Travel Documents: Know What You Need to Travel with Horses

Every year horse owners Cathy and Glenn Price log many miles on equestrian trails that wind through state parks in Kentucky, Tennessee, and throughout the Midwest. And their horses have the travel documents to prove it.

"We carry certificates of veterinary inspection (CVI, health certificates) and Coggins testing paperwork for both our horses whenever we travel with them," Cathy Price says. "State park operators will not issue a campsite without seeing the documents first."

Virtually all U.S. states require that owners or professional shippers moving horses within and across state lines carry the documentation Price describes--proof that each animal has tested negative for equine infectious anemia and has been examined by a veterinarian within a certain time period prior to travel. Here we'll delve into what it takes to travel with our horses.

Road Trip: Domestic Travel

Equine infectious anemia (EIA) is a potentially fatal viral infectious disease transferred from horse to horse by biting insects such as horseflies and deer flies. Horse owners have been aware of EIA's deadly potential since the 1880s, but the virus caught equine infectious disease researchers' attention in 1947, when an epidemic swept through New Hampshire's Rockingham Park racetrack, leading to the euthanasia of 77 horses.

In 1970 Leroy Coggins, DVM, then a veterinary virologist at Cornell University's New York State Veterinary College, developed a test to detect EIA antibodies in horses' blood. Having a "negative Coggins" has since come to mean that laboratory tests have determined a horse's blood is free of EIA antibodies (which would indicate exposure or infection).

Laboratories document this EIA-free status with a negative Coggins test, which shows that the blood sample drawn and submitted by a veterinarian for EIA testing was negative. The document also displays the age, breed, and name of the corresponding horse, as well as the name and registration number of the veterinarian who drew and submitted the blood sample.

Most states require proof that a horse has tested negative for EIA within the 12 months prior to travel. However, some states require horses test EIA negative within the 60 or even 30 days prior to entering the state.

Owners of horses in transit must also be able to prove with a CVI that each animal has received a veterinary examination during which he was declared healthy enough to travel. During these pre-travel examinations a veterinarian inspects a horse for obvious signs of illness, such as eye or nasal discharge. He or she also checks the horse's body temperature and evaluates the animal's weight and overall body condition. The examining veterinarian also interviews the owner to determine if the horse is eating and behaving normally, and whether the horse has been recently exposed to unhealthy animals.

He or she also draws a blood sample if EIA testing documents are not up-to-date.

An owner receives a CVI for each horse that a veterinarian deems fit for travel, a document containing identifying information about the corresponding horse and the veterinarian who examined it. Most states require the exam take place within the 30 to 60 days prior to travel. Others, however, require documentation showing that a veterinarian examined the horse within the 10 days prior to entering the state.

In addition to CVIs, some states require owners to obtain equine entry permits upon arrival.

Costs for veterinary inspections and EIA testing vary, and keeping documents up to date can be costly, especially for owners whose horses travel frequently to shows, trail ride venues, and other destinations. To reduce travel regulation compliance costs, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia allow horse owners to obtain Equine Interstate Movement Permits (EIMP) These so-called "horse passports" still require owners to prove their horses have undergone veterinary examinations and have tested negative for EIA. However, they extend the validity of the documents to between six months and one year depending upon the horse's destination. States that issue passports reciprocally recognize the documents.

Price's Kentucky-issued passport allows her to enter with her horses and travel freely within these 12 states for six months and throughout Kentucky for 12. States that do not recognize EIMPs require other proof of health regulation compliance.

"Illinois did not recognize our Kentucky passport, so state park officials phoned our veterinarian to make sure the passport information was valid," Price said.

Law enforcement personnel in every state have the authority to request and examine horses' documents for compliance at points of state entry, at state parks, horse shows, or for probable cause.

"That means if police stop you because your trailer has a broken taillight, the officer can ask for your horse's health papers," said James Welsh, president of Elite Horse Transport, a Kentucky-based firm that ships horses throughout the United States and Canada.

U.S. Department of Transportation officials also can ask commercial transport drivers to produce horses' travel documents during required weigh station stops.

Individual states impose their own penalties for travel regulation noncompliance. In Tennessee, for example, violation of equine transport rules is a Class A misdemeanor subject to a maximum fine of $2,500 and/or a maximum of 11 months, 29 days in jail.

