What’s The Best Way To Transport A Horse Overseas?

With advances in modern technology, the advent of the internet and cheaper fights the world has become a much smaller place these days, that is until you decide to take your horse overseas. There are a number of ways a horse can travel overseas but the most popular way (and the best for the horse) is by plane.

How do you transport a horse?

By far the most common way that horses are transported overseas is by air, it’s quicker, safer and better for the horse than any other method of transportation but how do the horses actually travel?

While some animals do travel in regular passenger planes this isn’t the case for horses, instead they travel in special cargo planes. Horses are usually put into stalls on the ground that can take up to three horses, these stalls have divider walls that can be removed to give the horse more room. If your horse is traveling first class then he’ll get the whole stall to himself, whereas if he’s traveling business class he’ll share it with another horse while coach class means that three horses will share the stall. After all of the horses are in the stalls are then lifted onto the plane. 

You can often fly with your horse but as you’ll be travelling via cargo plane there’s no air stewards or stewardess to bring you food nor is there an inflight movie so make sure you’re prepared for this. If you are traveling with your horse then during the flight you’ll need to make sure that the horse is kept fully hydrated and feed them little and often, especially if your horse is prone to eating too quickly and it’s a long flight.

Do horses suffer from jet lag?

You might expect that if a horse is flying half way around the world then they’d experience jet lag just the same as we do yet you’d be wrong. With people flying horses all over the world for various competitions you can imagine that a lot of research has gone into the effects this could have on the horse and it’s performance. The results of this research have shown that, contrary to what you may think, horses don’t suffer from jet lag in the same way we do.

The main reason for this lack of of jet lag is down to the way that horses sleep. We spend around a third of our day asleep but rather than having lots of little naps we get all of our sleep in one block. Horses on the other hand spend less than 15% of their day asleep with this being spread across the whole day, in fact an adult horse won’t spend more than ten minutes asleep at any one time.

On top of not suffering from jet lag horses do in actual fact travel better by air than they do but any other means. 

Do horses get seasick?

The seas can be very unpredictable and while we would all want them to be calm and level when we’re at sea the chances are that this won’t always be the case and horses are no different to us in that they can often suffer from seasickness. 

Science is constantly making new discoveries and new research always leads to a better understanding of things, but it was in fact research carried out by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in the early 1900’s that showed horses do suffer from seasickness. Like all explorers Shackleton kept detailed records of his journey and its these records that show how the horses and ponies (and all of the other animals on board) suffered. He noted that during the stormy weather the horses showed signs of deep distress, confusion and even dizziness. 

While cats and dogs are able to take medication to help them deal with seasickness sadly there’s no pharmaceutical option for horses. Instead you can use things such as lavender oil to help keep the horse calm. You can either use a diffuser, spray a little in the trailer or try rubbing some on your horse’s halter. Research carried out at the University of Arizona showed that lavender can help to lower a horse’s heart rate and help to keep them calm.

Are there alternatives to flying a horse?

If you’re worried about the carbon footprint of traveling by air then there are alternatives, such as by sea, road or even rail, but while they may be better for the environment are they really any better for the horse? 

Travelling by sea

Transporting a horse by boat can be a great alternative to air in terms of the environment but when it comes to the horse it’s a different story. Long before Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight we were transporting horses by sea so there’s no doubt that they can travel in a boat but what most history books won’t tell you though is how the horses coped with traveling by sea. In fact horses, along with all animals, can suffer from seasickness. It’s not sure why they do but it’s thought that the motion of the boat and the lack of vision (horses tend to travel below deck with the other vehicles) to help the brain explain the motion causes the senses to be confused with seasickness being the result. Seasickness in horses can be more serious than it can in other animals due to the horse’s inability to vomit, instead of vomiting a horse is likely to suffer from colic.

On top of the suffering from seasickness transporting your horse by boat can take a long time and your horse will have to remain in his trailer for the duration of the journey. Depending on the weather condition and the ferry company you’re using there many also be a long delay before you’re even allowed to board the boat. Will your horse be okay with spending prolonged periods of time in the trailer while being stationary?

Travelling by road

Okay so traveling by boat isn’t the best option, what about transporting your horse by road instead? Let’s presume for the sake of arguments that you need to transport your horse to another country that you can get to without needing to cross any expanse of water. In this case traveling by car could be a good alternative to flying but the journey is likely to be a very long one. 

One of the drawbacks to travelling long distances by road without stopping though is that the horse won’t be able to sleep. This is because he trailer will constantly be changing its speed as well as direction the horse will need to keep rebalancing himself and therefore won’t be able to sleep. This is why if you are going to travel long distances it’s important to stop regularly, let your horse stretch his legs and have a little nap if necessary.

Travelling by rail

Lastly what about travelling by rail? There’s no doubt that the carbon footprint of traveling by rail is much lower than that of a plane and what’s more important is that, unlike transporting horses by sea or road, horses are able to sleep and won’t suffer from seasickness. Research has shown that horses traveling by rail are no more likely to suffer from motion sickness than they are if they travel by road but the advantage of rail is that any changes in speed and direction are progressive, therefore horses don’t need to continually rebalance themselves and are able to sleep.

The main drawback to transporting horses by rail is that you have to go where the railroad goes and that could be many miles from where you actually want to go. That said if flying was out of the question and I had to find another alternative to transporting my horses I would opt for taking them by rail. Yes there would probably be a further journey by road but that would be far shorter than it would have been if I’d made the whole journey by road.

How much does it cost to fly a horse overseas?

The cost of flying a horse overseas is dependant on so many facts such as where you’re flying to and from, how many horses are travelling and what class their travelling in. While it’s not really possible to list the cost of every flight to and from every country, to give an idea of the price I’ve listed the cost for a 10 year old Quarter Horse travelling in coach class from USA to UK and Australia as well as the cost of the return journeys.

USAUKAustralia
USA$10,200 / £7,890$21,950 / AUD $31,825
UK£8,510 / $11,000£14.850 / AUD $27,738
AustraliaAUD $28,200 / $19,450AUD $13,000 / £6,995

The costs above include 30 days pre-export quarantine (which is required if your horse is going to spend more than 60 days out of the country) or a 14 day pre-export and 14 day post-export if you’re travelling to Australia, vet preparation, pre-flight boarding, professional in-flight groom, shipping supplies such as food, water and bedding as well as agency fees. The cost doesn’t, however, include transportation to the pre-flight farm where the horse will spend his quarantine, foreign charges and insurance. Most companies won’t transport a horse without at least mortality and transit insurance.

Do I need any special paperwork to make my horse abroad?

Every country is different and requirements will vary from country to country so its important to check with what paperwork you will need before you leave. Most countries do require a horse passport, a certificate of veterinary inspection (or CVI) and a negative Coggins test as well as proof that the horse has been vaccinated against certain conditions such as equine influenza. Depending on the country you’re travelling from your horse may also need to stay in quarantine although this is becoming far less common these days.

Do I need special insurance for my horse to travel overseas?

While some horse transport companies do have insurance companies they work with it’s always better to speak to your current insurance provider. They will be able to add a transit policy to your cover but will also be able to tell you if there are any geographical limitations on the cover you already have.

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