Are you in the market to buy a horse from overseas?

There are a number of things to consider before importing a horse.

1) Time
2) Financial burden
3) Health and welfare of the animal
4) The quarantine process

It takes quite a few months from the time when you acquire the horse overseas until you can bring it home to South Africa. Horses are allowed into the quarantine station on an all-in-all-out basis, which means that quarantine only starts when the last horse of that intake arrives and then they are all released on the same date after completing the required quarantine period.
There is sometimes a high demand for space in a consignment and therefore some horses wait months before a spot becomes available. Horses stay in quarantine for a minimum period of 30 days in their country of origin and thereafter a minimum of another of 30 days here in South African quarantine. Whilst in quarantine, they are required to undergo various mandatory tests, which we discuss further in this newsletter.

Financial burden
The financial aspect of importing a horse can become quite costly. On average, the import costs are in the range of R120 000 per horse depending on where the horse originates from, the current exchange rate and whether or not everything goes according to plan. Over and above this are the standard veterinary costs for the quarantine procedures and tests, which are on average R5400.00 per horse. In the event that a horse gets travel sickness or colic, or needs any other veterinary treatment, each individual is treated accordingly at an additional cost.

Health and welfare of the animal
International transportation can be quite a stressful process for horses. Most horses cope very well with this, as they are very adaptable animals, however it is important to note that there are various serious diseases which can occur as a consequence of the travel in a confined space for an extended period of time. During the import process, there is always the risk of the horse possibly injuring him/herself or becoming ill. There is a large risk of the horses developing travel sickness as they are transported in unnatural conditions i.e. closely confined crates with limited air circulation.
To understand the disease, we need to understand the normal function of the lungs. Horses are designed to be continual grazing animals, with their head and nose below the level of the lungs. With this normal position there is continuous movement of mucous and debris out of the lungs and down the trachea, which is aided by the muco-ciliary function of the trachea. This muco-ciliary function is a system of continual movement by fine cilia which continually move debris out of the lungs and trachea. When we transport horses, their heads are maintained in an elevated position for a prolonged period of time which reduces the effectiveness of this muco-cilliary function. Therefore debris and mucous can build up in the trachea.
Horses also have different populations of bacteria in their throat versus their lungs. Bacteria in the throat cause no disease process in the throat but if they end up in the lungs they can cause clinical disease, and travel sickness is one of the diseases. This can easily occur with horses having their heads held up for prolonged periods of time.
Laminitis and colic are also possible consequences of prolonged travel time as a result of the stress and a complete change in their diet.
Staff working with the horses during their stay at quarantine adhere to strict biosecurity and have the animal’s welfare at heart. In South Africa, should a horse need any emergency or life-saving treatment, they are referred to Onderstepoort under strict quarantine protocol and conditions for further treatment.
It must be remembered that horses which are brought into the country from overseas are naïve to our endemic diseases such as piroplasmosis (biliary) and African Horse Sickness – to name a few.

The quarantine process
During the 30 days in South African quarantine, the following protocol is adhered to, as set out by the standard operating procedures of the Directorate of Animal Health in order to prevent new diseases into our country:

Day 1: All horses are given a health check and identified using their unique microchip numbers and passport identification. Blood is collected from all horses and is tested for:
– Equine Viral Arteritis (EVA)
– Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA)
– Dourine
– Glanders
– Equine Influenza
– Trypanosoma

Day 1-3: All animals are swabbed for Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM)*. This test is performed once weekly for three consecutive weeks whilst in quarantine. On the same day, all healthy horses are dewormed and vaccinated against Equine Influenza and African Horse Sickness. *CEM is a venereal bacterial disease of equines. The causative organism is Taylorella equigenitalis which lives in the external genitalia of male horses. It is passed on through sexual contact between an infected/carrier stallion, which does not show any symptoms of disease, to a susceptible mare. Mares may develop creamy vulvar discharges or may also stay asymptomatic but will fail to fall pregnant. Great care is taken to keep our country free from this disease.

Day 7: The second set of CEM swabs are taken.

Day 14: Nasopharyngeal swabs are taken to test for Equine Influenza and the third, and last, set of CEM swabs are performed.

Day 21: Blood is collected for a second EVA testing from all horses, whilst sexually mature mares have an additional blood test performed for possible pregnancy diagnosis.

Day 25: All healthy horses receive their second African Horse Sickness vaccinations. The Equine Research Centre (ERC) collects blood for DNA testing and identification.

Day 30: Horses are released from quarantine and travel to their final destinations. If they need sedation or travel treatment this would be administered at this point.

Throughout their stay, horses receive routine and ad-hoc farriery and veterinary care as required. Although it is a long and complicated journey to import a horse, the experience can be immeasurably rewarding.

Fourways Equine Clinic is the dedicated veterinary care provider at the Kempton Park Quarantine Station. Should you have any queries or questions please don’t hesitate to contact us for clarification or speak to your transport agent for further information.

Fourways Equine Clinic: 011 468 3393
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