Tuesday, December 15, 2015

True Costs: Importing a Horse

When I look back on the blog. I can't help but  smile when I realize how many "once in a lifetime" experiences I have managed to squeeze into the last couple of years with the magical beasts. 

Of course, if I'm in a cynical mood I also cry a little because if I add up what the True Costs of those experiences really are, it feels like if we saved that cash we could be in the South Pacific on our own private island right now drinking Rum Rickies out of freshly carved coconuts....

But, I love the horses.  I'm grateful for the wild adventures we've had, and even more grateful that The Boy isn't totally freaked out when he asks me "what do you think this will cost us?" and my response is to give a nervous shrug then pour more wine.  (always more wine).

Much like when we first stumbled into the world of A and AA Hunter/Jumper shows, I had an 80% idea of what to expect in terms of cost, but quickly realized there is a unspoken 20% that always magically appears on your invoice.  And it's that sneaky hidden 20% that's just a real kick in the pants..

So when we first started considering the idea of importing my next horse, I had no idea what that would add to the "bottom line" of the budget.

I feel like over there years I've always heard that it's "about" $10,000 to get a horse stateside. 

But I've heard $10,000 for a long time now.  Airline tickets change, the exchange rate fluctuates and there are enough variables at play that I didn't want to put too much stock in what was essentially a rumor - and an out of date one at that.

I've also heard a lot of people say that a horse that would cost you $100k in the States is waiting for you in Germany for 30,000 Euro (can't find my euro sign).  I will say that seems like a slight exaggeration at this point - but from what I saw it's not hugely off. 

Comparing a fairly green 4 year old to a fairly green European 4 year old - Dollar for dollar, you'll get better quality in Germany.

That is, assuming you can find it, and get it home again. 

I'm smart enough to know that there's no way I'm lucky enough (or na├»ve enough?) to find the crazy diamond in the rough that's the deal of the century.  Some people find those - I usually don't.

Though it did seem like there were lots of lovely (young and green) options from about 15k...

The 40k range had some gorgeous stunners and for 100+ there were some really impressive prospects, or going horses with spectacular resumes.

So there's lots to buy, in theory at a better price than you could find domestically - but you just can't forget about that pesky cost of actually shipping it over.

So here, dear readers, is a breakdown of the Germany Horse Shopping Process.

Aside from my normal disclaimers of "this is my personal experience and I have no idea how normal it is" I will say that success in shopping abroad is directly correlated to how much you trust the people who are taking you. 

Lots of Trust led to getting this guy home

Getting There/Staying There:

Part of what kept my costs down was booking my airline ticket using miles.  Using miles also allowed me to upgrade to First Class which made me feel really extra-fancy, and also added to the sparkly-vacation-fun of the trip. 

However, since I wasn't sure if I'd be able to use miles, I did lots of googling, and would have booked a ticket on Lufthansa (in premium economy because I'm tall and hate feeling claustrophobic) for $2,500 round trip.  (also I should note I was looking for tickets about 6 weeks away from departure.. closer than I would usually plan a international ticket purchase..)

But because of the miles, my actual costs were like $27.63 for some random fee for taxes and whatever.

Once there, we relied on our contact to book a cute hotel for us.  He picked a charming little farm-hotel-B&B thing that wasn't over the top, but very comfortable and lovely.  I had no idea how much it cost, so when we checked out and it was only $80 a night, I was thrilled.  Since we were on the road so much looking at horses I'm glad we didn't splurge on a crazy hotel.  It was perfect, and the restaurant had great wine, great food and a cozy fireplace.

Getting around we rented a good sized Toyota station wagon thing, that I'm pretty sure we don't have in the states.  It was comfy, large enough that four of us didn't feel squished all week, and even with the extra insurance (which I usually never get) was about $250.  (Plus about $100 in fuel). 

Aside from the (great) breakfast that was provided at the hotel, we ate on the road, in small cafes and back at the hotel for dinners... so I really only spent another $100 on food in total. 

