I had been counting down to May 17th for weeks. It was the date my mare Lily and her 35 stablemates would complete their two-day, 1,000-mile journey from Florida to their summer home in Kentucky. I was anxious for my horse's return (I hadn't seen her in more than six weeks, aka an eternity), but I knew those caring for her en route to the Bluegrass would ensure her safe arrival.

Hauling horses long-distance is never easy, but recently it seems to have become even more challenging due to tighter travel restrictions to prevent infectious disease spread.

Photo: Anne M. Eberhardt

Hauling horses long-distance is never a walk in the park, but recently it seems to have become even more challenging due to tighter travel restrictions to prevent infectious disease spread. For those of us who go the distance to compete or ride at our favorite far-away locales, this means being more organized and regulation-aware than ever.

I'm lucky to have a trainer and barn staff who stay up-to-date with the latest equine travel requirements. But I've heard tales from horsey friends around the country who were caught off guard when they arrived at show grounds this spring to learn their horses needed 72-hour Certificates of Veterinary Inspection to enter; others required "only" 7-day certificates (normally these health certificates are valid for 30 days).

With each state and event devising their own requirements and seemingly changing them on a whim, how do traveling horse owners keep in line with the law?

Scott Leibsle, DVM, Dipl. ABVP, deputy state veterinarian with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture's Division of Animal Industries, says the best place for veterinarians and horse owners to find the most accurate travel information is through each state's Department of Agriculture . Because import requirements for horses in most states do not change from year to year, he says veterinarians familiar with shipping horses to certain states are good resources as well. However, he offers a caveat: "Frequently, due to the nature of diseases flaring up and down throughout the course of a given year, and as health emergencies occur, states may implement temporary import restrictions," Leibsle says.

For instance, I recall my disappointment and frustration, back in the summer of 2004, when my horses and I still lived in Texas and had qualified to compete in the National Junior Hunter Finals, in Lexington, Ky. A month shy of the show, the Kentucky state veterinarian banned all Texas livestock from entering Kentucky due to reports of vesicular stomatitis in West Texas horses. I was forced to miss the Finals.

Leibsle says state animal health officials try to avoid implementing restrictions such as this on an entire state's population of horses, prefering to limit restrictions to animals originating from a specific geographical area where the outbreak is occurring.

"The reason for the inconsistent import requirements from one state to the other is that many diseases are regionally located and are of varying degrees of concern depending upon where you are," Leibsle explains. "Also, as one would expect, trying to get 50 state agencies to agree on anything is a task that is, more or less, unachievable."

Of course, just because a horse crosses state lines doesn't mean he can walk onto the show ground or racetrack. "The committee or individual that coordinates the event very often will set health requirements that are above and beyond state import requirements," Leibsle says. "Justification for these standards is entirely variable and inconsistent. I've heard on more than one occasion that entrance requirements for horses onto the same premises will be different from one weekend to the next."

His general recommendation is to always call event organizers 30 days in advance (and again shortly before departing) and ask what admission requirements will be for the event. "Nowadays, most organizers do not make entrance requirements a secret and often will not confirm registrations without verification of vaccinations, health documents, etc. from a veterinarian," he adds.

What steps do you follow before hitting the road with your horses? And have you ever encountered travel restrictions?