Rules of the Road: Equine Law & Hauling

Know before you go! Kjirsten Lee, J.D. shares advice on paperwork and more.


Photo: Leslie Wylie/Horse Nation

I recently had Gobain, aka “Superhorse,” shipped to me across a few state lines. Along with the worry of “oh my gosh my horse is traveling without me, is he going to be OK,” I reminded myself to check with my new state to see what I needed to do, legally speaking, to “import” my horse. I know, “importing” makes it sound like I brought a super fancy horse over from Europe but the reality is that even moving a horse from state to state can be more complicated than a lot of people think. So, here are some questions to ask yourself!

Why am I moving my horse?

Sometimes the paperwork you need depends on where you are going and why. If you are traveling to a competition, make sure you read the show bill to know what the facility and show management require. Usually, that will be a negative Coggins test and a current health certificate, issued by your veterinarian within 30 days.

What does my new state require?

Now that you know where you are going and why, you need to check with your specific state. Each state has its own regulations for importing animals, and you can find your state here. If you have questions, you should contact the State Veterinarian for the state to which you are shipping.

Coggins test

Every horse owner is familiar with the Coggins test – it is required by almost every horse barn and every show, regardless of the discipline. If you are traveling with your horse, you should have a negative Coggins test in your vehicle. Commercial shippers also require a negative Coggins test before they will load your horse on the trailer.

Health certificate

If you have never taken your horse out of state before, you might not be familiar with this document. A health certificate is essentially a document stating that the horse being transported does not show any signs of illness and that the Coggins test was negative. Talk to your vet about how to get a health certificate.

Who enforces these requirements?

Sometimes people take a chance on paperwork, thinking they won’t get caught. This can be dangerous – law enforcement has the authority to ask for and examine horses’ travel documents, and individual states impose their own penalties if the driver fails to produce the required documents. For those who enjoy camping with their horses, camping permits might not be issued without evidence of proper equine paperwork.

What if something goes wrong on the road?

This is a horse owner’s nightmare: while traveling, something goes wrong and the horse is injured. In some cases, owners of horses injured in an accident may have a legal claim against the shipper, who will be defended by their insurance company.

But if you are hauling your own horse, your insurance will determine what happens. Like most legal questions, the insurance requirements depend on the state, so check yours to be sure. If you think you might have a legal claim resulting from an accident on the road, consult with an attorney.

This is only a brief look at what you need to know about traveling with your horse. If you aren’t sure what paperwork you need, check with your state department of agriculture. As always, if you think you might have a legal claim of any sort, consult with an attorney.

Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an attorney in Memphis, TN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses. Kjirsten and her OTTB, Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.

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