All about import and export

If you are planning to transport a horse into or out of the UK, the advice of those involved in the industry – vets, transporters, ministry officials – is always the same: get a professional to do it for you.

The worldwide transport of racehorses, high-calibre competition horses and breeding stallions has been commonplace since the 1970s. But in the past five years, there has been a staggering increase in the international trade and movement of all horses.

“We only have information on racehorses, shuttle stallions and FEI statistics to give an indication, but numbers have rocketed,” says Des Leadon, head of clinical pathology at the Irish Equine Centre, who has studied the effects of transportation on horses for 18 years.

“We’re seeing an increase of more than 100% in all these cases. It’s easy to see that there are millions and millions of horses moving within and out of the EU each year.”

The major studs, dealers and horse sales around Europe are now so used to dealing with purchasers from abroad that they can organise transport to another country with the same ease as they could for a one-hour journey down the road.

Ulf Möeller, sales manager at Performance Sales International (PSI) in Germany, estimates that 60% of its stock — mainly show jumpers and dressage horses — goes directly abroad. If a client does not already have transport arranged, Möeller can offer a “travel inclusive” price, or will recommend a transporter.

The industry is a close-knit one. Road hauliers all over Europe make use of each other’s contacts for stabling on journeys, and often sub-contract jobs when necessary. And they need to — with such a surge in business, many transporters are working flat out.

Kent-based John Parker International has seen a three-fold increase in turnover since 1995. Some 90% of its business is sending horses abroad by road, air and sea. It currently makes routine trips to both France and Spain three times a month, moving 17 or 18 horses per trip.

Regulations vary for unregistered and registered horses, both with regard to journey times and documentation. On top of the documentation requirements, quarantine, vaccination implications and veterinary regulations vary so widely from country to country, and are subject to constant change, that this is not a job for the first-timer.

“If passports were the only thing needed, it would be a lot easier,” says Karen Coumbe from Kent-based Bell Equine, which is well located for the south’s many airports and ferry terminals. “There is an amazing amount of bureaucracy, and every country differs.

“A vet always has to certify an animal to fit in with a journey — so if the shipment is leaving at 6am on a Monday morning, so be it. And if it has a temperature, it doesn’t go. If a horse is ill, it shouldn’t be travelling.”

Transporting a horse by road is something most owners do frequently, but moving it by air is different matter.

Horses are flown in “jet stalls”, square, padded boxes that resemble a three-horse, forward-facing lorry. These can be adjusted to accommodate two or even one if necessary, but although this is better for the horse, the cost will spiral. Each shipment will have one professional flying groom who is certified with the Animal Air Transport Association (AATA) per three horses.

“Flying with horses is completely different to anything else,” says Henry Bullen, a director of Peden Bloodstock, which holds the contract for flying horses to the Athens Olympics. “Horses react differently in the air, so grooms have to know how the container and aircraft works. They also have experience in administering sedative — it is part of their certification.”

A vet will also accompany some long-haul flights, which takes a great deal of pressure away from the groom, but it is actually extremely rare for a horse to panic.

Flying groom Dick Walker, who has made more than 200 trips to Australia, says: “Most horses don’t even stop eating their hay on take-off and landing,” he says. “Up in the air, horses doze off with the motion and are very relaxed.”

Whichever way your horse is to travel, arranging insurance is essential, since in general, transporters do not provide cover.

Due to the increased trend of purchasing abroad, many annual policy schemes have built-in 30-day extensions to Western Europe, meaning that a horse purchased in Holland would be covered for a journey back to the UK, or that one-off competitions abroad are covered. However, flying and sea travel need addressing separately.

What’s involved: within the EU

  • There are no quarantine requirements
  • Registered horses must be accompanied by their studbook passport and an EU export health certificate. “The Tripartite agreement” means that registered horses can travel between France, Ireland and the UK with a passport only
  • Non-registered horses require an EU health certificate, and will require a passport after 28 February 2005
  • The export certificate is issued after a veterinary health check. Secondary, random spot checks are carried out in Dover and other destinations

Outside the EU

  • Specific quarantine and vaccination requirements vary hugely from country
    to country; shipping agents will be up to date on the latest regulations
  • There are no quarantine requirements for horses being imported into the EU (and therefore the UK)
  • “Imports of horses on any basis are only permitted from countries where the risk of disease is perceived negligible or equivalent to the UK,” says a DEFRA spokesman
  • There are some countries of the world from which horses are not permitted — for example, imports from some parts of South Africa are currently suspended due to an outbreak of African Horse Sickness. Check with DEFRA (tel: 020 7904 6414) for the latest update
  • When a horse lands in the EU from a third country, a vet check will be carried out at the airport, followed by a second check within 48hr of the horse reaching its final destination
  • There are special conditions for the temporary movement of registered horses, eg for competition. For latest updates, check with DEFRA

What it costs

A guide to prices to or from the UK. Rough costs include documentation and vet checks but not VAT, for road transport:

  • Germany: from £350
  • France: from £275
  • Holland: from £250
  • Ireland: from £250

Longer haul, to include quarantine and documentation:

  • Japan: from £7,500-£8,500
  • Hong Kong: from £4,000-£4,500
  • USA: from £3,500-£4,500
  • Dubai: from £2,500
  • Australia: from £6,300
  • New Zealand: from £7,500


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