Moving to the UK (with my horse)

Well, everyone…the adventure continues and my mind is spinning. I just got word that the Air Force is going to move me to the UK this coming summer (specifically RAF Lakenheath in West Suffolk)! I am completely beside myself with excitement as I’ve been trying to get an assignment in the UK for the last 11 years. This would be a two-year assignment then likely back to the States.

So here’s the potentially crazy part…I am looking at exporting my 6 yr old gelding, Sig, with me. I know most people tend to either lease their horses out stateside, or sell, rather than put them on a plane and deal with the hassle and expense of bringing them to Europe (and back). But Sig and I are finally starting to really click, he is going so, so well right now, and is really making me happy (“happy” has been a struggle for me lately, so that says a lot about him). It’s just him and me, he’s my family. The thought of leaving him behind again, or selling him, just crushes me. I already spent a year away from him when I was in Okinawa, Japan. Based off initial internet research and talking with some expats in the US, that area near Lakenheath seems pretty horsey and there should be several options for yards. I don’t have other major expenses other than the horse and financially this is something I can swing, albeit I won’t be rich but hey…I think it’s probably worth it for the adventure.

So, having only gotten the word this week and this assignment coming by complete surprise… What do I need to know either about exporting horses to the UK or the UK horse scene in general?

I’m already starting to price companies like Horseflight, Dutta Corp, etc on export costs and procedures and starting to get my head wrapped around that process. As I get closer I’ll start contacting yards, but I’m already thinking of moving myself to the UK first, leaving Sig here in training in KY, and moving him a month or two later once I’m settled and I’ve had time to visit some yards/liveries in person and find the right fit.

We’re pretty independent as a team and don’t need our hand held in a strict, trainer-driven “program.” He’s pretty easy to live with, very low maintenance, enjoys living out 24/7 or turned out at night. I do love taking dressage and jump lessons, love hacking out, and my plan over there isn’t to necessarily show or compete a ton, but just to enjoy my horse and make sure he’s happy.

There is a part of me that’s ultra conservative and thinking that moving him over with me is selfish and not in his best interest. So I’m not sure what this thread is for exactly other than to just vent some of this excitement and nervousness. Thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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Congrats on the assignment! Do it!! Exporting is totally doable! We’ve had three horses move to Europe with their owners in the last few years, and my trainer is moving soon :frowning: Dutta handled all the exports. I’m not sure if the UK will change at all in terms of import/export rules now that it is leaving the EU. It’s always been super easy on the way there - no quarantine as far as I know, just paperwork/blood tests. There are less flights going right now, so you may not have a ton of flexibility on date. Coming back, you’ll do blood work there, then fly, then CEM quarantine here for 2-3 days at a USDA approved port of entry (NY, Miami, LA, maybe others?). Then he can ship home from there assuming his blood comes back clear.

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@joiedevie99 thank you!! Glad to hear about Dutta, I’ve had them recommended a few times so they’re one of the companies I’m examining to do the export. Sounds like my horse will have to quarantine here for 30 days as it’s considered a “permanent” move, but I’m hoping he can just quarantine at his current farm and not have to move to a specific quarantine facility. Fingers crossed we can get that approved. Still waiting to hear about the UK/EU situation and what might change, but there’s still a lot of time (six+ months) between now and when this would happen so I guess we’ll wait and see!

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You are correct that your horse will have to quarantine for 30 days before leaving. They will have to get a coggins done in that 30 days and they may test for Vesicular Stomatitis as well. You can possibly quarantine where you are if the requirements are met. We have done quite a few for several export agents at our farm.

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What area are you in now? One of the biggest things to consider is the weather and the way horses are kept in the UK compared to North America.

Does your horse handle the rain and mud well? Being stabled a lot? There are very limited turn out options in the UK at most places. The hay is entirely different also. As great as it is over in the UK with horses, it is very very different. I would consider how well your horse adapts to these things when making a final decision.

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My question would be, two years pass in a hurry.
A longer stay, yes, take your horse with you.
Two years? Mmmm, maybe consider how much time that really may be, after you first going alone for a few months, quarantine, this and that, before you know it, it will be time to come back.
Time passes in a hurry.

Something you may enjoy once there is chances to hunt, I hear they can be fabulous experiences.

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@Jealoushe we’re currently in the Lexington, KY area. He has moved with me twice thus far; once from KY to MD, and then six months later back to KY (to a different farm) before I left for Japan. Each time he handled the trip well and adapted very smoothly to the new environment/routine. He can live in or out and does fine in wetter weather/mud. Not a picky eater, low maintenance all around.

@Bluey I appreciate your thoughts and you are spot on for bringing up that question. That said, I’ve done an overseas tour before and I know exactly what it feels like to be away. I did a year in Japan and obviously taking the horse with was never an option, so he stayed behind in KY in training while I went over and focused on work and other things. In some ways, sure the time flew by, as has my two years here in KY. In many other ways it was very, very slow spending those 15 months away from my horse and I missed a lot. He wouldn’t be several months behind me in this instance, perhaps a month or two so if I left first and needed to scope out yards before the move. Two years seems like a not-unreasonable length of time to bring the horse over to Europe.

