Declared a priority for the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) by its president HRH Princess Haya, and already the focus of a joint conference between the World Animal Health Organization (OIE) and the FEI last October in Guadalajara, Mexico, the international movement of horses was once again a major topic of discussion at the first annual FEI Sports Forum held April 30 to May 2 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
As equestrian sport expands internationally, the official rules and regulations for importing high-performance sport horses into various countries should be improved and harmonized worldwide, said FEI Veterinary Director Graeme Cooke, MA, VetMB, MRCVS, speaking from FEI headquarters in Lausanne. Having globally standardized testing and quarantine requirements for this particular group of horses--"which by necessity must have high health standards"--would facilitate their international movement, he added.
"This is particularly true for emerging equestrian communities, where greater understanding and modernization of the health certification and quarantine requirements for horses competing at international levels is needed," Cooke added. "Many of the regulations currently in place in these communities are outdated or not based on actual risk, requiring people to often prove their horses are free of diseases that have never existed in their home country." The result is excessive testing and often overcautious and disproportionate quarantine periods, which can lead to stress, lack of exercise, and even health problems.
While quarantine is "necessary to prevent the spread of disease," it should be managed in a consistent way for high-performance sport horses worldwide, Cooke said. Currently, quarantine takes place in either private stables or quarantine centers, often at sites that do not allow access for the horse's grooms and riders. "This can be unfair as the horse and rider prepare for competition," he said. "The lack of training is clearly negative for an equine athlete at this level."
Furthermore, horses in quarantine often experience an abrupt change in feed, because the owners cannot control the food given in quarantine or are not allowed to import their regular feed, he said.
Likewise, disease testing should be harmonized internationally so that it is clear which test is needed for a particular disease, and this should be the recognized standard in every country, Cooke said. A number of countries do not currently accept tests from other countries, and additional testing is required, causing unnecessary delays and expense.
Certain unjustified extremes in testing must simply be removed, he added. "Some countries are asking horses to go to great lengths to prove they are free from a disease that the importing country already has," he said.
Central to any import regulation change is a recognition that high-performance sport horses do not fall under the same category as other livestock, Cooke said. Not only must they be extremely healthy to compete at their best, but they also benefit from rigorous veterinary surveillance both at home and at FEI events. "At all of our events we have veterinary officials in place to check the health of horses as they arrive and monitor them while they are competing," he said. "Their primary goal is to ensure equine welfare, and they're going to notice right away if a horse is unwell."
Many countries, particularly in Europe and North America, already have standardized, science-based systems for import and export, said Cooke. But the sport's "phenomenal growth" into primarily other Eastern European, Asian, African, and South American countries is causing frustrating import issues, he added.
"The demand to move horses across (these) borders is meeting systems that aren't prepared for it," he said. "We need to break down unnecessary barriers and make regulations based on actual risks instead of perceived risks. If we want to be an international industry then we have to make international equine movement more practical while maintaining safety."
The FEI will continue to review the issue in collaboration with the OIE and will address it further at their upcoming General Session starting May 20 in Paris, Cooke said.
The FEI will also address horse transportation and quarantine issues at a regional level in June, directly with government officials at sessions in Passo Fundo, Brazil, where the FEI will be organizing the South American Jumping Championships for young riders, juniors, pre-juniors, and children.
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