The other day I stumbled across a really interesting post on Facebook from Equisale Sport Horses.

The post goes for a while and covers an angle of the buying/selling/vetting process I have thought about a bit but never that closely.

“As soon as I hear the word x-ray now, I want to lick the cap of a tube of Gastroguard and pop a Xanax because I know that whether I’m the one buying a horse in Europe or selling one in the US, doom will be impending as soon as we are going to deal with the x-rays”


To be quite honest, in all the years of my life I have conducted exactly one (1) pre-purchase examination on a horse I bought. Mostly because the cost of conducting such a process generally outweighed the cost of the horse – therefore giving me a kind of “meh” mentality.



Probably gonna risk it (me to the other 7 horses)


That being said, the one horse I DID vet (Snitzel) was easily the most tragic of all purchasing stories but that was more due to a difference of… ahem… opinion… on what constitutes “significant abnormalities”.


“Forget about buying the best horse, you need to buy the horse with the best x-rays. This is now the #1 criteria of choice … then if the horse is half decent, bingo. But you are actually better off buying an average horse with textbook x-rays than buying the next Olympic winner with a blemish. And I found this new reality kind of sad”


If I had my choice, would I prefer to buy a horse with clean x-rays? You bet your sweet bippy! After the Snitzel debacle if I was paying significant money for a horse I would certainly want to make sure that the horse’s pedal bone isn’t about to drop through its sole. But if this was an established level performance horse, would I expect no changes at all…?




Probably not. Granted, pedal bone about to pierce sole is a deal breaker no matter what horse I’m vetting, Valegro or otherwise.


“So now we have x-rays which can be sent and reviewed by 6 or 7 vets and every single one of them will come up with a different interpretation. To the point where I believe that the Rorschach inkblot test is actually less subjective than a set of horse x-rays”


With sport comes wear and tear and I already put next to no stock in flexion tests.

If you tried to vet me, there is a snowball’s chance in hell that I would be considered “fit for purpose”. And yet, here I am, fully functional.

So why do we expect this of our horses?



This girl raced, had an eventing career to (old) 2* level before turning into the ultimate ammy schoolmaster, competing well past 18 without a lame day on record.

You bet she wouldn’t x-ray clean.


The only conclusion I can settle on, is that this sport already breaks so many hearts and takes zero prisoners, and therefore x-rays make us feel like we’re doing our due diligence by attempting to minimise the risk of fall out.

I also think for vets, they almost feel obligated to find something or “fail” a horse during PPE, because every horse will technically have somethingIdentifying that something and excluding them as a viable purchase protects the vets from the potential break down.

A horse with perfect x-rays having issues is far less likely to come back to haunt them. A slightly imperfect horse that was managed poorly could even though poor management isn’t their fault.


“I cringe when I see people jumping every day in bad footing, I have to bite my tongue when I see the shoeing job on a lot of horses but I, for one will not shy away from acceptable but less than perfect x-rays on my personal horses”


Having a partner who is not far off being a fully qualified vet (dear lord I can’t wait) has made me think a lot about the whole mechanism of the PPE and the pass/fail mentality.

I don’t get it.

The whole issue with my one and only vet check is that they didn’t tell me what was ON the x-ray, they excluded information they thought was unlikely to matter and gave me their opinion instead.


It did matter.

When it comes to this type of thing, I would much rather know anything/everything that is on there and be left to make my own decision.


“Instead of worrying about what might happen in 2 years, 4 years or 10 years from now, take a chance and go buy the horse that makes your heart pitter patter, not the one that your vet thinks might be sound 12 years from now”


I would rather get my information, do my own research and then talk to other professionals on their experiences with managing these conditions etc. before making the call.

Then it would be my decision.



This way, only I am to blame for poor life choices


But this is just me who has been severely burnt by the PPE x-ray process.

What do you think? Are x-rays friend or foe? Vital or unnecessary?

Would you be willing to buy a horse with blemished x-rays if it was performing at the top of the level with great success but displayed changes?

Join the Conversation


  1. My endurance mare I purchased for $800 and didn’t bother to PPE. She was in poor condition and I didn’t really care as I had no specific purpose in mind for her. She was going to be my all around fun, dabble in whatever horse, so getting a PPE seemed pointless. This time around my budget was nearly 10x as much and I did have a specific purpose in mind, so I got a PPE. I had zero interest in buying a horse only to find he needed to be retired in a year due to some condition a simple xray could have ruled out. Thankfully I did too as the first horse I “purchased” had significant navicular changes and while he had been sound on the trial day he was very much not on PPE day. The horse I did buy had a passable PPE in my mind even if the vet doing it sucked and second guessed everything and refused to give any clear answers.

