International Horse Movements and Disease Risk

The OIE has not identified any disease events associated with live horses temporarily imported to compete at international equestrian events or races.

Photo: Jon Stroud/FEI

The World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) is responsible for ensuring transparency of the global animal disease situation by requiring reporting of occurrences of animal diseases of economic and public health importance by its member countries, as well as safeguarding the health and safe trade of animals and animal products by setting international standards documented in the OIE Terrestrial Animal Health Code (TAHC).

Incidents of disease introduction associated with international movement of live horses are sporadically reported to the OIE for immediate notification via the OIE World Animal Health Information System (WAHIS). From 1995 to 2014, 54 incidents were reported to the OIE. The immediate notification reports from the member countries were reviewed in conjunction with other information available in the public domain to provide the following analysis.

Equine influenza (13 events) and contagious equine metritis (12 events) were the most frequently reported diseases.

For seven events, the infected horses were detected during post-arrival quarantine and were not released into importing countries. The 47 other events resulted in the introduction of pathogens into importing countries.

Subclinical infection remains a challenge for international trade. In 88% of reported events, infected horses did not show signs of clinical disease at the time of import.

In 81% of the reported events, import regulations were not followed. Noncompliance consisted of illegal movement (six events), non-adherence to the national regulations of the importing country (six events), and non-adherence to OIE disease-specific standards (26 events). For the other nine events, breakdown of the import procedures were presumably associated with laboratory testing (three events), management of post-arrival quarantine (two events), transportation (one event), and assessment of the situation in the country of origin (one event). Causes of two events could not be identified.

In 51% of the reported events, the imported animal was responsible for transmission of a pathogen to the local population. Disease transmission to the local population was influenced by the biosecurity practices implemented by the importing countries, which included isolation of new entrants, intensified health monitoring of the resident equine population to promptly detect emergence of disease, vaccination, and surveillance programs of the resident population.

International standards and import protocols regulating international horse movements are paramount in mitigating potential risk of disease associated with horse movements. Continuous compliance with best biosecurity and health management practices by importing countries provides an additional safeguard to mitigate residual risk of disease transmission to the local population from imported horses.

No disease event associated with live horses temporarily imported to compete at international equestrian events or races was identified. In an effort to further facilitate the safe, temporary import of this specific class of horse, the OIE, together with the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) and the International Horse Racing Authorities has developed the “high-health, high-performance” (HHP) horse concept as well as international standards (TAHC Chapter 4.16). The high-health status of HHP horses is established through continual veterinary supervision and meeting harmonized health requirements combined with stringent health management and biosecurity practices.

CONTACT—Morgane Dominguez, DVM, MPH, PhD—m.dominguez@oie.int—+33 1 1 44 18 54—World Organization for Animal Health, Paris France


This is an excerpt from Equine Disease Quarterly, funded by underwriters at Lloyd’s, London.

About the Author

Equine Disease Quarterly

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with FREE weekly newsletters from TheHorse.com. Learn More