Trip Costs:

(Hypothetical) Airfare:  $2,500
                       Lodging:    $300
                       Car:            $350
                       Food:         $100

Potential Total: $3,250

On airline miles (and splitting the car with a friend) I did the trip for $575 once I was on the ground. (though I did pay for half my trainer's way as well..).  Pretty cheap, but turns out driving around and just looking at horses is the onlyeally cheap part of horse shopping.. Also, I'm not considering the fact that I justified a new winter coat or purse for the trip.

But I did.  Because... accessories. 

Horse Costs:

Obviously, there is a cost of the horse.  Since none of us ever agree on the same one, I'm going to ignore this line item (lol) and just look at the other associated costs.

The Pre-Purchase exam is also something that everyone does differently.  I know that the vet we opted to use was on the more expensive side.  He was a lameness specialist and one of the better radiologists in the area.   I already mentioned that my PPE was extensive to say the least, but my full set of x-rays, ultrasounds, scoping, and numerous videos (flexions, lunging, gait analysis, etc) cost me $2,600. 

To be honest, this was significantly less than I was expecting.  I also know from the other vetting that I watched, that a less.... extravagant vetting, (but still with extensive films) ran closer to $1,900. 

Of course, on top of that I had the exam reviewed by my local vet in the States... so tack another $500 on the top for her opinion on the films and review of his videos (both under saddle and from the PPE).  

Apparently when you do actually buy a horse it's "normal" that you don't pay for board while the horse waits to be shipped.  I don't really know why this is the case (it certainly wouldn't be in the States...) but I didn't mind. 

In my case, the transaction was finalized on November 16th, and Windsor shipped on the 23rd... If we had purchased a Stallion that needed to be castrated, that delay could be closer to a month, and would also add the cost of castration..

Actual transportation was the last Big Item to figure out.  By recommendation, we went through Horse Flight.  Having never done this before, I had no preconceived notion of what companies are good.. what companies are bad, etc... no idea.  Since our German Contact hadn't steered us wrong yet, we went with his contact and let them handle the details. 

Literally all I did was confirm the "ship to" address and gave them a visa.  I let them handle all door to door transit and organization.  This meant they picked the horse up, handled all the travel documentation, blood tests, etc. 

It was extremely easy from my end.  I did get a tad nervous since I never actually received a quote on the cost for all those services, but I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the entire process came in at $10,100.

Ten grand is a lot of money.  In fact, it's basically like going down to Thermal for 3 weeks (well... I could ship him half way back too..) but when I looked at the itemized invoice, no one thing seemed egregiously expensive.

His actual flight was about half the total cost ($4,800) on a KLM passenger flight from Amsterdam to LA. 

Transport from his home farm to the airport (and one night layover before his flight) was about $700, and transport from LA up to our barn was about $1,200 (including a 2 night layover during the holiday).

The required USDA quarantine was a significant portion as well ($3,000) and the remainder was all the odds and ends (health certificate, random government/airport fees, etc). 

Windsor's actual ticket cost almost exactly the same as a Business Class ticket on the same flight, and I'm pretty sure he had more space than that (something to consider in the future..).  I couldn't have hauled him myself from LA for any cheaper (not even considering the cost of time off, etc) and he arrived in pretty great condition, aside from the few nicks on his heels. 

(I did opt to extend my insurance coverage for the international trip, which at Markel is offered at 0.5% of insured cost.  If you aren't carrying a Mortality Policy with them, they will insure the trip only for 2% (I think).  I had heard some horror stories about shipping fever, or getting kicked or slipping on pavement during transit and felt that there half a percent was well worth the space of mind.. )

So, if you're daydreaming about importing a horse (and looking at how incredible the exchange rate is..) here's what I had to add to the Cost of the Horse, in order to get him home:

PPE in Germany:  $2,600
My Vet Review:       $500
Door-to-Door:     $10,100

Total Purchase/Import Costs: $13,200

Realistically if I had found a horse State-side, I would have been expecting to pay for a PPE and some transport anyway.  So if you're looking for a bargain overseas, expect to pay about $10,000 to get them to the West Coast (a little less to the East Coast). 


