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“One can imagine that Mr Bond may have an approach to risk such that he is more likely to ‘take a chance’”

As vets performing pre-purchase examinations, it is important not to make the decision for the purchaser, but rather to present the current findings and risks to assist clients in deciding whether to purchase the horse

The pre-purchase examination (PPE) provides an assessment of the horse at the time of the examination to help inform the potential purchaser’s decision on whether or not to continue with their purchase. It is not a guarantee of a horse’s suitability for the intended purpose. While it is the most common source of equine negligence claims (with more than one in three of all such claims involving a PPE), the number is relatively small when compared to the massive number of PPEs that are performed each year. Only around 1 in 200 PPEs end up in a negligence claim. This is testament to both the skill and methodical approach of colleagues when they perform such examinations and the excellent design of the approved PPE certificate supported by BEVA, RCVS, VCI and Veterinary Ireland.

From analysing our data at VDS, the last 12 months has almost certainly seen more PPEs performed than in any other 12-month period. It is also apparent from talking to colleagues that horses are fetching good money as demand has increased. This is likely to result in more horses with potential issues being put forward for a PPE. A key aspect of the PPE is communication with the purchaser. This communication should occur not only after the PPE, but also before the PPE. This is vital to assess the purchaser’s approach to risk.

In our modern society we are all familiar with risk warnings. Risk warnings are everywhere: from the fact that coffee cups contain hot liquid, to power tools, medicine bottles, children’s toys, and so on. Any investment product needs to have the extent of your exposure to risk fully explained. In advertising, risk warnings highlight the possible negative consequences of a purchase.

This is also the case in a PPE. Once the examination has been performed, it is all about communicating the findings and giving advice to the purchaser. You are assisting your client to decide whether or not to purchase the horse. You are not, and cannot be, expected to give any guarantee of the animal’s future usefulness or athletic/competitive success.

To return to the investment scenario, different people have a different approach to risk. Certain of us choose to invest in riskier products than others. To make this choice, the various pros and cons of the different investment packages need to have been carefully explained to us.

In the PPE scenario, when we find a potentially adverse finding, this needs to be clearly and fully communicated directly to the potential purchaser along with its likely significance going forward

In the PPE scenario, when we find a potentially adverse finding, this needs to be clearly and fully communicated directly to the potential purchaser along with its likely significance going forward. Even with a relatively detailed and lengthy conversation, the vet is unlikely to be able to form much of an opinion about how risk averse, or otherwise, the potential purchaser is.

Many of you will have enjoyed the recent James Bond film No Time to Die. I am uncertain if he has much of an interest in purchasing a horse, but if he were to do so, one can imagine that Mr Bond may have an approach to risk such that he is more likely to “take a chance” on a potentially adverse finding than a more cautious purchaser.

In most cases we will not have that sort of clear-cut understanding of the potential purchaser’s approach to risk. So, for that reason all potential adverse findings should ideally be fully and clearly discussed both verbally and written on the PPE certificate, or at the very least written on the contemporaneous notes/BEVA PPE worksheet. This avoids a “he said, she said”-type debate down the line about what precisely was, or was not, said about the PPE findings.

We have had several VDS claims recently where there is an allegation from the new purchaser that either no risk warning or an inadequate risk warning was given. For sure, you can guarantee that the line trotted out is “if you had told me about that I would never have bought the horse”.

As more and people are purchasing horses, some for the first time, it is important that as vets, no matter how experienced, we do not make a decision for the purchaser in terms of whether or not an adverse finding needs to be reported and discussed and a risk warning given. 

After five years of contributing short opinion pieces to Veterinary Practice and working with some wonderfully helpful colleagues both at BEVA and the journal, it is time for me to step down. To return to the most recent James Bond film, we all need to realise there is a time to bow out! I have had many comments from my veterinary friends and colleagues over the years, generally positive, about my articles. I would like to thank all of you for taking the time to read them and with the current BEVA Council I am leaving you all in the very best hands.

Jonathan Pycock


Jonathan Pycock is an equine claims consultant for the Veterinary Defence Society and an equine reproduction expert. He is a past president of the British Equine Veterinary Association.

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