Buying a Horse: 5 Stage Vettings

Buying a horse is a long term investment, and sadly there is always the potential for illness and injury further down the line. One of the best ways to ensure your potential purchase is fit and healthy enough for the job you want is to get him vetted – and a vet report is almost always required by insurance companies.

While getting a horse vetted won’t guarantee that nothing will go wrong in the future, it will give you the peace of mind that there’s nothing seriously wrong with the horse at that time, as well as allowing you to get advice from a trusted professional about whether the horse is right for what you want.

2 Stage vs 5 Stage

2 stage vettings are much less expensive so can be a better option if you have a limited budget. However, a 5 stage vetting is far more thorough, and you may find scrimping on the cost of vetting can cost you more in vet fees further down the line!

If your horse is over a certain amount in value, your insurer will almost certainly ask for a 5 stage vetting and in many cases, X-rays.

Tips for Vettings

The vetting can be nerve-wracking, but there are a few ways you can ensure the process is as stress-free as possible.

Ideally, you should use your own vet or a vet independent to the owner or agent selling you the horse. Look for recommendations online, and never let the seller of the horse organise the vetting.

It’s best for you to be present at the vetting to allow you to talk to the vet about their findings, and get extra advice that you may not see on the vet report.

Finally, ensure you tell the vet exactly what you plan to do with the horse, as this will help them to advise you. The owner of a happy hacker will be able to compromise a bit more than those looking to do top-level show jumping or dressage.

Stage 1:

The first stage involves an external examination of the horse at rest. Your vet will use visual observation, palpation and manipulation, as well as examining the horse’s teeth, eyes, heart and lungs. All they need for this stage is a darkened stable.

Stage 2:

The second stage requires the horse to be walked and trotted in hand so the vet can examine their movement and gait. This is usually done on a hard surface, and the horse is then backed up and turned in a tight circle to check for imbalances.

Next, there’s flexion tests and trotting in a small circle on a hard surface. Of course, these are not always possible depending on the facilities, but it will allow the vet to notice any abnormalities or lameness that are exaggerated by a tight circle.

2 stage vettings end at this point, and your vet will be able to advise you on whether they think the horse is suitable to buy or if further tests are required.

Stage 3:

Here the vet will see the horse ridden or, if the horse is unbacked, on the lunge again. The horse will be assessed with an increased heart rate and breathing rate. The vet will also lookout for any signs of discomfort – including back pain, issues with tack and lameness.

Stage 4:

The horse is rested and allowed to cool off – ready for stage 5.

Stage 5:

The final stage requires the horse to be trotted in hand again to look for any strains or injuries that may be more obvious after intense exercise. Flexion tests may be performed again, and the horse may need to be lunged again.

The Vet Report:

Contrary to popular belief, the vet will not ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ the horse. Instead, they will report any issues and advise you on whether in their own professional opinion, they believe the horse is suitable for the job you want.

Remember that the vet can only give you an opinion on what they see on the day, and issues may crop up later that were not visible at the vetting.


Depending on the cost of the horse, your insurance company may want to see X-rays, although these are not done as standard in a 5 stage vetting. While these will cost you a lot more, horses being bought for over a certain amount should be X-rayed.

It’s important to discuss the vet’s findings in detail, and not rush into the purchase if you are unsure. A minor issue is not the end of the world, as the owners may be more likely to negotiate on price. However, any major issues shouldn’t be ignored, and we always recommend following your vet’s advice – no matter how much you like the horse.