Why would a horse fail a vetting?

A 'vetting' or pre-purchase examination is typically carried out before a new owner purchases a horse, to ensure that it is fit for purpose and healthy. It's also a chance to identify any potential issues that may affect the horse in the short term, as well as in the future.

There are 3 things I consider when carrying out a pre-purchase examination of any horse or pony:

  1. Can this horse/pony do the job required of it (by the potential purchaser) TODAY?
  2. Will this horse/pony be capable of doing the job required of it in the FUTURE?
  3. Is there anything found during the vetting that may restrict the insurance status of the horse or cause problems should the horse be sold on in the future.

With these in mind, I wanted to share the main reasons for failing a pre-purchase examination, and explain a bit more about them.


This is by far the most common reason I fail a horse presented to me for a two or five stage vetting. Soundness is first assessed at stage 2, then at stages 3 and 5. In many cases, the lameness is only apparent when lunging on a firm surface (a new change made to the vetting procedure in 2012) or during the final stage (5) following intense exercise.


This may sound obvious, but many conformation 'faults' can significantly increase the risk of a horse going lame. The level of work the horse is in currently, along with the intended use in the future, the horse's age and the severity of the conformation fault are all taken into consideration.


The main thing I look for in a good pair of feet is that they must be a pair. Any asymmetry in foot shape has been shown to increase a horse's likelihood of lameness. So both feet must be symmetrical. The next thing is the foot conformation- long toes and low heels are not a good combination, and likewise the boxy upright feet can also cause lameness problems. The foot balance is also assessed, in many cases poor foot balance can be corrected by good farriery but if the deviation is severe damage may already have been done. There is no truer saying than 'no foot no horse'!


Sarcoids are a type of skin tumour in horses and are extremely common. Not all sarcoids cause problems, and this is where it can be difficult as a vet to try and look into a glass ball and predict the future. In general, any sarcoid near an area of tack would be a cause to fail a vetting, as would a sarcoid near the eyes or muzzle (these can be notoriously difficult to treat). Small benign looking sarcoids well away from where the tack would be might just warrant a caution to the potential purchaser, however it must also be born in mind that any sarcoids picked up at a vetting would result in an exclusion on any insurance policy taken out.

Back Pain

Many horses I see suffer from back pain which is often multifactorial and can be due to a variety of causes. The main issue in a pre-purchase examination is there being no history for the horse (I never rely on what the seller is telling me) and therefore it is difficult to ascertain the cause of any back pain from a single examination. Due to the potential for severe causes such as impinging spinous processes (kissing spines) or sacroiliac pain, I rarely recommend a horse with obvious pain along the back as suitable for purchase.

Failing a horse vetting

It's worth noting that just because a horse 'fails' a vetting does not mean that is not fit for purpose. A pre purchase examination is a 'risk assessment' and as such it is not always cut and dry. It is important to discuss with your vet the findings from a vetting, to understand any reasons why a horse may have failed, to help you understand the reasoning behind the decision.

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