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If you are considering buying a horse or pony for yourself or your child, you are probably only too well aware that a lot is riding (pardon the pun) on you making the right decision. Ensuring that the horse or pony that you buy is worth the price you pay for it and is not suffering from any unexpected health conditions or problems that may negatively affect their value or what you can do with them is important, but this can be difficult for the hobby rider to establish without help. Many riders choose to have any horse or pony they are seriously considering buying vetted prior to purchase, and you may also consider hiring another expert such as a riding instructor, breeder or other prominent and well regarded equestrian expert to make a formal assessment of the horse or pony you are considering as well.
The term ‘vetting’ refers to hiring a large-animal or equine specialist veterinary surgeon to perform a full veterinary assessment and work up on a horse or pony, in order to determine their general health, and any existing or potential problems with their condition or conformation. Upon completion, the veterinary surgeon will produce a full and in-depth report for you on their findings and what uses they feel that the horse or pony is suitable for (for instance, light hacking only, ridden competition etc.) in order to help you to reach a decision as to whether or not to buy the horse or pony in question.
You will often see notated on adverts for horse and ponies for sale ‘open to any vet,’ which means that the seller of the horse or pony will be perfectly happy for you to have their animal vetted before you commit to a purchase. However, not seeing or hearing this mentioned does not mean that an owner will be unnameable to having their animal vetted, and if an owner refuses to allow you to have their horse or pony vetted once you are serious about moving forwards, then you should seriously consider walking away. Generally, you will have visited and ridden the horse or pony for sale at least a couple of times before considering making an offer, and possibly taken along a riding instructor or experienced friend with a fresh pair of eyes to check over the animal and maybe ride them as well. Once you have done this, and wish to declare your interest in buying the horse or pony, it is time to sit down and talk to the seller. You will normally begin price negotiations before vetting takes place, and you should establish that the seller of the horse or pony in question understands that any offer you make or agreement to purchase the animal is dependent on the horse or pony being vetted successfully. The normal procedure would then be to draw up an agreement between you and the seller saying that you will purchase the horse or pony in question subject to vetting, and possibly making a small deposit on the purchase price to the seller in order to take the horse off the market pending vetting. It is best to have this all written up and signed by both parties, and witnessed by a third party or even a solicitor for high value horses and ponies. If the seller of the horse or pony in question is not willing to take the animal off sale while vetting is performed, again you should think carefully about proceeding. Paying for vetting of a horse or pony only to find out that it is then sold to someone else in the interim is a situation that you will of course want to avoid!
Vetting should be performed by the veterinary surgeon of your choice, not that of the seller, and will of course have to be paid for by you. The seller should make reasonable efforts to accommodate when and how vetting is performed and to make the horse or pony available to your vet, and if they appear to be obstructive or unhelpful at complying with your reasonable requests, again, there might be something amiss.
A vet cannot tell you whether or not you should go ahead with a purchase, and nor should they try to; it is simply their job to make sure that you have all of the information available to help you to make an informed decision as to whether or not to proceed. Commissioning and paying for a formal in-depth report on the health and condition of any horse or pony transfers some legal liability to the vet that signs off on it. For this reason, the reports tend to be very in-depth and often carry many caveats about no future guarantees being made as to the ongoing health and condition of the horse or pony in question, which is reasonable and perfectly normal. It is highly unusual to get a veterinary report back that states unequivocally that the horse or pony examined was in absolutely perfect health with no potential risk factors, complications or conformation faults. This is not only because there is no such thing as the ‘perfect’ horse or pony, but also because the vet will be keen to protect themselves against potential future liability, and so will be sure to notate every small or potential issue that they reveal under examination. If the horse or pony is later found to be suffering from any conditions or problems that the vet could reasonably have been expected to have identified at the time of examination, they may be legally liable for this, and so vets tend to err on the side of caution when composing their reports! What the report eventually contains should give you enough information to be able to make an informed choice about whether or not to proceed with the purchase. If any serious issues are highlighted within the report, this gives you the chance to walk away and potentially save yourself from making a costly mistake. If, however, there are potential or minor issues highlighted that should not affect to any great extend the health of the horse or what you can do with them, you may be able to use this as a negotiating tool to reach an agreement of a lower sale price with the seller. Obviously, whether you choose to proceed with the sale or not and whether the seller chooses to accept any counter-offer you make as a result of vetting is down to individual choice. But in order to be fair on all parties involved, it is a good idea to discuss with the seller before going ahead what kind of things you would consider to be a deal breaker, or what might require further consideration or renegotiation prior to purchase before commissioning the report.
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