Horse Importing 101

Photo © Carly Nasznic

By Meghan Blackburn with Chad Keenum and Jett Martin

Every year, thousands of horses are imported to the United States to compete in a multitude of disciplines. While some people buy the horses after they have already started in a program in the U.S., some buyers enlist the help of professionals to find their next horse abroad. These professionals who specialize in scouting the right horses for clients also have an eye for young talent, and often import them to produce in their programs before they sell to their next homes. Chad Keenum of The Plains, Va., and Jett Martin of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., have made waves in the hunter, jumper, and even eventing industries for being able to find the right horses for clients, scoop up future champions, and help these imported horses find jobs in the U.S.

Keenum, of CK Sporthorses, has been importing since 2005. He regularly travels overseas to Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Hungary for investment horses for himself or clients. He grew up in Maryland, and is an active competitor in the hunter ring. Among other successes, Keenum was responsible for finding Park Avenue—the 2015 USEF Large Green Pony Hunter of the Year—for owner Jordan Cobb.

Martin, 28, runs Jett Martin Sport Horse Sales, and got her start importing horses when she moved to Münster, Germany for five years to train and show. “Shortly after being there, people started contacting me about finding them horses and it all started from there!” She moved back to the States in 2015, and now she makes the trip to Germany every six to eight weeks. Last year she imported 29 horses.

The Plaid Horse asked for some insight on what someone should know when they decided to import a horse.

TPH: What’s a typical day like when you’re shopping for horses in Europe?

Chad: My agents arrange an itinerary, by EU or UK regions, of horses that either I or they have found. We usually start in the morning between 7-7:30 discussing over breakfast the horses I saw the previous day or days, and whether I want to vet, make an offer, or pass on the horse. We try to make as many stops as possible to fit in as many horses as possible in one day. The day usually consists of lots of coffee and fast food. Sometimes horses get hurt, horses have sold before we come, or traffic affects our schedule. We usually stumble into a hotel around 10 p.m., and I dream about doing it again the next day as I am polishing my boots with one eye open.

Jett: Horse shopping can be extremely fun, exciting, as well as exhausting. We normally are on the road by 7:00 and don’t return to the hotel till about 10 o’clock at night. I try to schedule our days with an organized plan, that way we are not wasting time driving back-and-forth. Most clients will spend about 4-5 days in Germany searching for horses. On average we see about 30 horses a day. Once the clients decide on the horses that they want to move forward with, I then organize the vet checks and move forward from there with the importing process.

TPH: After you choose a horse what process do you need to go through to import the horse to the U.S.?

Chad: My agents set up a pre-purchase examination with a veterinarian of my choice. I usually try to use the same veterinarians in the EU/UK referred from my veterinarian in the U.S. The clinical examination and x-rays are sent to my veterinarians for their opinion of the horse. Once everything is suitable for my veterinarians, then we wire money.

Jett: Once the clients decide to move forward with purchasing a horse I then schedule the vet checks. I have a veterinarian do a full clinical exam and take x-rays requested by the client and their veterinarian. Once the vet checks are complete and the money is transferred, I organize the horses to fly to the States. They fly from Amsterdam to California with Guido Klatte Equine Services, and once they arrive, Apollo Equine Transport handles the quarantine before they are released to their new owners.

TPH: How long is quarantine usually?

Jett: The duration of the quarantine is dependent on the gender of the horse. Standard quarantine for all horses once they have landed in [Los Angeles] is two to three days.

Mares and stallions must have additional quarantine. A mare needs two weeks for quarantine and a stallion has to be in quarantine for 30 days.

TPH: What are some common problems that pop up when importing young horses?

Chad: An issue I see is horses not passing the the pre-purchase examination according to the U.S. standards.

Jett: A problem that I run into sometimes is when a horse does not pass the veterinarian exam. I always like my clients to have a back-up horse just in case their first pick does not pass the vet check.

TPH: What kinds of regulations or requirements must a horse have/pass before they are allowed in the U.S.?

Jett: As an agent, I organize my client’s horse’s export to the United States. This includes making sure the horse’s blood results are sent to the lab in an efficient time and manner. Before finalizing horses’ flights, blood work must be taken. All horses flying into the United States must have a negative piroplasmosis testing. With positive testing, entry into the U.S. is impossible.

TPH: What are things people need to be sure to do when going through the process of importing young horses?

Chad: I think they really need have a relationship with their agents and be loyal to them. They work hard for their commissions to ensure that we get a horse that will be successful for us.

TPH: Are there certain things they should avoid?

Chad: I would really check the agents’ references with your peers before you trust them to scout horses for you.

Jett Martin Sport Horse Sales Grads

Unique, imported by Jett Martin, was the 2016 Blenheim Spring Classic III (Calif.) low amateur/owner 1.30-meter champion. Photo © Jillian Stuart.

Alexis Taylor-Silvernale rode Citation to the top of the WCHR Developing Pro Challenge at last year’s Capital Challenge Horse Show (Md.). Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography.

Aleron LLC’s Campari won the $5,000 Devoucoux Hunter Prix with Alexis Taylor-Silvernale during Desert Circuit V at HITS Thermal. Photo © ESI Photography.

Weekend Romance and owner Ashley Weiman won the large junior hunter, 16-17 championship at the 2016 Blenheim Spring Classic II (Calif.). Photo © John Zambrano.

CK Sporthorses Grads

Headlines was Keenum’s first import, and he bought the gelding off a video from agent Karla Rothmann. 2016 Winner of the $10,000 International Hunter Derby at Atlanta Spring Classic II. Photo © Sheryl Sutherby.

Celebration, by King Kolibri, was found by agent Karla Rothmann in Europe. He is now shown by Anna Claire Smith under trainers Lauren Kissel and Janet Salem. Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography.

Keenum originally bought Park Place (by Sandro Hit) through agent Bernardo Piskorz at an auction in Germany as a 4-year-old approved stallion, but he went on to show in the junior hunters with Kelsi Okun. Photo © Emma Dubinsky.

Originally found for Keenum by agents Gilbert & Yvonne Böckmann, Fetching (by Catoki [Concorde]) is now owned by Lexi Maounis and is trained by Andre Dignelli & Patricia Griffith of Heritage Farm. © Michael Dignelli.

Named the 2015 USEF Large Green Pony Hunter of the Year for owner Jordan Cobb & trainer Donna Cheney, Park Avenue was found through Thomas & Jule Gerdes. © Amy Coretz/Core Equine Photography.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2016 print edition of The Plaid Horse.