May 16th 2024

Love at First Sight

The VCMS undertakes mediation to seek resolution between pet/horse owners and their veterinary practice.

When we choose our pet, we tend to fall in love with the dog, cat, bearded dragon that we see without looking into its health status first before we buy him/her. We might have a hip score for a Labrador, or a hearing assessment for a Dalmatian, but mostly we buy pets as seen.  It’s a bit like falling in love with a person. We do not tend to require a medical before the first date.

Unlike pets, horses are usually purchased with a view to sharing a hobby or sport with their owner e.g. hacking (riding in the countryside) or competing, e.g. as a showjumper.  That is not, of course, to say we don’t fall in love with the horse too.  We really do!

Where issues arise with the pre-purchase examination (PPE) for a horse someone is considering buying, mediation can help to resolve the situation.

Whilst horses and ponies can work with us in so many ways, when it comes to getting a horse vetted, the prospective purchaser needs to be clear with the vendor, and with the vet, about the career/pastime they would like the horse to join them in. This will inform the vet’s assessment of the horse as being suitable for that task.  The following notes may be helpful to consider to prevent a disagreement developing later:

  1. The vendor and purchaser must be clear with the vet about what the horse is being vetted for e.g. the horse’s suitability as an advanced eventer, or as a light hack. These represent two very different levels of fitness and performance. A horse that the vet considers capable of light hacking may not be physically capable of a competitive eventing career. If the purchaser subsequently changes their mind over what they wish to do with the horse, neither the vet, nor the vendor can be expected to anticipate this. The light hack may therefore not cope with a career change to become an eventer.
  2. The vet will share their opinion over whether the horse, in the condition they see it at the vetting, is likely to meet the demands of the plans the purchaser has for the horse. This does not form a guarantee that the horse will be okay tomorrow or in the future. It is a veterinary opinion appropriate in that moment.
  3. If the purchaser agrees the price, subject to vetting, that is a contract, whether spoken or written. A written contract protects all parties by setting out clear parameters that are mutually agreed.
    To avoid any subsequent dispute arising, photographs of the horse’s limbs etc on the day of the vetting will help to indicate the horse’s health condition at that time.  This can be helpful to establish whether a condition was present then or not. Did the condition develop since the new owner took the horse home, or did the vet ‘miss it’? All parties can then refer to these dated photographic records.
  4. The purchaser cannot go on to reject a horse, subsequent to sale, if issues that were disclosed prior to purchase do go on to manifest themselves later.
  5. Being truthful over whether the horse has had a health or behavioural issue is essential full disclosure by the vendor. A behavioural issue may be that the horse bites. Most horses have an issue, (as do most people), so this may not put the purchaser off, but it allows them to make an informed decision as to whether they can manage that issue effectively.

Top tips to avoid disputes after a Pre-purchase Examination:

  1. Disclose the horse’s health/known behavioural issues in writing from the start (not on the receipt which is post contractual). Make the vet aware of these issues to consider within his assessment.
  2. Make a record of who was present at the vetting in case the vendor questions something that took place at the vetting later on.
  3. Take clear photographs that are dated for future reference if needs be.
  4. Be aware that the horse may present in great health at the PPE but then succumb to injury or illness the next day, week, month or year. There are no guarantees with living beings, animal or human.
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