BEF update: Moving horses to the EU

  • Written By: British Equestrian
  • Published: Wed, 17 Feb 2021 14:13

It’s been six weeks since the new regulations for moving horses to and from the EU came into effect and the team at British Equestrian felt it would be helpful to provide an update on how the new processes are working in practice, some of the difficulties being experienced by those on the ground and what we’re doing to improve the situation.


The UK has left the EU single market and customs union and, as of 1 January 2021, operates under a free trade agreement for the import and export of goods, including horses for any purpose. We have been given ‘third country’ status, which brings with it a series of rules and requirements which we now have to work with when travelling horses abroad.

What’s new?

In order to meet the regulatory requirements of moving horses from a third country such as the UK to the EU, even if only on a temporary basis, we now need to make sure that horses have:

  • Pre-travel residency or isolation
  • Blood tests and export health certificates
  • Customs declarations or carnets

The British Equestrian pre-travel checklist is a helpful starting point for making your first journey under the new requirements. It lists all the steps you’ll need to take in the build-up to departure, with tick boxes so you can mark off each completed step.

For those travelling horses as an economic activity - for example, professional riders travelling to a competition – it’s now necessary to have legal status in the EU, which includes an inspection certificate for your vehicle carried out in the EU, transporter and handler authorisations, and certificates of professional competency issued in the EU, in addition to the UK equivalents that were in place pre-Brexit.

All of these changes mean that:

  • there is a greater paperwork burden involved in preparing for your journey
  • trips need to be planned much further in advance
  • the use of an approved shipper is strongly recommended
  • the overall journey time has increased due to more checks required on paperwork, the vehicle and horses being carried out.

As a result, it’s estimated that overall travel costs have increased by between 220% and 320%, depending on if you use a ferry or the Eurotunnel. A breakdown of the costs and how these have changed since before Brexit is available for download.

The British Equestrian Trade Association (BETA) has also reported that there have been issues for those carrying their own feed and bedding on the crossing to Europe, either on the lorry with horses or in a separate shipment. They recommend carrying a commercial invoice to show that the goods have been purchased in the UK and have warned that you could be liable for VAT changes on arrival. If you’re taking items into Europe which will be returned, use a carnet or duplicate list with the relevant forms to avoid VAT or duty on return.

From a trade perspective, BETA members are reporting an uneasy transition for the import and export of goods, too. They have experienced similar issues to those moving horses in relation to paperwork, increased complexity, time and cost. VAT and duty charges are a concern for goods moving in both directions and will influence future trade with the EU and consumers could see price changes in the future.

Iain Graham, British Equestrian CEO, commented; “We’re acutely aware of how the new requirements are effecting the equestrian community since they came into force on 1 January. Everyone did what was possible to prepare for the transition based on the information available but, until it’s put into practice, you don’t have a full picture. We’re now getting first-hand accounts of the issues and what barriers are in place, and we can bring about a greater focus in our activity.

“The equine industry is a major contributor to the UK economy, over £4 billion, and we will do what’s possible to safeguard the livelihoods of those who contribute. Competitors, breeders, producers, show organisers and trade companies are all feeling the impact, and we will make our representation to government to help find a way forward. We have to accept the legislation in place at present but, working with our stakeholders, we can find ways to improve, streamline and digitalise the processes involved,” he continued.

Areas for review

Areas we have identified as needing immediate review are:

  • the export health certificates, which contain pages that are not needed
  • the manual process for sending these to Border Control Posts in order to book a slot and obtain permission to board a ferry or a tunnel crossing, which is neither efficient nor environmentally acceptable at the moment.

In April, new EU equine health regulations come into effect and we must work hard to ensure and changes to the paperwork make it much easier to use.

Those who’ve already used Border Control Posts (BCPs) to enter the EU have had mixed experiences. Some have passed through within an hour of arrival, while others have had to wait for several hours with horses already tired from travelling, which is not in the best interests of equine welfare. The processes here can be improved and we’ll be driving this forward.

We would also like to get a telephone ‘hotline’ established, with DEFRA’s assistance, to ensure that anyone having issues, particularly with horses in transit, can seek instant help. We’re aware that this is in place for other areas of industry, so will be campaigning for a similar service to be implemented for the equine sector.

What are governing bodies doing to help?

Work is constantly going on behind the scenes on your behalf. We’re working closely with the British Horse Council at national government level, and lobbying strongly on the areas of the process where there are difficulties and suggesting more workable compromises.

We’re also using our strong links to the International Horse Sport Confederation, which pools the resources and expertise of high level negotiators in racing and global sport, to look at changes that need to be assessed to minimise the friction and the delays created by the changes.

A new independent Equine Sport & Business Working Group has also been established to represent riders, operators, producers, breeders and show organisers. Getting first-hand experience from those involved at the sharp end is vital, and it’s hoped that this group will provide a high-profile standpoint. The group has had a preliminary meeting and will be reaching out to the equestrian business community for their views and experiences very soon.

Share your experiences

We need your help and input, too. The more facts, feedback and case studies we can collate, the better informed case we can present to make a positive change. Evidence-based submissions that signify a clear need for review will help to improve the situation, shortening unnecessary time spent on vehicles for horses and saving everyone time and money.

So, if you’ve travelled a lorry of horses to the EU since 1 January 2021, please complete a submission form. How did you find the planning? Did you locate an OV easily? What was the paperwork like?

Your experiences at Border Control Posts are valuable. Although these inspections are a new process for French officials, and delays are much worse on busy days, we are hoping that feedback from your own journeys will enable us to help streamline these ways of working. More importantly, Border Control Posts will be introduced on UK soil for horse entry (or re-entry) from July, so your feedback can help us to ensure that we don’t see a repeat in the delays currently being experienced in France. We need to make sure that the ‘teething problems’ being reported do not become permanent barriers to our sport.

One key area we need you to let us know about is the opening hours of BCPs in France. At the moment, Calais is open 0830 to 1800. We think that this will create issues in the summer when competitors prefer to take night ferries, especially when there are large volumes of movement after shows finish, and clearly it is not acceptable to have long waits on arrival in France before BCPs open. Let us know your views on this, especially where they are backed up by your own experiences. If you can provide dates, times and video footage as well, all the better.

Everyone is invited to make submissions to the upcoming Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (EFRA) Committee inquiry into moving horses across borders, which is now open to receive evidence. You can do this directly or use our form and we’ll submit on your behalf.

This inquiry scrutinises the impact of the free trade agreement and relationship with the EU on how animals can be moved across borders, focusing on live animal exports, including equines (horses, ponies and donkeys) and other domestic animals. The scope of the inquiry covers impacts on animal health including disease outbreak, economic interests, and the capacity of the UK to adapt to new regulations.

If you’d like to share your experiences, either just to help with British Equestrian’s lobbying activity and/or to the EFRA Committee inquiry, download our submission form and complete with your case study, upload via Dropbox by following the instructions on the form. The deadline for evidence submission to EFRA is 17 March 2021.