New study from the RVC identifies most common findings in pre-purchase examinations of horses

Dr Jason Tupper MRCVS, Head of Equine Practice at the RVC, conducting an equine
Dr Jason Tupper MRCVS, Head of Equine Practice at the RVC, conducting an equine exam

New research from the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has found that lameness is the most common prejudicial PPE finding in prepurchase examinations (PPEs) in horses in the UK. It was also found that horses with a higher purchase price are more likely to undergo a five-stage vetting (5SV), compared to a two-stage vetting (2SV).

PPEs are performed for prospective horse buyers to identify any prejudicial findings that could make the horse unsuitable for its intended use - be that elite competitions, breeding or leisure riding. Although PPEs often follow a standardised process, the examination can only result in a recommendation based on the opinion of the veterinary surgeon at an isolated point in time. PPEs are therefore, in large part, a subjective process and often debated in the equine world.

Previously, there has been limited research into PPEs. However, it is hoped these new findings will encourage future studies into the merits of 5SV and 2SV PPE formats and the diagnostics used. This will, in turn, help to better inform prospective horse buyers when considering their purchase.

The RVC team, including Dr David Bolt, Senior Lecturer in Equine Surgery; Dr Jason Tupper, Head of the RVC Equine Practice; and Annabel Shelton (RVC BVetMed 2023 graduate), analysed 133 PPE certificates of a mixed, non-racing population of horses, from three first opinion equine practices. The researchers assessed the examination format (i.e. 2SV or 5SV); any diagnostic imaging obtained (e.g. radiographs); the purchase price; animal signalment; the horse’s intended use; the PPE outcome; and any prejudicial findings identified.

The key findings were:

  • 57.1% of horses examined had prejudicial findings
  • The most common prejudicial finding was lameness as the primary prejudicial finding (55.3%)
  • Other common prejudicial findings included diagnostic imaging findings (14.5%); respiratory system findings (6.6%); skin conditions (5.3%); and cardiac abnormalities (3.9%)
  • 68.5% of horses underwent a 5SV compared to 34.1% which underwent a 2SV
  • Horses with a higher purchase price were more likely to undergo a 5SV
  • Horses with a higher purchase price were also more likely to undergo pre-purchase radiography and more likely to have prejudicial findings identified.

Dr Jason Tupper, Head of Equine Practice at the RVC, and co-author of this research, said:

"A pre-purchase examination can discover a number of issues before buying a horse. This study reveals lameness to be the commonest issue. Few horses are perfect when it comes to temperament and health. The vetting process determines the issues and the vet can then help the purchaser weigh up their significance and decide if they can compromise and accept the issues or not. Further studies can now focus on the cost/benefit of radiology as part of the vetting procedure and the potential use of gait analysis."

Dr David Bolt, Senior Lecturer in Equine Surgery at the RVC, and author of this research, said:

"Although this study only reflects a sample of all’horses undergoing PPEs in the UK, the findings were very interesting and hopefully result in further studies about PPEs which could provide invaluable advice for people who want to purchase a horse."


Shelton AV, Tupper J, Bolt DM. Prejudicial findings regarding suitability for intended purpose during pre-purchase examinations in a mixed horse population-A retrospective observational study in the United Kingdom. Equine Vet J. 2024.­/evj.14061

The article is available to read here: https://beva.onlinelibr­ary.wiley.­com/doi/ep­df/10.1111­/evj.14061

About the RVC

  • The Royal Veterinary College (RVC) is the UK’s largest and longest established independent veterinary school and is a Member Institution of the University of London.
  • It is one of the few veterinary schools in the world that hold accreditations from the RCVS in the UK (with reciprocal recognition from the AVBC for Australasia, the VCI for Ireland and the SAVC for South Africa), the EAEVE in the EU, and the AVMA in the USA and Canada.
  • The RVC is ranked as the top veterinary school in the world in the QS World University Rankings by subject, 2023.
  • The RVC offers undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in veterinary medicine, veterinary nursing and biological sciences.
  • The RVC is a research-led institution, with 88% of its research rated as internationally excellent or world class in the Research Excellence Framework 2021.
  • The RVC provides animal owners and the veterinary profession with access to expert veterinary care and advice through its teaching hospitals and first opinion practices in London and Hertfordshire.