Shipping Regulations

Destination X or bust! Your bags are packed and you're ready to hit the road with your favorite horse. But, before gassing up the truck or loading onto an airplane for that journey, you need to consider what regulations concerning horse transport are in place at your point of destination, and whether that point is within the United States, or beyond. Having all paperwork and certifications documenting the health of your horse in order, and handy, will save you from delays and headaches. Information used in this article was taken in part from Current Therapy In Equine Medicine 4 by N. Edward Robinson, B. Vet Med., PhD, MRCVS.

Domestic Travel

"When you travel nationally you must have a health certificate. Basically, what this says is that your horse was healthy and free of contagious diseases when you left home," according to Catherine Kohn, VMD. "All states have a requirement for a negative Coggins test; some are six months and others are a year. Regardless, you must know what the regulations are from state-to-state in order to be prepared in case you are asked to present this information when crossing state boundaries," added Kohn. (See Guide To Interstate Travel for the 1998 list of requirements by state. The American Horse Council also recommends that you contact the state veterinarian ( of the destination state to double-check on what certifications are needed to enter that state, since a state's requirements sometimes change.)


When you are exporting a horse from the United States, the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Veterinary Service officials will provide the required health certification papers. Examinations and tests, performed by an accredited veterinarian, cover both United States export health requirements and the frequently complex import requirements of the receiving nation. A Veterinary Service veterinarian will endorse export health certificates after all tests and other requirements have been completed. After this step, a final examination is conducted by a Veterinary Service veterinarian at the port of export before the horse leaves the country.

Any reputable horse broker will know what types of international health certificates will be needed, and can advise on how to fill out the correct paperwork required. According to a paper written by Timothy Cordes, DVM, and Richard Mitchell, DVM, "Veterinarians must be the final authority because it is the certification, with their signature as an accredited veterinarian, that goes before the appropriate USDA officials for endorsement."

Something else to keep in mind when exporting your horse, according to Cordes and Mitchell, "On departure, if a horse becomes ill or has test results that are anticomplementary or positive for a restricted disease, the cost of the pallet (used to transport horses by air) will be divided among the owners of the remaining horses. On arrival, if a horse becomes ill, all of the other horses must remain in quarantine. Fees for a country's government quarantine may include overtime charges, and extended stays can be costly."


According to Cordes and Mitchell, "Horses imported into the United States are held at one of four USDA quarantine facilities located in Newburgh, N.Y.; Miami, Fla.; Honolulu, Hawaii; and Los Angeles, Calif. At the very least, each horse is tested for equine infectious anemia (EIA), piroplasmosis, dourine, and glanders. Additional testing is based upon the existence of endemic diseases foreign to the United States in the country of origin; this also affects the length of quarantine. Horses from most European countries stay less than three days; from South American countries with Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis (VEE), seven days; and from African and Asian countries with African horse sickness, 60 days. Breeding stock from contagious equine metritis (CEM) countries may be quarantined at state-approved facilities for a testing protocol lasting up to 60 days.

"Because of the constant developments in regulations and technology, and the ongoing outbreaks of disease in foreign countries, it's recommended that questions be directed to the office of the USDA Area Veterinarian in Charge (AVIC) in the veterinarian's state."

Imported livestock, which includes horses, as well as semen or embryos, must be accompanied by a health certificate issued by an official of the exporting country. Animal Plant Health Inspection Services (APHIS) checks imports of livestock from Mexico and Canada at land ports along the borders with these two countries.

USDA APHIS officials certify the health of animals which are shipped to foreign countries. APHIS' Veterinary Service officials and its National Center for Import and Export provide health certification for animals being exported. Examinations and tests, usually done by a USDA accredited veterinarian, cover both U.S. export health requirements and the import requirements of the receiving nation. A Veterinary Service veterinarian endorses export health certificates after all tests and other requirements have been met. A final examination is conducted by a Veterinary Services veterinarian at the port of export before the horse leaves the country.

Other things to keep in mind, according to Cordes and Mitchell, are, "First, any American horse that has been outside this country (United States) for a period of time is considered to be of foreign origin and must comply with all United States import requirements upon return. Canada is the only exception. Second, it is wise to conduct blood tests before departure because a delay with one horse affects the entire consignment. Third, each foreign country has very specific, and often variable, temporary and permanent equine import or entry requirements."

Cordes and Mitchell recommend, "that each accredited practitioner contact the USDA AVIC in the state, or the state of origin, to make the necessary arrangements well in advance of the departure date. Veterinarians must work closely with the AVIC, because it is this person who will finally endorse the health certification. Preparations normally include testing, vaccinations (or certification of status), and pre-export quarantine before dispatch for permanent exports, arrangements may be made with the USDA authority to set up private pre-export isolation, rather than using a commercial isolation facility."

The goal of Veterinary Services is to protect and improve the health, quality, and marketability of U.S. animals and animal products. This is accomplished by diagnosing, preventing, and controlling animal diseases, monitoring for new threats, and responding to emergencies as they arise. Veterinary Services, having completed major animal disease eradication efforts, is implementing new services to protect and improve existing and emerging animal enterprises for the health of the animals involved.

About the Author

Tim Brockhoff

Tim Brockhoff was Staff Writer of The Horse:Your Guide to Equine Health Care from 1995 to 1999. His degree is in Agricultural Communications from the University of Kentucky, and his equine experience is with American Saddlebreds.

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