New FEI Rule Charges $1,000 Fee for Passport Name Changes, Adding Prefixes

Photo via the FEI Photo via the FEI

A new FEI rule regarding name changes has made waves in the eventing community since it came into effect on January 1. All owners obtaining an FEI passport must now use the name that appears in the first recorded document for the horse, or pay a $1,000 fee to change the name or add a commercial prefix.

The FEI will first default to the name of the horse in a document issued at birth. If that is not applicable, then the FEI will look to the name used in the horse’s first studbook document. If the horse is not registered with a studbook, then the name is based on what is recorded in the first original document issued for the horse, such as a national passport.

An FEI spokesperson told EN that the intent of the rule is to “(ensure) transparency and clarity — the same process for everyone in the international equestrian community. The FEI has consulted with its National Federations on this, as it does with all rule changes. This system is designed to benefit everyone, from breeders with respect to the birth name, to sponsors who see the value of naming horses.”

Carol Gee has long known the value of naming horses. After a successful career in both marketing and competitive eventing, Carol started a new venture as a producer and seller of event horses about 15 years ago. She later began attaching the name Fernhill to the horses, a nod to the landscape at her base in Kilkenny, Ireland, and as a way to track the horses that came through her yard.

“Today the Fernhill name is a stamp of quality that says the horse has been sourced by someone with experience and a good reputation who cares about the horse after it is sold,” Carol said. “People who buy a horse from me buy it because they want a Fernhill horse, and they want to keep the name.”

Carol believes a better solution would be for the FEI to allow producers and sellers like Fernhill to pay a one-time fee to register a commercial prefix, which would then allow the prefix to be affixed to the name without incurring a penalty each time a horse is registered.

“I cannot see the logic. If they want to charge us, then charge us a one-off fee,” Carol said. “If the FEI feels like they have to make some sort of money on name changes, then just make it once. Why should they punish us and our clients?”

Since this new FEI naming rule came into effect, Carol has paid approximately €42,000 to keep the prefix on the Fernhill horses and prevent the financial burden of the fee from falling to her clients.

“I feel like the FEI does not want to recognize successful producers, and they’re now reaping the rewards of my business because I’ve been successful,” Carol said. “It’s hard enough to make a living and be honest and hardworking without someone putting an obstacle in your way.”

Richard Sheane, a successful producer of event horses under the Cooley name, expressed his own frustration with the FEI naming rule in a statement on Facebook.

“The FEI claim that they want to charge those that use a ‘commercial’ name. To us this sounds crazy in a sport where we should be welcoming with open arms anybody that wishes to invest in the sport. … There is no doubt that the ‘Cooley’ name has been a great way to advertise our horses, but in reality the new owners surely have the right to call their horses whatever they choose without being financially penalized as a result,” Richard said.

“We of course have a lot of horses that proudly carry our name but what about the small producer that perhaps only registers three horses a year with their prefix. What about them? How can they grow their business if they have to carry this ridiculous fee? The FEI are takers of the sport and not givers. They are not open to suggestions of how we can fix this issue. We already have to pay huge entries for FEI events. In our opinion this is just one step too far in a sport that already carries many high costs.”

Liz Halliday-Sharp partners with Richard in Cooley Horses International, which brings Cooley horses to her base at Horsepower Equestrian in Ocala, Florida, to be sold during the winter season. She recently paid the $1,000 fee to keep the commercial prefix for Gorsehill Cooley, her 6-year-old Irish Sport Horse gelding that will compete at Le Lion d’Angers later this year.

“I felt it was important to our business to keep the Cooley name on a horse that is aimed for the Young Horse World Championships,” Liz said. “It is a difficult situation to be in when a horse has kept one name throughout much success and you are suddenly faced with either paying out $1,000 or changing the name. It puts many of us in an awkward position.”

There are numerous others beyond the Fernhill and Cooley names that will face the implications of the rule: Frances Stead of Clifton; Paul Donavan of Sportsfield; Clayton Fredericks, who uses the FE prefix for Fredericks Equestrian; the Raylyn Farms’ RF prefix — the list goes on and on.

(Horses registered with a prefix like Ringwood would not incur the fee if the horse was bred at Ringwood Stud. The FEI is not charging the $1,000 fee for horses obtaining a passport with a name that includes a breeding prefix as long as the horse was bred at that breeder’s facility.)

Off-track Thoroughbred owners also will feel the financial weight of this naming rule change, as the FEI confirmed to EN that changing a Thoroughbred’s Jockey Club name when obtaining an FEI passport will incur the $1,000 fee.

“In the case of Thoroughbreds, if (owners) have a document establishing a birth name before the registration with the Jockey Club the FEI will consider this initial document and the name in it,” an FEI spokesperson told EN. “If there is no document establishing a birth name before the registration with the Jockey Club, the FEI will use the name attributed at Jockey Club time as the horse birth name.”

Thankfully, Donner, Anthony Patch and Shiraz already have FEI passports. Otherwise they could be representing the U.S. as Smart Gorky, Alex’s Castledream, and Bold and Burley, respectively.

Lesley Grant-Law penned a strongly worded blog on the topic of “name taxing” for and made a sobering point directed at all off-track Thoroughbred owners.

“Think about it! Those Jockey Club names? You better like them, as you are stuck with them unless you want to pay $1,000 down the road when you want a passport,” Lesley said. “Has it sunk in now? My two first horses Chloe and Snappy would have been A la Bencher and Fiddle’s Lil … the HORROR.”

(The horror, indeed. My own first Thoroughbred’s Jockey Club name was Va Pipeline.)

Many are questioning the FEI’s intent in implementing the rule. While the FEI’s statement to EN emphasized the desire to ensure transparency, one could argue that requiring all newly registered FEI horses to be microchipped — an FEI rule that has been in place since 2013 — safeguards against horse swapping or other illegal practices.

Lesley explained it this way in her blog: “For every one evil doer out there trying to illegally pass off a horse, surely there are 1,000 of us that don’t want to get stuck with terrible names? But I guess from now on we the masses are paying for the foul play of the few … or more than likely, the FEI has just found a brilliant way to make A WHOLE lot more money.”

The sheer size of the $1,000 naming fee has also been called into question, as many have argued that it seems disproportionally high to the relatively lower $300 cost to register a horse for an FEI passport.

Horse owners preparing to embark on the FEI registration process now have two options: Revert to the horse’s original name — even if the horse has competed under a different name for an extended period of time — or pay the $1,000 fee to officially change the name on the passport.

The FEI has published guidelines and examples of name changes that will incur the fee at this link. (Note the exceptions to the $1,000 fee at the bottom of the document. Adding the initials of a non-profit organization or state organization, adding non-commercial initials and shortening a name will incur a smaller $200 fee.)

What do you think of this new FEI rule, EN? Are you now stuck with a certain name on a horse? Would you pay the $1,000 penalty to change it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

This story has been updated to clarify how the FEI defines the “horse birth name.” Click here for additional naming guidelines from the FEI.