John Whitaker: ‘I hope we never return to that scenario’ *H&H VIP*

  • I’m sure we’re all sick of hearing about Brexit but it could have a huge effect on the way we transport our horses — something that all riders competing abroad take for granted these days.

    I remember a time when trips to foreign shows required hours of queuing for lengthy checks at every border — travelling across Europe was really hard work. Starting in Dover even, you could spend two hours waiting for all your paperwork to be examined before you’re even on the boat. Then at Calais you could wait for another hour or two for your paperwork to be signed off.

    At each border you’d tear a page out of each horse’s carnet (temporary importation document) and hand it to customs, then they’d come on to the lorry to check you had the right horses with the right passports and sometimes they’d wanted to check the tack, too. Just having the slightest thing wrong could hold you up for ages and going behind the Iron Curtain was a nightmare.

    Of course, we had no choice and had to get on with it, but nowadays it’s plain sailing. Each horse carries health papers and its own passport but I don’t remember ever being stopped in recent years. Everything still seems up in the air as far as Brexit is concerned, but I just hope we never return to a scenario as bad as it used to be.

    Unbelievable numbers abroad

    My daughter Louise and I have come to the CSI2* show at Gorla Minore, Italy, for three weeks. We’ve been going to the Sunshine Tour in Spain for the past decade but we felt it had got a bit expensive and fancied a change, and this is a really nice show.

    The number of horses and riders competing on tours around the world at the moment is unbelievable — there are 80-plus in every class here, with similar numbers on the Sunshine Tour, then there are two further tours in Spain, and Vilamoura, Portugal, plus the Wellington circuit in the USA. Even 15 years ago it’s something we could have never imagined — the sport has snowballed. We’ve brought 12 horses to Italy but one truck broke down on the way to Dover. Luckily, that rarely happens nowadays; back in the day, I don’t think Michael and I ever made it to a show without breaking down!

    I remember travelling to a show in the Netherlands with Nick Skelton and we ran out of diesel. In those days we didn’t have mobile phones so we had to get out of the truck and walk, hoping we were heading in the right direction for a garage. We bought a jerry can of diesel, then tried to remember the way back — even breaking down is easier nowadays!

    The good news is that Louise and I — and both trucks — eventually made it to Italy. On arrival, I discovered a few riders competing here who are even older than me, which is unusual these days. And in the first class, I jumped straight into the lead — although I was first to go…

    Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 March 2019