting even for a low level job. – Justine Dutton, The Truth about Imports
I will admit up front that I’ve really got no skin in this game. I have owned 14 horses in my life and vetted precisely one, and that one I did not buy. Granted, I bred 2 of those 14, and the highest purchase price among them (aside from my very first horse, who was 5k) was $1500. I’ve always bought low dollar projects that were meant for short term re-sale. If I was spending a lot of money on a horse or looking for something specific, or to keep for the long term, I would probably approach things differently. With my history, though, usually if I’ve found myself involved in a PPE, it’s been on the seller’s side of things. These days I don’t do the project horses anymore, and I’ll probably never have the budget to buy something that’s already going, so PPE’s aren’t something I’ve spent much time thinking about. Thus, watching all of these conversations unfold lately has been relatively fascinating.
Really there are 3 parties involved in the PPE – the buyer, the seller, and the vet. In the modern age of knee-jerk litigation, it’s in the vet’s best interest to go over a horse with a fine toothed comb, pointing out every bump, lump, and pimple. I don’t blame them at all for trying to be thorough. It’s the buyer’s job to sort through those findings and figure out what they can live with. But are most buyers’ expectations unrealistic? If they’re expecting every film to look perfect, they’re probably never going to find a horse to buy. It seems that some buyers think that any little finding means there’s something wrong with the horse, or that it automatically means the horse isn’t suitable for whatever job they had in mind. Yet horses don’t know how to read xrays, and many issues may never actually cause a problem.
The more realistic expectation is for the PPE to show you what’s there so you can determine if it’s something you can live with or not. I think of my horse, and all of my friends’ horses that have been competing for a while, consistently and with general overall soundness. Would any of them have a “clean” PPE? Probably very few, if any. I know horses running 2* with chips, or Advanced with kissing spines, or Training with a roar, or running Prelim with arthritis. Horses that, with some care, have no issues performing well in those jobs. I’ve found myself wondering – if I was the person vetting these horses, would I have bought them?
Some of it comes down to experience, of course. Knowing what you think you can manage and what you can’t. And then some of it just comes down to pure luck. Anyone who’s ever been around a horse for more than 2 seconds knows that they just love to up and die (or get hurt) for no actual reason. You could have the cleanest PPE in the world and the horse could still go out and permanently maim himself in the pasture tomorrow, while the horse with a terrible PPE could still be bopping around Prelim at age 20. I think all of us could probably think of examples.
If you listen to the folks who sell a lot of horses, they think that the PPE process and expectations have spiraled out of control. Hence the birth of the term “American vetting”. Do we have an unrealistic expectation of perfection in this country? I wouldn’t find that too hard to believe. This post from a popular and successful OTTB re-seller is very interesting to read.
Of course, it’s easy to see it from the buyer’s point of view too. If you’re laying down whatever is, to you, a large chunk of change, on a horse you intend to keep for a long time, of course you’d like to go into it with as much information and as few issues as possible. Wouldn’t we all like the unicorn with a picture perfect vetting and a lifetime guarantee? So how do you decide how intensive the PPE should be? Do you xray every joint, all 4 feet, the back, ultrasound the legs, scope, etc? Does the price point make a difference? Does the intended purpose make a difference? Some people seem to have their vetting practices down to a science. Other people, maybe those who don’t buy horses very often, often just seem wide eyed and overwhelmed by the whole thing, unable to process what the vet’s finding actually mean for their own situation.
So where do you stand on the PPE issue? Do you think it’s gotten a bit out of hand with buyer expectations? What do you look for in a PPE, and do you know what you can live with and what you can’t, or do you expect a “clean” vetting?