    I do expect and require the vet doing the exam to discuss everything with me in real time, which I understand isn’t always possible if you can’t be there for the PPE, but man is it nice to be present and ask questions as it goes along. For me, if I have a specific purpose for a horse in mind and I’m shelling out a good chunk for said horse, I want my own peace of mind that when he comes up lame a month into it that it wasn’t because of something already present at purchase. Eeyore has some funky bone growth on a hind leg and toes out on the front with high/low hoof syndrome. He is far from perfect and blemish free but he also didn’t have anything glaring on the xrays that screamed “run away” so I was fine with it all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am definitely with you there. I like them to cancel out any complete deal breakers, but I do have to question why we are so willing to walk away from x-rays with minor blemishes for athletes that are doing their job successfully.


  2. I think PPEs are tough because they set the veterinarian up to have to find something. What veterinarian feels comfortable saying “I don’t see anything wrong at all?” It’s a tricky thing for sure. Especially considering we all now a horse can come off the trailer lame after a perfect PPE

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I suppose that’s something isn’t it? In what world do clean x-rays translate to sound horse regardless with the myriad of other problems that can happen. It’s a comfort for sure, but a competent horse with minor changes isn’t so scary is it?

      Liked by 1 person

  3. When I was trying horses, I was lucky to work with my vet who is just amazing about explaining everything he’s seeing and the implications. We only vetted 2, and the one we passed on I simply asked the question: will this horse comfortably hold up to the job I want him to do? His answer was “likely no” and so we didn’t even bother with x-rays. With Frankie, the answer was “likely yes” and we proceeded with x-rays purely as a baseline for future changes. That being said, in both cases I had the benefit of putting my hands on the horse and seeing everything in person. In the cases where you’re importing something sight unseen (as some of my friends have done), I understand the desire to get as much information as possible – when you don’t see the horse, the vet reports are some of the only information you have to base your decision on, for better or for worse.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I do love having x-rays as a baseline for future use.

      It does really seem to come down to due diligence for the buyer doesn’t it? Trying to mitigate the chance of having future issues is a lot easier when you know you’re starting with no issue whatsoever. And if buying horses at the top end of the spectrum I wonder what insurance would say about a horse with pre-existing minor changes

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an awesome topic for me, because I just had to live through this buying a new horse. When I got P, I did a full set of x-rays because I was buying him off of a few short video clips and hadn’t seen him in person. I wanted an unbiased, professional set of eyes on him before getting him because while he was OTTB cheap, he wasn’t cheap to me and I don’t have some random field for him to live in should he have some sort of career preventing injury already in place. He x-rayed clean but the vet talked to me about his fluid-filled left knee (the seller had already told me about it as well), and that knee was what caused more than a few people to pass him over already. I got him anyway and 5 years later, that knee has yet to cause him any issues (other than being sort of ugly, especially in the summer). Now…his suspensory, his eye and his hoof all passed the PPE and we all know the messes he’s gotten himself in lately (because horses suck).

    With the horse I vetted before buying Leo, his x-rays showed minor arthritic changes in his right hock and a bone chip in his right ankle. Those are things I can live with (depending on the chip location), but couldn’t deal with the possible soft tissue injury/shady seller so I passed.

    With Leo, we did full x-rays because, again, I was buying him after only seeing a 1:37 video clip. He x-rayed cleanly except for his navicular bones are misshapen- they’re not as smooth as they should be. But because they were both the same shape/size, it’s likely conformation and not due to anything nefarious. Is it perfect? No, but my personal vet and my trainer both looked at them and aren’t worried, so here he is!

    I don’t think there’s a right/wrong when it comes to x-rays. I can see where it’d be frustrating for a seller, but as a buyer I think as long as you have realistic expectations, they’re a good thing to have as a baseline. Just this last January I had P’s hocks x-rayed to compare to 5 years ago and I’m glad I’m able to do that so I don’t perhaps inject things prematurely. I know I sure wouldn’t pass a PPE by most standards today, as I have a broken hip socket, previously broken ankle, right arm nerve palsy and am in a perpetual state of body soreness. But I still want to do the things!


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