How Everything That Could Go Wrong Did Go Wrong While Importing A Horse From Ireland
PART 2: Real Smurf, Fake Smurf
On Krissy Smith’s and my horse shopping trip to Ireland, she bought two horses as well, a grey and a chestnut. She had intended to buy only one but…. Plus it’s cheaper to fly horses in groups of three, we reminded ourselves. We booked an international shipper and counted the days until her two plus Smurf would arrive at JFK quarantine.
It’s important to note that when importing a horse from Ireland to the US, the first step is to pull blood and send it to a lab to confirm it tests negative for certain diseases. Next, the i.d. chip in the horse’s neck must match the i.d. number on its passport. Customs forms must be filled out and import regulation requirements must be met. If everything checks out, the horse travels by ferry to England, then overland to the English coast, then boards a second ferry to Amsterdam, whereupon it’s loaded onto a special horse plane bound for the States. Upon arrival in the US, the horse spends another 2-3 days in USDA quarantine if it’s a gelding, longer if it’s a mare or stallion. After the quarantine period is up and your horse hopefully passes inspection, you can collect your animal, sing it the National Anthem and warmly welcome it to these United States.
At least that’s how it’s supposed to go. And for Krissy’s two, that’s how it went.
For Smurf, not so much. First, his bloodwork got lost in the Irish mail, requiring a second visit from Oliver’s vet. Then when his passport was inspected before shipping to Amsterdam, it was discovered that his i.d. number didn’t match the number on his papers. (Apparently this was the neighbor’s fault whom Oliver bought Smurf from…at least that’s Oliver’s side of the story.) After raising holy hell with the Irish Horse Board, Oliver got a revised passport overnighted, and soon Smurf plus Krissy’s two were on their way to Holland and then JFK.
It bears mentioning here that each February, Krissy takes several of her customers, similar to many eventing barns in the Northeast, to spend one to two months in Aiken, SC each winter to escape the snow and ice, train in warmer weather, and tune up for spring and summer competitions. This year, 2020, was no different. The three imports were supposed to arrive at Netherwood Acres in time to rest and acclimate for two weeks before shipping down to Aiken with the rest of the barn. However, because of all the delays related to Smurf, it took several weeks for three spots on a plane to become available. By the time a flight was secured and the trio arrived at JFK, Krissy had already left for warmer climes.
This meant that a commercial shipper needed to be hired to transport the horses from JFK to Paradise Farm in Aiken. I didn’t feel it was right for Krissy to have to foot the shipping bill for her two horses since it was mine that caused them to miss the convoy of trailers to Aiken, so I offered to cover the cost to ship all three south. George G./Elite Horse Shipping was hired to pick them up from quarantine and get them safely to Aiken.
On February 7th, George got the call that the three horses were ready to be released from quarantine. USDA officials loaded them onto his trailer (shippers aren’t allowed to load horses themselves, as it’s a restricted area) and he was soon on his way, headed south. When he stopped for breaks, he sent me videos of the horses as evidence that they were hauling well. Neither of the two greys looked particularly like Smurf, I thought, but maybe it was the lighting…
Sixteen hours later at 4am, George and the Irish immigrants arrived at Paradise Farm in Aiken. Krissy and Alex, her better half, were there to greet them. The three horses were unloaded and put into stalls for a much-needed lie down, having been confined for eight days. George said goodbye and drove away.
The next morning, Krissy and Alex turned out the three horses together in a large paddock so they could stretch their legs, whereupon they ran and ran and ran, free at last. It was then in the light of day, when Krissy and Alex had the chance to truly look the horses over, that they realized…Krissy’s two were indeed the two horses she had bought (of course) but Smurf was not Smurf. Yes, the horse galloping around the field was a grey gelding, but he was a giant, a Goliath, a Game of Thrones cast member, not Smurf. “Holy crap,” said Krissy. “They sent the wrong horse.”