Despite the many existing domestic regulations, you cannot guarantee horses won't be exposed to infectious diseases--or that they won't be responsible for spreading them--when they travel. Midge Leitch, VMD, Dipl. ACVS, of Londonderry Equine Clinic in Cochranville, Pa., said, "EIA has been the most focused on, but clearly there are equally infectious diseases for which we do not require a (health) certificate. Also, incubation for many diseases is two weeks. So upon inspection (during a pre-travel exam) a horse can appear to be healthy. A (30- or 60-day) health certificate is no guarantee that a horse is free of disease."

Leitch does not believe states will expand their health-related equine travel requirements anytime soon. Even so, when it comes to drafting animal travel policies, she would like state regulators to look beyond their own borders. "States make regulations according to their individual needs," she says. "But if you could put everyone's heads together, and everybody could agree about what should be required, that would be a wonderful thing."

Across National Borders

While states regulate horses' domestic movement, the USDA regulates the international import and export of horses. Regulations for moving horses from the United States to Canada, the European Union (EU), and beyond vary depending upon the animal's destination.

However, all horses traveling domestically or internationally must have corresponding CVIs and test negative for EIA.

"Even horses traveling to Canada must have international health certificates stamped by the USDA," says veterinary technician Joan Duquette of Rio Colorado Equine Veterinary Service, in Yuma, Ariz. She notes that the veterinarians in the clinic where she works routinely prepare travel documents for Canada-bound equines.

Like their domestic counterparts, international CVIs must be prepared by a licensed veterinarian. Owners submit documents to the USDA for the agency's endorsement. The USDA customarily charges an endorsement fee of $38 for the first horse's documents and $4.25 to process documents for each additional horse. The USDA generally returns endorsed health certificates within 10 days of submission.

Owners of horses traveling to EU countries, including the U.K., Sweden, Ireland, Finland, France, Austria, The Netherlands, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Belgium, Portugal, Luxembourg, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, The Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia must show current USDA-endorsed international veterinary inspection certificates. EU-bound horses must also test negative for EIA within the 90 days prior to export and negative for Indiana and New Jersey strains of vesicular stomatitis within 10 days of export.

In addition, EU equine import regulations require horse owners prove their animals have been vaccinated against Eastern and Western equine encephalitis at least 30 days, but not more than 6 months, prior to their export.

West Nile virus vaccination is not required for export to EU nations. However, horses that have been inoculated against West Nile virus must have received primary and secondary vaccinations at least 21 days, and no more than 42 days, apart. The secondary or any subsequent booster vaccinations must be given at least 30 days prior to U.S. departure.

EU regulations also dictate owners obtain Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI, the international governing body for equestrian sport) passports for horses traveling in member countries. FEI passports are available at offshore points of entry and through the United States Equestrian Federation, the national governing body for equestrian sport domestically.

Equines bound for destinations in South America, Asia, and Africa are subject to country-specific travel related requirements.

Whatever their horses' offshore travel destination, owners generally rely on international animal import/export agents--who operate much like commodity and other freight forwarders--to help them meet travel documentation requirements. Agents work closely with veterinarians to ensure horses have the vaccinations, examinations, and blood test results required for lawful export to specific international destinations.

"The first question we ask is 'Who's your veterinarian?' " says Paul Weygand of Mersant International Ltd., a New York-based firm that ships horses worldwide. "Then we want to know where your horse is going and how long it's going to be there."

Weygand also recommends that owners ask their veterinarians to draw blood samples from their horses and submit them to the USDA laboratory in Iowa for equine piroplasmosis, dourine, and glanders testing. Documents showing those negative test results are required for horses' re-entry into the United States.

Beyond the health-related documents, Weygand also advises that owners supply agents with any equine registration and insurance information whenever appropriate.

"In the EU, owners will have to pay import taxes and duties, so they'll need a Declaration of Value (form) for the horses, too," he says.

Take-Home Message

Whether domestic or foreign, health-related travel regulations are intended to stem--or at least control--the spread of infectious disease among horses. Observe these regulations closely when shipping your horses or having them shipped to ensure you're traveling legal and doing your part in protecting the health of your own horses and those in the places you visit.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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