International riders in the UK are reeling at an unexpected consequence of Brexit ‒ a drastic price hike in Eurotunnel tickets for horses.

The Eurotunnel, also known as the Channel Tunnel or Chunnel, is a 50.45-km railway tunnel that runs beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover and is the only fixed link between the island of Great Britain and the European mainland.

Since January 1 the French-owned tunnel operator has imposed, without notice, a one-way £385 ($665 CAD) surcharge per horse, on top of the £400 ticket for the vehicle.

Last year was a transitory stage before the UK’s total withdrawal from the European Union, during which DEFRA ‒ the UK’s food and agriculture agency ‒ did an enormous amount of work to prepare horse transporters for the new documentation required by both their animals and vehicles at border control. However, many have been caught by surprise by Eurotunnel’s decision.

Henry Bullen, director of global transportation company Peden, understood the price increase was blamed on the cost of building a new inspection facility near the port at Calais. He hoped it would be swiftly reviewed.

The 31-mile Eurotunnel opened in 1994. Horses were not allowed until 2010, in preparation for the London 2012 Olympic Games. The service continued after the Games, and became popular with the hundreds of British riders who compete frequently in continental Europe. A Eurotunnel crossing takes around 35 minutes, with at least four services an hour and minimal boarding time.

The shortest sea ferry route, from Dover to Calais, takes 90 minutes not including loading and is often subject to delays and bumpy seas. Ferry crossings cost around £120-200 per transporter, irrespective of how many horses are carried. There is no confirmation yet that ferry operators will raise fees, although a surcharge in the range of £90 per horse is rumoured.
Last week asked Getlink, corporate owner of Eurotunnel, for comment but received no reply.

The impact on British riders competing abroad, and on European riders attending shows in the UK and Ireland (which remains in the EU), will not become clear until the worst of the pandemic has passed. Most major UK shows and events have been cancelled since April. Moreover, England is in its third national lockdown.

Dane Rawlins, long-time organiser of the Hickstead CDIO, lives in the south of England but has ridden for Ireland since 2011. “We used to manage with the ferry and I guess we will do it again,” he said. “But it could deter European riders from coming here. Our international shows may end up mostly contested by the ‘fake foreigners’ living here like me!

“Someone has dropped the ball. The UK used to have a tripartite agreement with Ireland and France which I believe predated the EU. The UK is still top rated on animal hygiene, so what is going on? The government still seems to think of horses as a rich man’s hobby so we would not have been a priority when they were scrambling to reach the trade deal at the very end of 2020.”

Of the new EU requirements for horse transportation, truck approval is causing most headaches. Crazily, the new certificates could not be obtained in advance, so people are now driving empty trucks to France and back to achieve this.

In November, Eurotunnel advised it would be limiting the number of animals transported by one person at a time to five, although it exempted sport horses and racehorses. That decision distressed the many UK charities coordinating the rehoming of dogs which have been abandoned in Europe.