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EU Approves Direct Shipment of Horses From South Africa



After years of deliberation and delay, European Union officials have given the go-ahead to resume direct shipment of horses from South Africa to Europe.

South African officials expect the decision to breathe new life into their struggling industry by attracting new investment in breeding and by expanding international markets for South African bloodstock. It also will make it much quicker and easier to send South African horses to compete in global racing events.

Under existing regulations, in place since 2011, export to Europe requires a months-long process with a stopover in Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean off the southeast coast of Africa. That effectively choked off the flow of horses to international races, including those in Dubai.

The difficulties were illustrated by South African trainer Mike de Kock’s dwindling presence at the Dubai World Cup Carnival since imposition of the restrictive protocols. Once a dominating force in the Carnival, thanks in part to Arab owners buying in the South African market to run in Dubai, de Kock saw his ownership group dwindle to the point he had no runners at the 2023 Carnival.

Negotiations on change were delayed because a required on-site audit by EU officials was postponed from 2020 to 2022 because of the Covid pandemic. Since 2022 the issue has been subject to back-and-forth negotiations with the Hong Kong Jockey Club strongly supporting South African officials.

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Photo: Edward Whitaker/Racing Post

The paddock at Kenilworth

The amendment, to be effective on publication, will allow direct transport from South Africa following a required in-country quarantine period before shipment. Officials expressed hope other jurisdictions with similarly strict policies regarding South African horses also might reconsider regulations.

United States regulations call for a two-month lockdown quarantine of horses coming from South Africa. With actual travel logistics added, that keeps imported horses out of training for nearly three months.

Despite that, a small shipment of South African horses was sent to the United States early in 2024 with the hope that at least one, South African dual group 1-winning sprinter Isivunguvungu, can be cranked back up in time to compete in the Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (G1T) at Del Mar in November.

“I look forward to our horses flying the flag internationally and making us all proud,” said Dr. Mpho Maja, director of Animal Health at the South African Department of Agriculture, Land Reform and Rural Development.

David Abery, chairman of South African Equine Health and Protocols, said, “This is very exciting news, and thank you to everyone involved in making it happen.

“It is anticipated that this opening up of direct EU exports will, over time, give a significant boost to not just the South African Thoroughbred racing and breeding industry, but also to the other equine disciplines, all of which have been somewhat internationally isolated for many years.” 

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