Things to Consider When Importing a Horse

It’s all the rage. Everyone wants an imported horse these days. We’ve all seen the Facebook post with the 17h bay Hanoverian with four white socks, casually yanking its knees to its eyeballs over a 1.35m oxer… but wait, there’s more! Priced below 25,000 Euros with import! I should know; I was one of these people that bought a pricey European horse off of a few videos, just hoping it showed up as advertised. Thankfully, I came across a trustworthy small family-owned breeding operation in Northern Germany. I was one of the lucky ones.

Unfortunately, lots of people don’t end up as lucky as I was. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but if it’s priced well below market value, then there is probably a reason. The use of sedatives, video editing, or poling are all possible scenarios when it comes to these spectacular YouTube videos that leave you starry-eyed and ready to wire money to a complete stranger.

After purchasing my first import, I decided to take a trip to Germany to meet this family. It was an eye-opening experience for me. I got to sit on numerous horses as well as get a firsthand look at their breeding program and take a tour of the country’s government-owned stallion program. This was such an incredible experience, and I learned so many important lessons while I was there about buying horses overseas.

Carrido, my first import. Photo by Christina Fox Photography.

Hunters in Europe

As many people know, Europe doesn’t have the hunter divisions they only have jumpers.  Even if you see a horse ridden like a “hunter” in a video, it is probably nothing like a hunter or equitation horse by American standards. As a general rule of thumb, a newly imported horse probably won’t immediately walk into the hunter ring ready for you to perch in two-point over flowery jumps. One of the hunters I purchased had “hunter training” in Germany, but he was still nothing like how a traditional American hunter is ridden. Lots of hours and fine tuning was spent getting him ready for his hunter debut after he was imported.  Just because a horse has a 1.20m show record in Europe doesn’t mean that it’s even ready for the baby greens.

The fact of the matter is, we get Europe’s leftovers.  If the horse is not a 1.30m horse, then the market value is very low in Europe. The top European horses get sent to their best riders or people that the sellers have already established relationships with. Most of the time these “hunters” are not scopey or athletic enough to make a jumper in Europe, so they are popped over a few “hunter” jumps, and posted on Facebook with lots of heart eye emojis and a very attractive price tag.

The rules in Europe are the same as the rules in America. GOOD HORSES COST MONEY (Say it louder for the people in the back). If you think you are going to buy a derby ready horse or a 1.35m jumper that isn’t going to dump you every other day and can pass a strict vetting for half the price tag of an American horse, then you are sadly mistaken.  Of course, there are always good deals and special circumstances, but being an ocean away, you won’t be able to know if you’re getting a good deal or a fire-breathing dragon.

 The beautiful barn in Europe where I tried horses. Photo by Melissa Collins.

Pre-Purchase Exams

In my experience vetting a horse overseas has proven to be a very tedious task. It’s difficult to communicate with their vet directly. X-rays and written exams are in a different language, you don’t know what relationship this vet has with the seller and how can you REALLY be sure the x-rays you received are the x-rays of the horse you are looking at? I have heard so many horror stories about buyers being sent bogus x-rays. When purchasing sight unseen, you are at the mercy of the seller as well as the vet doing the exam.

Also, just because a European vet claims the x-rays are “good” or “normal” does not mean they are “good” or “normal” by American standards. In general, American pre-purchase exams are much more strict than those done by European veterinarians. American buyers as a whole tend to be much more conservative in how we read x-rays or findings in a PPE. This is especially important if you are purchasing the horse as a resale or an investment.

Hire A Professional

It all comes down to trusting who you are buying from. I got lucky. I have made a lifelong partnership with a wonderful family. When they send me a horse and say it’s going to be what I need, then I know for a fact when it gets here it is exactly as they say it is. Not everyone is going to run across honest, good breeders like I did.

If you are new to shopping overseas, I highly recommend you pay the extra commission and hire that middle man to help you navigate shopping abroad. It’s worth the extra 10% to have someone that knows the ins and outs and has relationships built with the sellers they are dealing with overseas. Do your homework, research the horse and the seller. It is very easy to look up a European show record. Ask all the necessary questions and don’t be afraid to demand additional videos.

The family I have made a lifelong partnership and friendship with in Germany. Photo by Melissa Collins.

Not every horse dealer in Europe is looking to scam Americans; however, there are some out there that capitalize on naïve buyers who are blinded by a “good” video on Facebook. Hire someone that can advocate for you, who knows your needs and knows which sellers to trust and who to avoid. And remember, if it’s too good to be true, then it probably is, no matter where the horse is located.