Equine Law: Jet-Setters of the Equine World

Curious about international travel with your horse? Equine law columnist Kjirsten Lee highlights all of the fascinating legal facts about flying first class with your equine friend.

Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans.

Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans.

One of my favorite articles on Horse Nation last year was about how the horses and their gear got to Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics. From the travel arrangements to health checks and baggage limits, international equine travel is no small feat. From a legal perspective, there is a whole host of things to consider. The U.S. Equestrian Federation has a nice overview for competing outside the USA, but here are a few highlights.


If you thought applying for a human passport was confusing and time-consuming, wait until your horse needs his first passport! The FEI (Federation Equestre Internationale or International Equestrian Federation) requires passports for international competition falling under the FEI’s oversight. Passports are also required for competition within the U.S. at the international level (e.g., a dressage CDI, eventing CCI or CIC, or show jumping CSI), though a U.S. national passport may be acceptable.

The FEI horse passport contains identification information, health information, and proof of ownership. The passport application requests information relating to the horse’s discipline, owner information, and contact information. Once submitted, the application can take four to six weeks to process. The application can be expedited for an additional $300.

Taking a pony international? They have their own pony passport application form! USEF requires an official pony measurement before issuing a pony passport.


Beginning January 1, 2013, the FEI requires all newly-registered horses to be microchipped. Relatively cost effective, microchips are a form of permanent ID. With the pass of a scanner, a microchip confirms a horse’s identity. Microchips are increasingly popular for horse owners in general to keep track of our beloved animals. Along with being relatively inexpensive, they last a lifetime.

Health Certificates

Health certificates aren’t just for international travel – they are needed for domestic travel as well! A health certificate states that the horse is in good health and has a negative Coggins test.

Import & Export Laws

There are different terms for when horses cross international borders. It may be a permanent import, a temporary import, or a re-entry. Import laws govern when a horse comes into a country, while export laws govern when a horse leaves a country.

Just like people, horses have to go through customs. They also have to spend some time in quarantine. The length of time spent in quarantine depends on the country the horse is coming from. For instance, horses coming from countries that the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers to be affected with screwworm or Venezuelan equine encephalitis have to stay in quarantine for 7 days upon arrival in the U.S. This includes all countries in the Western hemisphere except Canada, Mexico, Bermuda, and the British Virgin Islands.

Horses coming from countries affected with African Horse Sickness, on the other hand, have to stay in quarantine for 60 days. These countries include Oman, the Yemen Arab Republic, and all countries in Africa except Morocco. The shortest length of quarantine is 3 days. Countries eligible for 3-day quarantine include European Union countries – including the U.K. – and a list of others.

USDA requires an application for import be filled out and submitted to the agency for processing. Importers must then contact the port veterinarian at a USDA operated Animal Import Center. The USDA will conduct several tests during quarantine, the results of which are generally available 3 days after the arrival date. The full USDA protocol for the importation of horses and other equines can be found here.

The U.S. has minimal requirements for exporting animals. However, the receiving country may have specific health requirements with which you should be familiar. You will need an international health certificate, which must be endorsed by a Veterinary Services area office.

The Jockey Club has its own set of rules for importing and exporting Thoroughbred racehorses. Horses bred outside of the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada must obtain a Certificate of Foreign Registration and the owner of the horse must submit a fee. The Jockey Club issues Foreign Racing Permits entitling foreign Thoroughbreds to race in the U.S., Puerto Rico, or Canada for a set amount of time.

The Arabian Horse Association also has its own process for importing and exporting horses. There is an Imported Horse Registration Application and the AHA requires an export request to be made with the foreign registering authority. That authority sends a set of documents to the AHA as proof of pedigree and ownership.

It is a good idea to contact an expert service to help navigate the import and export laws to ensure smooth travels. As with any detailed and specialized endeavor, hiring the experts can save a lot of time and frustration!

Note: this article touches on a few specific equine disciplines and industries. If your discipline or industry is not discussed, that is not to say there are not rules, processes, and procedures that you need to be familiar with.

For more of Kjirsten’s articles on equine law, click here to open a list.

Kjirsten Lee, J.D., is an equine attorney with rb LEGAL, LLC, in Golden Valley, MN. She has written on topics such as the Horse Protection Act and use of drugs in racehorses, as well as general legal issues that horse people may encounter. You can follow her on Twitter at @KMLee_Esq. Kjirsten and her OTTB Gobain, compete in dressage and eventing.

Disclaimer: Nothing in this article is intended to be legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is created by reading and/or commenting on this post. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.

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