That, or I leave him here in training, which would prevent me from affording any horse activity in the UK. Or I try to find someone to lease him, which could be hit/miss with a green TB. Or sell, which seems silly to me having just gotten to the point where he’s grown into that cool horse I thought he’d be when I bought him as a 3 year old and I’m having such a great time with him. First two options are on the table and will stay on the table for the time being while I look at all the options the next couple of months.

I hope to hunt as many of the hunt staff I worked with in VA hunt country have recommended it (though probably not on my horse). Looking forward to the opportunity!

I would think the flight would be more expensive than the training?

There are a lot of opportunities for riding in the UK.

I don’t discourage taking your horse over, just in my experience, there are a LOT of really nice horses in the UK to enjoy.

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How exciting!

I can’t speak to the exporting logistics or riding in the UK but my one question was, do you know for sure that your assignment will be at least two years? It would be pretty crappy if you went to the expense and stress of shipping him over there, only for you to be transferred again after just a few months or a year.

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It seems like the flight there and back would be cost prohibitive for ~2 years unless the military will subsidize his transportation costs.

@Caol_Ila want to weigh in?

@Jealoushe I’d pay $12K in training costs alone (not including board, vet, or any show fees) during that time so if we’re being literal here, no, the flights themselves are not more expensive than the training. Granted that is the flight cost alone, not all the extra fees.

I know there are fabulous horses in the UK. I just would like to have this experience with my horse, if possible.

No the military will not be covering his costs, but have to sell some things anyway and that will fund his round trip and then some. Yes, this is at least a two year assignment and that was confirmed. There is a slight possibility of another UK or European assignment afterward but no guarantee either way.

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If I was in your situation I would take my horse too. No way would I leave him behind if I could afford to get him there. Good luck!

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Back in 2006, it cost me about $4000 for the flight and then about £800 worth of overland transport to move horse from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands to the UK. I have no idea how much Brexit will fuck up that particular route. Probably a lot. It would have been far more expensive to fly her to Stansted, just outside of London, but that may change in the climate of extreme clusterfuckery.

There are ways around the 30-day quarantine. The transport companies will know and advise.

There are plenty of yards that offer as much – if not more – turnout as you’d find at barns in the US. The rain is tolerable, and the nice thing is that it doesn’t get as wretchedly hot in the summer as it does in most places in the States. I sure don’t miss that. The hay is indeed different. They feed a lot of haylage as well, which isn’t a thing you find in the US. But my horse adapted fine.

Here’s the ballache – driving. 99% of yards will not be accessible by public transport. Might be accessible by bike if you’re braver than me. You can only drive on your US license for one year. After that, you have to get a UK license. They won’t let you trade it in. You gotta go through the same process as new UK drivers. You have to take a written test, which is horrible, and then a driving test, which is worse. Doesn’t matter how good a driver you are – unless you learn all the stupid, arcane rules for this test, you will fail. Then they insure you as a brand new driver, even if you have been driving in the US for a decade. This is unamusing, given they charge the hell out of brand new drivers.

If you want to get a trailer, you either need to haul a small one with a small SUV (GVW must stay under 3.5t), which is terrifying, or you need to go through the testing process again, this time with a trailer attached. I have not done this.

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Sounds like you have your answer!

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@Caol_Ila thank you!! I really appreciate the personal insight. Did it take you and your horse long to get settled over there, or was it pretty smooth? I’m hoping to find a yard with a lot of turnout; those in the immediate area all seem to have some and as I explore more I’m hoping to find a good fit.

My tentative plan is to get a used SUV or crossover type vehicle to get around. I just need something safe/reliable and large enough to fit a tack trunk or hockey gear in. I’m not planning to haul, will likely hitch rides with other clients or use yard-arranged transportation. I believe the USAF personnel only have to take a road class and written test as we’re under a special agreement. Knowing what you said though, I’ll be sure to double check!

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The horse settled okay. She fencewalked at our first yard but she does that anywhere if she hates the yard. I’m pretty sure I was in some addled state of culture shock the first year I was there and ended up in a screwy relationship with a guy down in London, about three hours from where I was, which really messed with my head. Top tip… if they have an ex-wife who’s not really an ex, run. If I hadn’t been confused and culture shocked, I would have made better choices about men. You’ll probably have a softer landing on a US military base.

I should add that having the horse there made it significantly more committing. Most Americans doing a year-long masters degree – which is what I did at first – go home after that year. I didn’t feel like I had that option. It would have been easier to see it as a fun experience for a year or two, rather than holy-shit-what-the-hell-have-I-done. There were other Americans on my graduate course, but they had a totally different experience. They could leave and go back to their lives in the States (although not all wanted to and plenty had lots of visa faff trying to stay). I never felt like I could send the horse back.

