At this point in my horse shopping journey, there is a lot of hatred I could throw at the PPE, and let’s be honest, there IS a lot of hatred that gets thrown at PPEs in general. We blame them a lot for casting shadows of doubt on otherwise great horses. Sellers blame them for ruining deals, and buyers complain as they empty their pocketbooks throughout the horse search. Trust me, I have spend a healthy percentage of my budget on PPEs at this point in my horse shopping journey, and reading off those credit card number never really gets easier.
Full disclosure, I didn’t actually get a PPE done with May. However, I did end up doing a version of a post-purchase exam and ended up with front feet x-rays, which I have always been thankful to have since heavy/drafty breeds and the lush grass we’ve come across in our travels don’t always mix. That being said, May was a very inexpensive purchase/trade that I knew I could turn around and resell as a trail horse. My goals were also really manageable for the vast majority of horses. (Basically… maybe I can survive starter level and not hate riding.)
I also had a PPE done YEARS ago on a horse (3′ hunter project) that my vet took a very conservative approach on. It resulted in me passing on a horse that I ended up seeing for years at horse shows doing exactly the job I had been looking at it for. As a more experience horse owner with a different team around me, I probably would’ve dug deeper into that PPE and might have made a different decision, but horses aren’t black and white and your vet can only evaluate what it sees at that moment.
All that being said, my horse journey this time is dependent upon a PPE that results in manageable findings for my riding and competition goals, as basically the entire point of a second horse is to get to a higher level of eventing and enjoy a good amount of fox hunting. Notice my standards is “Manageable”. Of course, the PPE is a way for me to protect myself as the buyer from unscrupulous sellers; however, it’s also a tool in the horse-owning journey. It’s often the most in-depth we go to get a baseline on a new horse, and I use it as much as a purchasing tool as I do for management and further evaluation if there ever is an issue down the road. It gives my entire care team (vet, trainer, farrier) a chance to take a deep look at a horse and build their framework of care around the findings.
But… beyond the human factor, I think it’s important to consider what this means for the horse. A well done PPE could result in early prevention for a wide range of issues through the use of shoeing changes, joint management, weight management, surgery and basically anything else, and as we all know, early prevention can keep a horse in its job for a long time. Just look at some old AEC statistics, and you will see that many horses continue eventing at the BN level well into their 20s at a proficient enough level to qualify and compete at AECs. It’s hard to argue that the horse that is packing around the kid in the Jr BN Under 14 division at 28 wasn’t a well managed horse! (He finished 9th on his dressage score that year)
I also want to acknowledge that sometimes PPEs ARE unnecessarily strict. In my opinion, every PPE should be designed to give the buyer a reasonable idea of a horse’s limitations taking into account the horse’s history, work level, age, etc. My expectations for the x-rays of an older OTTB that spent multiple years on the track and has transitioned to a new career is different than the young horse that has been under saddle for 60 days and has never done any job long term. I am very lucky to work with vets that have a lot of experience seeing how different wear and tear plays out over many decades of a horse’s career and can provide significant insight.
Perhaps more importantly, it can be an early indicator that a horse NEEDS a job change or a limitation to remain healthy and happy. There are plenty of anecdotes of horses that have done their jobs on horrific x-rays or with significant soundness issues, but these are the exceptions. For most horses, asking them to do a job that their body is unlikely to hold up doing is a disservice. It can be disappointing to learn that the horse you are selling is unsuitable, long-term for the job that would make it the most valuable, but unfortunately, that is the nature of a sport and horse welfare does have to come first.
Of course, as always, the above is just my own musings, but if you’re feeling pressured into thinking a PPE is a superfluous expense that doesn’t add any value, I might encourage you to reconsider. With the right support team, it’s just a really extensive tool to help you keep a horse you (hopefully) love enough to spend money on healthy and happy so you can enjoy them for many, many years.