International Horse Shipping
A Guide to Navigating The World of Equine Air Travel
How to Ship Horses
There are flying horses, and then there is flying horses. While the former refers to Icelandic breeds famed for their ‘flying pace,’ the latter involves something much more practical: the international shipping of horses around the world.
Transporting horses around the globe is an emerging market, due to racehorses, show jumpers, polo ponies commonly flying across the globe to partake in their competitive endeavors.
But international shipping isn’t only for the equestrian elite, in fact, many a hobby rider and keen amateur has happily bought or sold a horse internationally with relative ease.
The preparation that goes into shipping a horse is often the most intensive stage of equine travel, with quarantine, health certificates, and transport just a few of the areas requiring your attention.
Let’s take a look into the step by step process, using the example of buying a horse from another country:
Every country in the world has rules in place for transporting livestock across borders, and if you’re planning on buying a horse from another country - your first point of action is to look into the cost and logistics of quarantining.
There are specialist horse transport companies, such as The Dutta Corporation, who, aside from providing the international transportation itself, also help their clients navigate paperwork, quarantine, vets, cargo handlers, and airport staff.
If you do choose to book a quarantine facility yourself, be sure to do your homework! The first horse that I shipped internationally ended up arriving quite thin, as, in my inexperience, I had focused on cost over quality of services provided.
Questions to ask your potential quarantine provider:
How often are they fed?
What feed is provided to them?
Do they have constant access to water?
Are they turned out?
If so, is this into individual grazing or an arena?
Now that you’ve found your dream horse, and decided on the quarantine facility where they will spend some “holiday time” before heading home to you... you need to figure out how they will be getting there.
Many equestrian transport companies exist, but it’s essential to find the right one for your horse - one who focuses on animal care as opposed to the speed of transit.Questions to ask your potential transporter:
How many miles do you travel per day?
How often do you stop to let the horses rest
How often are the horses given water
Is your unit air-conditioned or heated (depending on climate)
How are the horses partitioned away from one another?
If your horse is crossing state or county lines, you will most likely require health paperwork to certify that they are free from infectious disease, and have had the necessary vaccinations.
The rules for which vaccinations required vary by country and area, but you can easily find out what is needed from the veterinarian who conducted the pre-purchase examination of your new horse!
It’s worth noting that in some cases if your horse is not up to date with his shots - he will have to stay put until he has had the relevant boosters, and a certain incubation period has occurred.
So, check with the current owner of your horse before booking a transport company, quarantine, and flight - otherwise, it could cost you a pretty penny.
Going To The Airport
Some quarantine providers include hauling your horse to the airport within their costs, but if they don’t - you should consult with your international horse shipping company about whether this is a service that they can provide.
International Health Papers
Once your horse arrives at the airport - he will have to go through security checks to ensure that he has the correct paperwork, and veterinary checks to ensure that he’s fit to fly.
If you won’t be there to hand over all of the paperwork, make sure to work with a reputable company that you can trust to have everything in order.
Depending on the country you’re shipping to, and whether the move is permanent or temporary -- in the case of International competition horses -- you will need specific test result paperwork and vaccine records.
All of the information on exactly what you need will ordinarily be emailed to you by your shipping company when you request a price quotation for a specific route.
Horses can be transported aboard large cargo planes, these planes are large, state of the art aircraft and although not equipped with rows of seats like a conventional passenger plane - have room for the specially designed shipping containers that act as your horses stable in the sky.
Custom-built equine aircraft also exist, with even better facilities to tend to every need of your equine, these are commonly used for racehorses and international competition horses who will frequently be flying.
Feeding and Watering
You’ll likely be jealous to hear that our flying horsey pals have an even more luxurious set-up than we do when it comes to airplane food. Their food and water is delivered and closely monitored by grooms. In fact, did you know that the highly trained in-flight grooms feed the horses at specific times and make adjustments based on time zone changes; this helps to practically eliminate the risk of in-flight colic, and reduces jet-lag - yep, that’s right, horses get it too!
In aircraft adapted for horses, lights are usually kept on ensure the horses’ circadian rhythms stay constant, while a cool cabin keeps them fresh. As well as this, a veterinarian is usually on board to monitor the health of all of the four-legged passengers.
Equines tend to be no-fuss airplane passengers, and often stay calm throughout flights. Taking off, adjusting to changes in altitude, and landing tends to be the most stressful periods, but overall the flight itself is a calm event that very rarely requires sedatives, although they are on hand in case of an emergency.
Once the wheels touch down in a new country, all horses will be taken to the airports animal quarantine zone for rest, additional health checks.
A rise in temperature can be an early indicator of travel sickness, so closely monitoring their temperatures is a crucial step to be taken by a licensed vet.
Depending on the nation that they are flying into, and from - the rules and timeline of quarantine will vary, this is something that your shipping company will also make you aware of.
When the quarantine period is over -- sometimes after only a few hours -- it’s the time that you’ve been waiting for… to pick up your pony pal and take him home!
But first things first - you have to take care of that pesky import tax bill. This is based on the price which you paid for your horse, and therefore your horse's paperwork must include a bill of sale.
Many first-time importers overlook this fee and ultimately end up going well over budget on their horses.
Passports and Microchips
Depending on the destination and origin - you may require a passport to transport your horse -- in the UK for example -- legally, all horses are expected to travel with their passport or risk a fine of up to £5000.
Other countries require the animal to be microchipped, and some require both.
As mentioned previously, horses should exercise very lightly in the days immediately following a flight, as their bodies, like ours, are more prone to stress during this period. Instead, this time is best used for helping them acclimatize to their new environment through hand-walking and grazing.
After a few days, more moderate training can safely commence, but the equines, if traveling for an event, still must not endure heavy preparation work.
If you plan to buy a new horse ready for the competition season, it’s worth noting that, on average, it takes two weeks after arriving in a new destination for your horse to sufficiently acclimatize and be ready for an event.
This does depend on how strenuous the activity is, and the fitness level of the horse pre-flight.
Shipping horses is, in ways, a challenging process which should be approached with care. Our horses rely on us to care for them, and therefore it’s vital to use reputable shipping companies who consider their top priority, like yours, the welfare of your four-legged friend.
Do your research, have your paperwork in place, and you’ll likely find that shipping a horse internationally isn’t the stressful experience that you expected it to be… with the most splendid result of owning your dream horse!