Graham Fletcher: ‘Competition horses are still facing horrendous delays waiting for paperwork checks at customs’


  • Former international showjumper Graham Fletcher, who is now a highly respected trainer, breeder and producer of young horses, speaks out on the equine health and welfare risks caused by red tape at customs

    THAT no one appears interested in addressing horrendous delays to top competition horses’ journeys abroad is ironic, when the EU is reviewing its animal transport regulations.

    Indeed, World Horse Welfare has identified this moment as a golden opportunity to improve conditions for horses being transported across Europe for slaughter. As such, campaigners are calling for a maximum, finite 12-hour journey limit for horses intended for the abattoir. They want any journey over four hours to be defined as “long”.

    All horses – even those going for meat – deserve respect and care. But surely world-class sport horses shouldn’t be facing the same appalling travelling conditions as those poor horses on their way to the slaughterhouse?

    I well remember awful and lengthy waits at border crossings years ago. But once we went into the EU, you flew through customs. Why should our equine athletes be treated so very differently post-Brexit? Each time they win an international class, the national anthem is played, so don’t they deserve something better on their travels?

    Brexit hasn’t brought about delays for people crossing borders. And, just like human passengers, our horses still have the same passports as they’ve had for years. So why should they be made to suffer, risking colic and dehydration by being held up at customs? And, yes, I’ve heard of quite a few cases.

    I’d like to see the pen-pusher who sold us down the river sit in a hot tin box in a four-to-eight-hour queue every time he wanted to travel to Europe.

    It’s inhumane to treat horses like inanimate cargo. Yet they have to stand on wagons while vets inspect 32 pages of paperwork – 16 pages in English and 16 pages in French – per horse. And I’ve rarely seen them actually look at the horses.

    And God forbid if there’s even the slightest thing wrong with it. I heard recently of seven horses being subjected to 16 hours on a wagon because one had a stamp missing from its paperwork.

    No longer financially viable

    SPEAKING to Peter Charles in Madrid, he told me since Brexit it’s costing him an additional £1,000 per horse per trip. Therefore, with around 300 horse journeys to the continent for his three jockeys, it’s costing him a whopping extra £300,000 annually. And what do you get for your money? Bureaucracy and red tape!

    Although he didn’t want to, Peter’s now renting a yard in Belgium to cut costs by keeping horses in Europe. And I totally understand why – it’s no longer financially viable to go to one show abroad, you need to spread the expense.

    Northern Irish riders have got round the customs problem by avoiding England altogether and sailing from Dublin to Cherbourg. An 18-hour sea crossing is not ideal for horses on their way to compete, but they reckon it’s quicker in the long run.

    World Horse Welfare, the RSPCA, the Government… not one of them seems to care about this appalling situation. And while I’m sure not many of you will be too worried about riders’ extra costs, I’m sure all of you will be concerned about the cruelty that has been unleashed onto our wonderful horses.

    I really hope something can be done, but it never can when people just sit still – which is why I’m urging you to contact the Rt Hon George Eustice MP, minister for the environment, food and rural Affairs. His email is george.eustice.mp@parliament.uk

    “They must be deluded”

    WHEN my son Olli and I were travelling last Wednesday to compete in Italy on Thursday, like so many others we had our 7am Easyjet flight cancelled.

    If you miss the first day of a show you miss your chance to qualify for the grand prix, so it was all hands to the pumps to find another flight.
    Shortage of staff was cited for the cancellation. The same goes for the lack of people to fill catering and leisure jobs as the post-Brexit exodus continues. If the Government thought the shortfall would be taken up by the unemployed, they must be totally deluded about life’s realities.

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 23 June.

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