Exporting Issues Part 2

Horses need travel agents, vaccinations and blood tests before heading overseas.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal

This is the second in a two part series. Need to review Part 1?

Vaccines and Blood Tests

Irmgaard accepts four new quarantine horses every two weeks. “As soon as a horse arrives, we call USDA to let them know we are beginning quarantine here,” she says. “The state veterinarian inspects each horse and checks the health papers and Coggins.”

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service Area Veterinarians in Charge advise USDA-accredited veterinarians of the tests, examinations, certifications or quarantines required for a particular shipment of animals. The accredited veterinarian then completes the necessary procedures and forwards a health certificate to the AVIC.

When all requirements have been met, AVIC endorses the export health certificate, which authorizes the animals to be moved to the designated port of export.

Horses in quarantine with Irmgaard are immediately brought up to date on all vaccinations, tested for vesicular stomatitis and other diseases. At 20 to 21 days, blood is pulled and retested for equine infectious anemia, using only the Agar gel immunodiffusion test. Stallions must be tested for equine viral arteritis.

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Irmgaard studies each horse daily, checking temperatures and looking for signs of a traveling illness.

“You don’t know where these horses are from sometimes, so you have to be very careful and observant,” she says. “In the spring, when horses are traveling from cold areas to hot ones, or where it’s cold outside and warm inside, sickness is more common.”

If a horse in quarantine arrives ill or becomes ill, it is taken to isolated confinement on another part of the facility. A state veterinarian visits the farm daily to inspect and discuss any problems.

USDA reports that until the 19th century, exported animals were routinely shipped overseas without adequate space, ventilation, food or water. An 1891 reform law authorized USDA to develop standards for the humane accommodation of animals transported by ship.

In practice, export health procedures are an ongoing process involving the examination of livestock, the performance of certain tests and the certification of animals for export. This work is done by veterinarians employed by APHIS, as well as practicing veterinarians accredited by USDA.


According to USDA, international health certificates for the export of animals from the United States must be completed by the accredited veterinarian who certifies herd and animal health status, conducts tests and records test results for the individual animals being exported.

Completed and signed international health certificates for the export of animals from the United States must be endorsed by a veterinary services area office to be valid. Veterinary services area offices are a branch of USDA.

The United States has minimal requirements for animals to be exported to other countries. Each country, however, may have specific health requirements for the entry of animals – requirements that are established by the importing country, not the United States. Export requirements frequently change. Export certificates are official documents and should be typewritten, accurate and complete.

Forwarding agents should be able to take care of these details for you.

Travel In the Skies

Horses travel by air in containers that look similar to horse trailers. Designed for warmbloods, a typical container easily holds three roomy box stalls. One professional groom with veterinary experience is required to be on board with the shipment, in addition to one handler per three horses. Handlers stay with the horses during takeoff and landing, and they ensure that the horses are comfortable throughout the flight, offering hay and water. Many owners opt to fly with their horses, as well as trainers and clinicians who travel abroad regularly.

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When extra-large horses are shipped, containers can be manipulated to carry only two horses per container, if needed.

Technically, a five-hour resting period is required before a horse can be loaded onto a plane or ship, but this regulation could differ, depending on how far the horse had to travel before arriving at the port of export. At the port of export, an APHIS port veterinarian examines the animals, makes sure they receive the required rest period and supervises the loading of the animals onto the ship or plane.

“In all the years I’ve done this, I’ve never seen a problem during flight,” Irmgaard says. “It’s very nice. I try to go with the horses every six weeks to make sure everything is going well.”

Horses tend to shake their heads when air pressure changes, but that’s typically the biggest adjustment of all. Random turbulence, to a horse, feels like a bump in the road.

Procedures are slightly different for livestock shipped through land borders, such as Canada and Mexico.

Irmgaard’s work is essentially finished as soon as the horse arrives at his destination. Because customs and regulations vary greatly from country to country, it’s easiest to hire a local agent to handle paperwork and details on the ground.

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