Ship your Horse: from the Outside into Quarantine

Welcome to a new series on this blog, "Ship your Horse!"

Our world has been been described as increasingly flat: people, products, and commodities jump countries faster and more efficiently than ever before.  This is due to a growing number of free trade agreements, as well as enhanced technology: planes can fly faster and longer, perishables can be preserved better, and animals can travel safer.

I'm excited to kick off the series with a guest post from Dr. Knopf, owner of Silverado Equine veterinary practice, and a prior contributor to this blog.  See her previous posts on pre-purchase exams here and here, or her input on stallion castration and CEM disease here.
This series begins with the consideration of bringing a foreign stallion or mare into the United States.
Perhaps you have purchased a prize-winning Spanish Andalusian stud for your Dressage breeding program, an Argentine mare for your polo string, or an Arab stallion from the UAE for your endurance needs.
Whichever it may be, please read on to learn about the laws requiring a screening process for these mares and stallions.

Dr. Knopf treating a colicky circus pony

The Equine TSA
by Dr. Camille Knopf
Written for exclusive use by Ribbons and Redtape Blog

If you have had the privilege to do any type of international travel during the last 10 years, you have also had the privilege of being screened by the Transportation Security Administration and customs agents. Our daily news is littered with the complaints and the horror stories of these invasive screenings – body scanners, full pat-downs, and personal questioning can be a routine aspect to international travel.  While some of us may dread this international ropes course, it could be worse…can you imagine being screened for a sexually transmitted disease, just to enter another country?

Welcome to the Equine TSA. Any mare or stallion that enters the United States is required to undergo a thorough testing for Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) at a federally recognized quarantine center. CEM is caused by the bacterium Taylorella equigenitalis and its most common clinical manifestation is infertility in the mare. Just like the way a normal-appearing person could be a potentially deadly terrorist, a stallion can be a carrier for the CEM disease and appear completely normal to everyone around.
CEM has the potential to spread rapidly and silently and cause devastating consequences to the equine industry.  Just as the United States government takes responsibility in protecting the general public from international threats, it also takes responsibility in protecting the equine economy from potential devastation due to international disease.
While we may complain about full body scanners, our internationally traveling equids undergo scans of a much more personal nature. A stallion traveling into the United States will be held in quarantine for a minimum of 30 days.  During these 30 days he is required to breed two mares (the mares have their ovaries removed to prevent pregnancy) and have these two mares test negative for the CEM bacteria. Internationally traveling mares are held in quarantine for two weeks, during which they are regularly tested for the CEM disease. Quarantine and testing is costly and lengthy but an important contributor to the protection of our livestock agriculture.

Does quarantine and testing guarantee that we don’t have CEM in our country? Unfortunately, no system is infallible. We all hear of the stories of international criminals that sneak weapons past the TSA. The Taylorella bacterium also sneaks its way past our borders. As recently as 2010 there have been outbreaks of CEM within our country that resulted in spontaneous abortions and infertile mares. Fortunately the USDA continues to improve policies and testing with the aim for the USA to be a CEM-free country.

So, next time you are heading through airport security and the TSA agent flags you for a pat-down, just think of what you would have to endure if you were a horse!