As I have said many times, I hear way too many stories about people buying or leasing a horse and finding out later that they did not get the horse which they thought they bought or leased. Typically these situations involve either a change in the horse’s temperament or a change in the horse’s soundness which becomes evident after it is too late to reverse the lease or purchase of the horse. In surveying some horse lovers I know, I was surprised to learn that many of my friends neither knew whether blood work was included in their veterinarian’s pre-purchase examination (I will use this term to describe both pre-purchase and pre-lease examinations) nor did they know, if blood was taken, what happened to the sample after it was drawn. Hopefully this article will give folks a better idea of why it is a good idea to ask your veterinarian to draw blood from your lease or purchase prospect. And why drawing the sample is important even if you cannot afford the actual testing of the sample at that time.
Blood tests, if done properly, can reveal a whole host of issues with a horse, including whether the horse has or has had viral or bacterial infections, chronic airway problems, a history of tying up, PSSM, EPM, EIM, chronic inflammations or infections, kidney or liver problems, abscesses, ulcers, skeletal muscle damage, chronic muscle inflammation, metabolic issues, levels of hydration or stress or oxygenation and anemia, to name just a few. The racetrack industry at the highest levels uses regular blood tests to determine workout strategies. If one asked around at a racetrack, one would find several trainers who insist on regular blood work and the keeping of a log to trace any significant changes that would lead them to rethink training strategies, including adding or removing supplements to a horse’s diet, determining duration of rest times between races and altering transport and stabling arrangements.
For most people, however, regular blood tests on their horse(s) is just not practical or something they can afford. Instead, we most often ask a vet to come look at a horse who is exhibiting a change in behavior or performance and ask the vet to take blood at that time. If the vet has a previous blood sample to which to compare the fresh blood sample (say, from when you had the veterinarian examine the horse before you purchased or leased it), the second test in times of trouble can reveal much more about your horse’s health than would having the veterinarian work from a single blood sample. Moreover, any significant change in health, such as a viral or bacterial infection, can be revealed much sooner through a comparison of a fresh blood sample to an older sample from the same horse and thus the horse can begin treatment sooner and possibly avoid costly and painful long-term effects from the ailment (or its treatment).
The bottom line is that it makes good sense to have bloodwork done on any horse you are considering leasing or buying (and await the results before proceeding with the purchase or lease) because if the blood sample drawn at your pre-purchase examination reveals traces of problems that would significantly hinder the horse’s performance either that day or somewhere down the road, you will still have time to decline the lease or purchase of the horse before money is exchanged. If you handle the testing in this way you will hopefully never be faced with the issue of whether or not to sue the seller or broker for misrepresentations about the health of the horse. And of course it goes without saying that bloodwork done as part of a pre-purchase examination can reveal most sedatives, analgesics or mood-changing drugs typically given to a horse in order to mask a more serious problem, behavioral or structural. Drawing and testing blood is often a very easy and relatively cheap (as compared to the cost of remedying the problems) way of finding out – before it happens – whether someone is attempting to sell you a horse with problems.
If you can afford to have the blood drawn (which is usually less than $100), but you cannot afford the testing of that sample (typically more than $250, depending on the breadth of the testing), I would still advise having the blood drawn during your pre-purchase examination and request the veterinarian or some another reputable blood storage company store the sample for you in case your horse ever exhibits problems which might have been revealed by a blood test. If that happens you can then go back and have the testing done on the original blood sample to see if the results of it help you to solve the puzzle of what is going on with your horse. You will need to research whether your vet is willing to store the sample for you and at what cost or whether there are blood “banks” nearby where you can keep your horse’s blood sample for optional further testing. Some would suggest having a portion of the sample stored even if you do have testing done before you purchase or lease because new methods for testing are developed periodically and there may be other things for which you would like to test the original blood sample at some point in the future. In North Carolina a client can request that his or her veterinarian deposit a particular horse’s blood at The Equine Health Clinic at Southern Pines (a branch of the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine), where, for a fee, they will perform extensive testing of blood (well beyond the usual Coggins and other generic testing), and in some instances may be able to store small blood samples for clients for several years.
So, if you are considering leasing or buying a horse, look into what types of blood testing are available in your area and if you find them too costly, ask how much it would cost to draw the blood sample and have it stored for future testing if that should become necessary. Either way you are far more protected than if you have no blood drawn at all during your veterinarian’s pre-purchase examination.
If you get into a bind and need assistance or just want to ask some questions to avoid getting in a bind, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I often will answer a short and simple question for free if I have time and know the answer off the top of my head! If you don’t hear back from me quickly, it’s not because I don’t love you or think you have a great question or because I don’t know the answer (usually), I’m probably just really busy and haven’t had a chance to email back. And you can always buy the first hour of my time for $250 (my usual hourly rate for 2013 is $325). Lots of folks will save up all their equine (and some corporate or real estate) legal questions and short documents and sit with me for an hour and we will do as much as we can during that hour and it’s only $250. You can check out my Twitter feed @nchorselawyer as well as our firm’s Equine Law Group web page at http://www.rl-law.com/equine if you’re interested, and yes, in addition to providing what I hope are interesting and informative stories, this blog and the Twitter feed referenced above are also advertisements for legal services.