By Tyler Bui
Many dream of importing their own horse from Europe, but for some, the process may seem too complicated and difficult to even begin. Katherine McMahon and Alizé Jeandon of French Horse Exports have developed a bridge to connect American riders with their dream horses in France, streamlining the process from start to finish.
In 2013, McMahon and Jeandon began their journey as business partners, and today, French Horse Exports has flourished to become a full-service, multi-faceted business ranging from importing and exporting to a complete horse tour in France. McMahon and Jeandon met while riding at the same facility, and together with their individual expertise they have created a business like no other.
The French horse market focuses almost solely on jumpers. McMahon is a U.S. citizen who grew up riding in Alaska, attended Lake Erie College in Painesville, OH, and moved to Europe after completing her education. She found herself riding, training, and showing young horses in France, and quickly noticed how the equitation and hunters were almost nonexistent.
After seeing how the French struggled to sell certain horses who did not have the speed or scope to perform at a top jumper level, McMahon ended up introducing trainers Benjamin Grandjacques and Haras du Loup to the hunter world. Eventually, she helped them sell a beautiful hunter to Nicole Dicorti Bush in the United States, who had attended Lake Erie College with McMahon.
She developed a relationship with Jeandon shortly after that sale, and they realized how their business interests aligned seamlessly. Jeandon, a French native, had already developed extensive breeding, riding, and training connections in the country, and had hopes to sell horses to the Russian market. McMahon, as a U.S. native, knew the American market and saw the potential in selling horses to the U.S.
And thus began French Horse Exports—the two women worked to establish themselves with French breeders and the French horse market, and started building their clientele in the U.S.
“The French market is male-dominated. We struggled so hard in the first year trying to make a name for ourselves, but we nailed a couple of really big clients on the coast,” says McMahon.
“Melissa Rudershausen Strawser bought two horses from us early on in our first year, and when we went to visit her in Ocala, she introduced us to Daniel Geitner. Once we had Daniel come over [to France], it snowballed into people finally trusting us.”
“We would go and sit at the young horse shows and talk to people. Little by little, they knew us. Alizé did one article in a French magazine and then they did another interview and another couple articles. With that publicity in France, people got to know her, and we kind of exploded,” says McMahon. “Alizé has built her network in France, and I’ve built my network with clients in the U.S, so that’s worked really well. More or less, we don’t really have to go and find horses anymore, people just come to us.”
The first two years of business were trial and error for the pair. McMahon and Jeandon spent time teaching the French what Americans look for, not only in a horse, but in a trial setting as well. They held clinics with breeders, complete with Powerpoints about the ideal equitation and hunter horse and how horses should be prepped for a trial. Today, their process is seamless from start to finish, beginning with a client’s flight over to France and ending with their newly purchased horse leaving quarantine in the U.S.
While the experience is customized to fit each client’s specific needs, there are three main services that French Horse Exports offers: buying unseen, a horse tour, and importing.
For purchasing a horse unseen, a client will reach out and describe the horse they are looking for. McMahon and Jeandon will send them back videos and descriptions of horses, and wait for feedback from the client.
“We will make videos of whatever they want. Sometimes we do videos of the horse getting in a trailer or even the horse in the paddock. Basically, we try to make them feel comfortable through the whole process,” she says. “We leave it open to the client to tell us what they want, and then once we nail it down, we start the vetting process.”
“For a vetting, we’ll do the blood work and then if that’s good, we’ll start the X-rays. The vettings are also much more affordable in France,” says McMahon. “We then film all of the lameness [checks] that we do, as that makes people feel more comfortable. We’re really open to working with the client on that part.”
If the vetting is successful, the client then gets help with the payment process and language translation if need be. Once the payment is completed, the shipping process begins.
“We are a one stop shop and our commission includes export/import organization. In France, we just have to do the bloodwork and the paperwork. The horse will then fly out of Amsterdam. Once they arrive in the U.S., they have to go to USDA quarantine for three days regardless of their sex. Every horse has to go through quarantine at the USDA, and they retest them for Piroplasmosis. If it’s a mare or stallion, they then have to go to CEM quarantine, where they are tested for Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM).” After the horse has completed quarantine, they are sent to their owner.
Another option they offer is keeping a client’s horse in France for training until they are ready to be exported to the U.S.
“We have people who want to buy horses but don’t want to pay the cost in the States, so we keep their horses in training here. They’ll buy three-year-olds or four-year-olds, we put the horses in training with us, and they get exported when they’re ready,” she says. “We also sell them for clients, so we have people buy horses, put them in training, and then we’ll market them for sale. Sometimes someone will buy them in France so the person makes out without ever importing the horse.”
Horse Tours of Sale Horses
For a client looking to come to France to try horses themselves, the Horse Tour allows them to not only try horses, but to enjoy and tour the country.
“When we have new clients, we really try to make them feel comfortable about coming. We put a horse tour together—
if they need help with accommodations like booking their hotel, we help them out as much or as little as they need. Some people are really comfortable traveling abroad, some people are not. Alizé
takes them around, and we try to ride as many horses in one spot as possible.”
Oftentimes, they will take their clients to historic farms, restaurants, famous landmarks, or popular tourist attractions if they’re in the vicinity. After finding the right horse, they will begin the vetting and payment process, and eventually export the horse to its new owner in the U.S.
“Since June when the international border opened back up, we’ve had so many new clients come over which has been awesome. It’s not necessarily selling the horse as much as it is showing them how it works in France, the quality and the differences of the horses, and the experience,” says McMahon.
The word that clients use most often to describe the business is honesty, and McMahon and Jeandon pride themselves on that. Their one goal is to find their clients the ideal horse, and they believe the entire process should be completely transparent.
“Clients feel really comfortable buying from us. I think the actual process of buying a horse from Europe is sometimes really scary, but I think once they do it, they feel really good about it,” she says. “Something I think that’s really important to point out is that the horses aren’t the same as American-trained horses. It’s important to imagine the horse after three months of training in the U.S. The horses, they’re not prepped in France. You might have a horse that’s a little bit hot and it’s probably because it’s never been lunged—it probably had not been ridden the day before. The true horse is shown during the trial because it isn’t prepped.”
The benefits of importing a horse from Europe are extensive, but McMahon emphasizes two things: quality and price.
“You’re going to get more bang for your buck. Even with the import costs, you’re paying a lot less money for such high quality. Selle Francais—they’re always going to jump, they’re always trying their hardest,” says McMahon. “You don’t have to drill into them all the time. They’re just naturally smarter and willing. The repeated results show that they’re just such quality jumpers.”
While French Horse Exports is unique in itself, the quality of service and the dedication to their clients makes the business stand out even more. McMahon and Jeandon offer so much more than just a business exchange.
“Being female-owned makes a really big difference. We’re not going to push clients into something that they’re uncomfortable with. As women, I think we are empathetic and understanding, we’re really focused on making clients feel comfortable,” she says. “What sets us apart is how honest and transparent we are through the entire process.”
With McMahon’s U.S. home base, one of her favorite parts about her job is being able to reconnect with her clients to see their success.
“I really like going to the horse shows, I love the horses that we’ve sold. I love getting updates. It’s so exciting to see where these horses have gone and what jobs they have now,” says McMahon. “I’m a people person, I love dealing with people. So that I have the ability to meet so many different people and so many different types of riders. Also getting to teach people about France—not only the country, but showing them how important breeding is in France is huge too. Everything in France is like an art, and breeding is an art for them too.”
*This story was originally published in the April 2022 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!