Ship your Horse: Two Horses To Europe in Two weeks!

We all know that getting married often involves not just marrying your spouse, but also the in-law family.  I was fortunate enough to gain a cousin-in-law who is as passionate about horses as I am!  Emily is a show jumper originally from California, but a couple years ago relocated to North Carolina with her horses.  In today's guest post she shares her experience shipping two of her horses to Europe, and dealing with all the regulatory and legal requirements in a period of just two weeks. 

Those big crates being loaded onto the plane have Emily's horses in them

Shipping two horses to Europe in less than two weeks
by Emily Bridge
Written for Ribbons and Red Tape blog

Pre-Departure Notes
Last month I was given a dream opportunity to send two of my horses to Europe. The catch: I had less than two weeks to organize their health and travel paperwork. Normally getting a health certificate or even an updated coggins report just requires a simple call to the vet and some blood work. However, because the horses were flying internationally (essentially being exported in the eyes of the USDA), a whole different intricate set of documents was needed.
The biggest issue of all was identification paperwork. With no FEI passports or official breed association papers, it was a hassle to get documentation to prove the horses were in fact who we said they were. Think of it as being 16 years old and trying to fly from CA to NY without a driver's license; you have to resort to using a school picture ID. We ended up using a copy of the page from the official auction booklet where I originally bought the horses. It showed a side view of them jumping and a copy of their lineage. It was an unorthodox method, and since the horses' original names did not match their registered USEF show names even more paperwork had to be signed by the vet to guarantee they were in fact the same horses.
An additional issue was that one of the horses in the group was a stallion. Due to potential diseases that can be spread from breeding to infected studs, an additional set of blood work and tests was required to prove that he was not a carrier of any diseases.
I was lucky enough to have a vet who was willing to make the endless phone calls and numerous trips out to the barn to satisfy all of the requirements for the USDA and the airline. Mersant International, the intermediary for KLM airlines, sent a huge packet of explicit instructions stating exactly how many days before the departure date vaccines were to be administered and blood to be drawn. Each horse had several viles of blood taken in order to perform numerous tests. Juggling the schedule for the medical requirements seemed to turn into a complex math equation; the simplest of which, Spring time vaccines had to be given no more 60 days but no earlier than 30 days before the flight and the second round of blood work for the stud had to be exactly 10 days before he left. 

En-Route: JFK -->AMS
On May 30th the horses were hauled to JFK in New York where they were stabled overnight at the quarantine facility attached to the edge of the airport. The next afternoon the boys were checked by a vet before loading into a trailer that would take them to yet another part of JFK. There they were paired up and secured in stalls within large metal boxes. Similar to a trailer, each box had a divider in it to separate the horses and then a small area in front of them where a person could stand. The horses' boxes were the last to load onto the 747 plane so the amount of time they were confined would be minimized. Though my trainer was given a ticket to have a normal economy seat with other passengers, he was able to go back and forth mid-flight to check on the horses. Contrary to FAA regulations he did not have to remain in his seat with his seat belt fastened for take off and landing; he was able to stand with the horses to make sure they remained calm!

Arrival in Holland
After 7 hours in the air the plane arrived in Amsterdam. There, the boxes with the horses were unloaded and taken to a quarantine area where our tack was checked by customs and the horses were examined by a vet.  Unlike shipping to the United States, Amsterdam did not require the horses to stay in isolation for several days. As soon as they were cleared they loaded into a trailer and were taken directly to the farm 3 hours away in Someren, at the eastern edge of the Netherlands. 

Return to the United States
When I eventually ship the horses back to the US it will be a very different process. The key factor will be from which European country they will be shipped. The horses were originally purchased in Argentina and flew from Buenos Aires to Miami, where they changed planes and landed in Los Angeles.  Argentina, similar to the US, is strict with their guidelines of what animals can enter and exit the country. As a country, Argentina is free of many of the diseases the US tests for. Therefore, the three horses imported, a stallion, mare, and gelding, only had to stay in quarantine for 5 days. This time, since the horses will be returning from Europe, the gelding will stay in quarantine for 5 days, but the stallion will have to remain for 31 days and be bred to once again to test for any diseases that can be passed on through breeding.  It is a frustrating necessity that the stallion is quarantined for such an extended period of time. It interrupts his training and show schedule and many stallions become a bit wild after breeding.  However, it is better for the USDA to be overly cautious than to risk a potential outbreak of a disease to a country with such a large equine population. 

All in all, my advice to others who consider shipping their horses abroad is to begin organizing paperwork and health forms long before you plan on shipping the horses. With this type of travel you can never be too organized! 

One of Emily's boys, Clock, in his new European digs in Someren, the Netherlands


Thank you so much for sharing your experience Emily!  And best of luck with figuring out the regulations/ legalities for their return to the U.S.

Please see the other "ship your horse" posts, as well as the posts on stallion importation to the U.S.

You can find more photos of Emily's horses in transport to Europe posted to my Charlton Equine Law Facebook page.