Importing and exporting horses

Movements of live horses between Great Britain and the EU are subject to import and export controls. These include the requirement for health certification, import pre-notifications, documentary checks, and some identity and physical inspections.

Racehorses require specific Export Health Certificates as explained in government guidance on exporting horses and ponies.

British Equestrian, the National Federation for horse sports in the UK, has a detailed guidance on moving horses from Great Britain to the EU.

Special rules apply to moving horses between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Changes to live animal imports from 2024

In August 2023, the government outlined in the Border Target Operating Model (BTOM) a new approach to imports of live animals, products of animal origin, plants and plant products from 2024. Imports of these goods from the whole world would be subject to identity and physical checks depending on the assessed risk they pose to biosecurity, public health and food safety and security. This means changes particularly to imports of live animals and food products from the EU, as these goods haven’t so far been subject to full SPS controls (controls relating to animal and plant products, and food safety).

Under the new approach all live animals entering Great Britain from the EU will be subject to identity and physical checks from late 2024. All live animals will need to enter through an approved Border Control Post (BCP), where they would be inspected. See Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Import live animals and germinal products from the EU to Great Britain, 15 February 2024.

Border control posts

From 30 April the new import checks and inspections regime will be rolled out. This includes documentary and risk-based identity and physical checks on medium and high risk goods from the EU, which pose the greatest biosecurity risk. Inspections of high risk plants/plant products from the EU will move from destination to Border Control Posts.

Concerns have been raised about the implementation timeframe of checks at the BCPs, which will have to accommodate an increased number of inspections. Financial Times reported on 18 April that the government plans to phase in the risk-based checks to avoid queues at border control posts, with the rate of checks initially “set to zero for all commodity groups”. There hasn’t been any official confirmation of this approach. However, the government has referred to a “graduated” or “light touch” implementation of the 30 April measures in its communication with the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee (EFRA). In a letter of 25 April, the EFRA committee asked the government to clarify the issue before 30 April.

Exceptions for horses

Currently documentary checks on horses imported from the EU are done remotely; identity and physical inspections take place at destination (PDF).

The new model is proposing some exceptions from checks for high health equines from low risk countries. The government is considering exempting race horses from routine checks at the border while other healthy horses might be checked less frequently than other live animals. The Cabinet Office wrote in the Border Target Operating Model (August 2023):

Import of consignments categorised as high risk (predominantly live animals, germinal products and goods  under safeguard measures) will require prenotification, simplified health certificates, documentary checks and identity and physical checks at the border. In most cases, live animals will be subject to 100% identity and physical checks. Some exceptions to the requirement for 100% checks for animals are set out below. These include lower check rates for some types of high health equines (e.g. race horses) from low risk countries, some zoological animals and some live aquatic animals. (bold added) (paragraph 116, p37)


A reduced checks regime is also proposed for certain high health equines and certain aquatic animals. […] For equines, we are exploring allowing verified racing equines to receive no routine checks at the border, in recognition of their especially high health status and level of veterinary supervision. This is subject to agreeing a stakeholder data sharing model, which provides the necessary assurance and could ultimately be integrated into the Single Trade Window. For other categories of high health equines, we are also looking to provide reduced checks frequency of 10% for those meeting specific criteria. Further details of this will be published separately following ongoing stakeholder engagement. (paragraph 123, p40)

British Equestrian says race horses entering Great Britain from the EU and EFTA countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland), will continue to be checked at destination at least till October 2024. From then checks will move to authorised Border Control Posts, if infrastructure is ready.

Further information

Animal and Plant Health Agency, Export horses and ponies: special rules, 12 July 2022

The government’s Border Operating Model guidance provides a comprehensive overview and flowcharts of the current export requirements for equines (pages 165-167, PDF). The current rules on importing horses from the EU are on pages 88-89 (PDF).

Animal and Plant Health Agency, Import of Equidae (PDF), January 2024

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Importing live animals, animal products and high-risk food and feed not of animal origin from non-EU countries to Great Britain, 17 January 2024

British Horseracing Authority, Brexit and Thoroughbred Movement

British Equestrian, Travelling to Europe, updated 25 January 2024 

British Equestrian, Summary changes to imports of horses to the UK from November 2023, 2 November 2023

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