  1. Thanks for sharing! I know I really appreciate you being open about the costs of your experiences since it helps me frame whether or not its something I might be able to do (answer here is no.. lol) glad you were able to do it!

  2. I love that you shared this. Really helpful to see. I would love to import at some point in the future (grabby hands for a brad of my own)

  3. Very useful for those considering it! But your final number isn't really "Total purchase/impot costs" since you didn't actually state what the purchase price of the horse was. I don't blame you one bit. But perhaps you might consider a post on average asking price for horses in Germany to round out the perspective. It is invaluable to know what the exams and shipping etc will cost, don't get me wrong, but that all plays into comparison with the horse price, doesn't it? I mean, you are going there for something niiice, it'd be helpful to have a ballpark on asking for the horses themselves.

    1. As I said, I deliberately left that out because (aside from insurance) it seems like import costs are fixed regardless of value... a "free" horse in Germany is still going to cost you ~10k to get over here.. but so is a million-plus auction star...

      I am trying to figure out how to discuss some of the price ranges and quality that matched in a way that is respectful to the people who were showing us horses. For the horses that aren't officially "listed" as for sale, I don't feel that I have the right to post a video and list the given price. For horses that are actively on the market... it's different :)

  4. This is all fascinating to me - i guess being euro based in these situations plays into my favour. Pity the Lux - horse market is much smaller than Germany/France/Belgium/Netherlands - or you could all cut costs by staying with moi pour nada.

    1. I KNOW! Next time... next time I'll make a bigger tour ;)

    2. I hope you won't be replacing the magical unicorn anytime soon. You are more than welcome to come en famille to visit anytime. No need for a pony spending spree - although there will be ponies available to you if you feel so inclined. Mind mine will never be of the calibre you're used to riding *blush*

  5. Great post! I have always heard $10,000, too, so it is nice to see that it actually holds true! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Thanks for sharing! I was anxiously awaiting this post because I'm so curious what it costs to import a European horse from start to finish. It's actually less than what I was expecting (not including purchase price). Sounds like Windsor is money well spent :)

  7. Very interesting, thank you for sharing! I kept hearing the "about 10K" as well, but was wondering what that *actually* meant. Good to know it really is about 10K... just in case... ;)

  8. So neat - thank you for sharing what the actual breakdown of costs are.

  9. I always love your write ups! Then when people ask me about such things, I pretend to be super knowledgeable despite my total lack of boots-on-ground experience.

  10. very thoughtful and comprehensive (and honest!) summary - thanks for taking the time to write it all out. it's somehow heartening to learn that nothing looks particularly like a price gouge lol

  11. I love that you are open enough to share some of these dirty details, the mystery numbers are always so clouded that some of us would never go down that path just due to the fear of the unknown. That you are so thorough in your breakdown makes me so happy to read your write ups! While 13k is a good chunk of change, if you have it and are able to spend it, go for it if you are going to get exactly what you are looking for. Windsor sounds really great!

  12. Thank you so much for sharing this info with us. I wouldn't even know where to begin with that, and it is very fun to live vicariously through you!

  13. Thanks for posting this! That number is actually less than what I was expecting. Perhaps something realistic for me in the future!

  14. Interesting! Thank you for your perspective

  15. Super interesting, and I'm definitely going to store this info int he back of my brain for future use. Of course I'm sure with my luck whenever I finally get in the position to import, the Euro will be significantly stronger then the dollar.

  16. One thing I love about your blog is how you are willing to lay down the realistic costs of things. Not that I think I will ever get the chance to import a horse, but it is still nice to know!


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