Graham Fletcher: ‘Delays put animals’ lives at stake’


  • Travelling to Europe is still proving tricky post Brexit, says former international showjumper Graham Fletcher, who is now a highly-respected trainer, as well as a breeder and producer of young horses.

    I make no apology for returning to the Brexit agreement and its damaging effects on horses and riders who regularly compete at European shows because, if anything, the situation looks set to worsen. With 27 pages of health papers and carnets needed to clear customs, the extra cost compared with pre-Brexit is approximately £1,200 per horse every time they leave Britain.

    There’s testing for some diseases that haven’t been seen in this country for more than 100 years. Vets only need to use the wrong-coloured ink for a document to be rejected. And why, in this digital age, is paperwork being hand-signed? To add to the chaos, I understand that competition horses coming back into Britain will shortly need yet another vetting before being allowed to continue with their journeys.

    Because of a clause agreed by the Government but delayed until now, when horses arrive in Dover after a long, hard trip, I hear they’ll have to be driven to a testing station. More expense, and more fatigue for our horses.

    The negative side-effects of Brexit are creeping into our sport. Peter Charles, who has top-class facilities at his yard in Hampshire, is in the process of moving his competition horses to mainland Europe. More are following, draining the UK’s equestrian industry of talent and revenue.

    Will standards drop at UK shows because European riders don’t want to cross the Channel? And will British riders fail to stay up to speed with continental courses?

    The true priority

    What alarms me the most is the horse welfare issue.

    Three weeks ago, our lorry was stopped in Calais because UK customs had stamped the wrong paper. Even though it was their fault, they told us we must get the next ferry back to Britain. It wasn’t a French error; the lady in their office was very helpful and tried to get her British counterparts to co-operate.

    Our lorry was grounded for 10 hours with six horses on board, including one that’s had previous colic surgery. How can that be humane? Trouble is, when there’s a problem, there’s nobody to get things moving.

    “Those on the front line are left in the dark,” is how Richard Davison sums it up. I wholeheartedly agree and endorse his other excellent ideas…

    While British Equestrian are undoubtedly doing their best to make conditions as acceptable as possible, there should be a designated helpline and person for Brits to call when there is a problem. It’s perhaps ironic that when Richard has had trans-Channel delays, his main and most helpful contact is Jean-Marc Puissesseau, the president of the Port of Calais. Well done to Monsieur Puissesseau, who says he doesn’t want Calais to be known as a place where horses suffer distress.

    Richard also points out that now there’s more goodwill between them, perhaps the UK Government and EU commission could form a working party to push through some improvements. I’d suggest a Northern Ireland-style customs agreement with a red route and a “wave-through” green route… the latter for horses with FEI passports showing they already have all the required paperwork.

    As Richard says, all sorts of individuals moving various goods are going to be shouting louder than us. But animals’ lives are at stake here, something for the BEF to use to get us up the list.

    Another question for the Government is why are we wasting taxpayers’ money on policing something that doesn’t need policing? One for candidates at the next election, perhaps?

    With no support available, our wonderful horses that do their best are suffering in conditions worse than some cases to which the RSPCA are called out.
    Customs delays also put a huge and unfair responsibility on the grooms trying to care for them.

    Even many Tory MPs now admit that some trade arrangements were hastily put together to “get Brexit done”. This shocking example that’s affecting our horses’ welfare means I have nothing but utter contempt for whoever signed off on such a woeful deal.

    ● Have you had problems travelling horses to the rest of Europe? Write to hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your views published in a future edition of Horse & Hound magazine

    • This exclusive column will also be available to read in Horse & Hound magazine, on sale Thursday 27 July, 2023

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