Have you ever wondered how horses cross the ocean to compete in international competitions like the Olympics or FEI World Cup™ Finals? We are long past the days where the primary mode of transportation is boating through the ocean. In today’s competition landscape, your horse needs a passport and might enjoy a streaming subscription to watch a movie on the long flight. (Black Beauty, anyone?).
How do you prep?
Horses may need to be isolated for a pre-determined amount of time before their flight. Then, they need the appropriate bloodwork done by an approved veterinarian. Various steps are taken to ensure the horse is both healthy enough for the flight and that other horses from visiting countries will not be exposed to dangerous diseases. These include vaccinations!
Just like humans, horses get preventive vaccines to make sure they are in the best possible shape. The American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) sets the standard for vaccination guidelines. Horses especially need the equine herpesvirus (EHV) and equine influenza virus (EIV) vaccines¹. Additionally, their final destination might require specific vaccinations for the area.
The cost of the flight takes a lot more into consideration than simply buying a ticket and hopping on the plane. Some destinations are more expensive than others, especially when connecting flights are needed. Travel, especially international, costs thousands of dollars for a one-way ticket². These horses also fly with a professional flying groom, meaning not all grooms are able to come along for the ride due to limited space. These individuals are able to help with feeding, hydrations and sedation if needed.
Passports, bloodwork, vaccinations, insurance, length of stay and destination are all considered in the cost prior to buying the ticket.
Let’s talk the actual flight:
When you buy a plane ticket, you may buy a seat in coach, business class, or first class. Even horses abide by this standard of flying! While they can be transported on their own, they are often flown with other horses in specialized stalls. Coach flights allow three horses to a stall. While some humans might feel claustrophobic flying in close quarters, horses are herd animals and typically feel comfortable with the company. A horse flown in business class share a stall and a half with one other horse. This is the class that the horses are flown in to the Olympics. First class travel means the horse gets his or her own stall ³.
For the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the coordinators had to manage around 15 flights to and from the city. The horses are first loaded into their stalls, then the stalls are moved into the plane, similar to an empty tube. During the flight, coordinators keep track of the plane temperature, food, water, schedule and so much more. On one flight with 36 dressage horse, they had 10.5 gallons of water per horse, 132,000 pounds (60,000 kilos) of feed, and over 220,000 pounds (100,000 kilos) of equipment⁴. Proper food, hydration and rest is extremely important for the animal arriving safely to its destination.
Getting to the event:
In 2017, two businesses, Anderson Horse Transportation and Johnson Horse Transportation, hauled the horses from Eppley Airfield to the, then, CenturyLink Center. Thirty-eight horses had flown 4,400 miles from Amsterdam to compete in the FEI World Cup™️ Finals. They were then separated into five trailers to head to the event center with a police escort⁵.
After arrival to any competition, horses must quarantine and get bloodwork to ensure that no diseases are passed from horse to horse. At the World Cup in 2017, this was 48 hours. For Tokyo 2020, this was seven days after about two months of health monitoring . Quarantining keeps the domestic and international horses safe from diseases from other countries. It is also important for the horses’ team to carefully watch and make sure the horse is acting normally. This might include a heightened or lowered water consumption, how often they are resting, and their general mood. Regular temperature checks to monitor their wellbeing are also necessary in this process. These horses must be safely transported!
Have you flown your horse before?