How to Examine a Horse at an Auction

When a purchase examination cannot be performed by a qualified equine veterinarian, follow these guidelines for examining a horse at an auction:

  • Stand back and observe the horse first. What is the horse's appearance and attitude?
  • Next, look at the general body condition, hair coat, foot quality, and muscle development. These observations should give you an idea of the general health of the horse, indicating the type of care that the horse has received. Is the horse's weight appropriate for his or her size and frame? Is the horse's muscle development normal and equal on both sides of the body? These qualities indicate the amount of exercise and training the horse has received recently.
  • Examine the horse from nose to tail. Note any areas that are swollen or warm compared with other parts of the body. Run your hand down all four legs and compare the appearance and feel of the left legs with the right legs. Try to test each joint for flexibility.
  • Look at the eyes of the horse, they should be large, round and clear. There should be no evidence of cloudiness.
  • If possible, always verify the age of the horse with the seller or agent.
  • Separate the lips and look at the teeth. The upper front incisors should line up with the opposing lower incisors. There should be no evidence of over-bite or under-bite.
  • Ask the seller or agent for medical history, has the horse ever experienced a serious illness or injury? Ask about the vaccination and deworming program.
  • Lastly, watch the horse move, including walking, trotting, and cantering. Is the horse comfortable when moving? Or are the ears pinned and is the tail switching? Is there a head bob, suggesting lameness? Does the horse make a louder-than-normal breathing noise? If possible, observe the horse when he or she is saddled. This will provide information about the horse's soundness and attitude as well as help you decide whether the horse is suited to your level of riding experience.
  • If you find any areas of concern, it may be best to pass on the animal and consider another horse, or delay purchase until a follow-up veterinary examination can be conducted.