Free Movement of Horses for Sporting Purposes

Free Movement of Goods

Goods from both European Union Member States and countries outside the European Union have been circulating freely within the European Community since 1993.

Temporary importation of goods  

Elimination of all administration documents

Since the introduction of the new VAT scheme and the elimination of all administration documents required for intra-community trade all previous provisions which related to the temporary importation of goods are no longer applicable.

Temporary Importation of Sporting Equipment

This has meant that the temporary importation of sporting equipment for use in competitions or for any other sporting activity is entirely exempt from restrictions.

There are, however, still some issues which need to be tackled by the European Union Member States.

Transfer of Horses for Sporting Competition

Legislation involving animals has been adopted directly by the European Union in relation to horses, dogs and pigeons. The legal basis for the provisions of the European Union in this area is provide for by Article 37(2) of the EC Treaty which provides the European Commission to propose legislative measures in relation to agriculture.

Albeit that the basis of the European Union Legislation is in relation to agriculture this can be directly applicable to the sport of horse riding.

Accordingly there have been three framework directives which have been adopted in relation to the movement or horses (equidae) which are directly applicable to horse riding. They are as follows:

  • Council Directive 90/426/EEC – minimum health requirements

  • Council Directive 90/427/EEC – Zootechnical and genealogical conditions

  • Council Directive 90/428/EEC – trade in horses and their participation in competitions

Minimum Health Requirements

The free movement of horses within the European Community is subject to certain minimum animal health requirements which must be adhered to. Specifically the animals should not show any critical signs of disease when they are examined. Under this Directive all horses are required to have a passport which must be present with the horse when traveling to another European Union Member State.

Horses imported from countries outside the European Union

Horses which have been imported from countries outside the European Union must adhere to the following minimum conditions:

  • They must come from a country which is on the list of countries accepted by the commission

  • They must have a certificate issued by the veterinary authorities of the country outside the European Union

  • They must be certified fee of disease

In regards to the above three points the European Commission often updates the list of countries outside the European Union which are free from dangerous diseases.

Further Decisions

The European Commission has also adopted two further decisions which impact the free movement of horses throughout the European Union for purposes of sporting competition. They are as follows:

  • Decision 93/197/EC which states that equide for breading should have veterinary certification

  • Decision 93/195/EC which establishes the health requirements for the re-entry of registered horses for racing and cultural events after a temporary exit

What is the reason for the health requirements?

During the early 1990’s the south of Spain and Portugal were hit by an epidemic of African Horse sickness which could have easily spread throughout the European Union if there were no health requirements in relation to horses. Consequently the above provisions were adopted.

Quarantine measures

When certain areas are hit badly by animal disease such as African Horse sickness it is necessary to quarantine geographical areas. The European Commission in this regard has introduced the concept of regionalisation through Decision 90/552/EC in which it was decided that only the region affected by the disease would be quarantined and not the entire country.

Zootechnical and genealogical conditions

According to Council Directive 90/427/EEC all horses must be entered in a register which provides the names, genealogies and wins or pure-bred horses used for competition. Each horse must therefore have its own passport which must be issued by the relevant association and approved on a national level.

The Directive ensures that all European Union Member States will mutually recognise the registers and associations of the other European Union Member States – this only applies to horses registered in accordance with the directive.

Trade in horses and their participation in competitions

The trade in horses and their participation in competition are governed by Council Directive 90/428/EEC.

Does this directive simply apply to horses which are registered?

Not all horses have to be registered according to the above mentioned directive. Directive 90/428/EEC however, applies to all types of competitions and to all horses irrespective of whether they have been registered or not.


The Directive states that, in order to achieve the free movement within the internal market that the rules of competitions may not discriminate between horses which are registered in the country in which the competition is being held and horses registered in another country.

This form of discrimination is often found in relation to the following:

  • The requirements for entering the competition

  • The judging of the competition

  • The prize money or profits which may be awarded in the competition


A European Union Member State will not be seen to be discriminating when they organise competitions in relation to the following aspects:

  • Competitions reserved for breeds registered in a specific studbook or register

  • Competitions designed specifically at improving the breed

  • Competitions reserved for a specific region

  • Competitions which are historic or traditional events

Safeguarding and Improving Breeding

In each competition each Member State is able to reserve a certain percentage which cannot exceed 20% of the sum of the prize money or profits for safeguarding and improving breeding – this will be done through a recognised coordinating organisation.

If this is to be the case the EU Member State must notify this to the European Commission.