You’ll probably do fine with a station wagon. I say this as somone who has owned a series of SUVs since first setting foot off the plane, LOL. You really don’t need one in Sussex, though. Fuel is expensive, and they tax the hell out of 4x4s.

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I’m here!! :smiling_face_with_three_hearts: Just arrived, my trip over was super easy (even if EVERYTHING prior to getting on the plane has SUCKED). Sig is entering quarantine and flies over early July.

I’m back blogging for COTH if anyone wants to read up on the adventure to this point. I’ll blog about this whole experience.

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Fantastic! I was just seeing this and scrolling through the posts and about to say (not having caught the dates), "DO IT! Do it, do it, do it!
I’m so glad you DID IT!!

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I hope you totally enjoy your equestrian experience here in the UK. Nowhere is that far to travel so opportunities are varied and frequent.

RAF Lakenheath is in an area called The Brecklands which is sandy soil and miles of pine trees so the hacking is good all year round. There is also a network of Bridleways that are public ‘rights of way’ - paths available to riders across the countryside. It is possible to travel considerable distances but some areas are better than others with linking up paths. I’ve had great rides in the Brecklands on Forestry Commission land but not used local bridleways. Look on an ‘Ordnance Survey’ map to find bridleways. The livery yard you are based at will be able to help you with local hacking. But, having said that, some yards focus on competition and may not hack much, others may do lots of hacking.

Forest Edge Arena is close by, with a varied programme of competitions, including a lot of showjumping. Check their website for what’s on. There are various other venues but that was the one that first came to mind.

Look into joining the British Horse Society (may include insurence cover for you and horse) which isn’t expensive per year but as a charity it does depend on local volunteers as to how active the county may be. The BHS puts on lectures, training, fun events and social things. It can be a good way to meet people. There will likely also be a local Riding Club, providing a similar programme of activities, part of but separate from the BHS. Another place of social contact (though you may be happily insulated on the Base and never feel the need to leave the USA)

Have a look at www.horse-events.co.uk for a wide range of activities from fun rides to team chases to hunt meets.

Locally, I think the nearest hunt is The Suffolk with the Thurlow next door. Both are active, with a full social calender in the summer as well as hunting all winter. Not big jumping country but can be good for watching hound work. Lakenheath is also only a few miles from several of the big name hunts in the Midlands, such as the Quorn, which would certainly be an experience. If you want to hunt, contact the Honorary Hunt Secretary (listed on the hunt website) who will generally be a cheerful soul able to help, suggesting appropriate meets for a novice and possibly suggesting where to hire a horse should you not wish to take your own.

British Eventing is nationwide with close on 200 events per year, several of which will be local. Houghton 4* has just finished, Burghley is less than 1.5 hours away by road. Lots of training easily available. Both ‘affiliated’ BE events and cheaper ‘unaffiliated’ events, starting at 80cm, the majority one day.

British Showjumping runs literally thousands of days of competition over the year (e.g. Forest Edge Arena). Lots of training available.

British Dressage is booming and it runs literally thousands of days of competition and training is widely available…

BE, BS and BD all have accredited trainers who specialise in their respective disciplines. Training opportunities are usually listed on their respective websites. Individual trainers will also advertise when they are running xc days or SJ clinics etc.

One big cultural difference: we Brits tend to be a bit more “get it done” in style, less concerned with looking perfect and more concerned with getting to the other side of the fence. Horses may seem a bit under-trained in stable and ground manners. The long, loopy contact apparently preferred in America is rarely seen. Working Hunter classes are probably the nearest showing equivilent to the US hunters (actually, I vaguely remember that the UK classes were developed from the American model!) but the competitors are genuinely demonstrating the adjustability, ridability and suitability of the horse/pony to go out hunting - the connection to the hunting field has not been lost in the wash. Each course of jumps will be unique and the rider is expected to adjust stride to fit the course.

If there is something that puzzled you, just PM me!

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Thank you for all that. Thanks to the suggestion of another COTHer, I joined the H&H forums six months ago so those kind souls have done a lot to get me spun up already. They helped me do my homework ahead of time but I appreciate you taking the time to look out.

Have a yard lined up with back up options…primary choice runs affiliated and unaffiliated BS and BD competitions on the property which will be great for mileage. Also near to Thetford Forest so easy access to lots of hacking and they go regularly. I’m a bit busy between work and other things for a heavy competition load or a ton of BHS/RC things, but I’m looking forward to exploring.

Also…I’m not looking to insulate myself on the base. I know some people do and I saw that in Okinawa, but personally I don’t see the point of moving to a foreign country and not fully immersing yourself in it. The best times I had on Oki were far, FAR away from the other Americans. I’m already looking at houses off base and once I clear quarantine I hope to get that finalize before all the summer move season gets completely out of control.

I’m also skating with the local military hockey teams so all the more reason to be out/about.

It’s been six months of planning and a lot of blood/ sweat/ tears but I’m so relieved to be here and am looking forward to this adventure.

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