Horses often join fruit and TVs to travel internationally
Most horse people will never have cause to board a treasured equine on a plane, let alone actually fly right along with it. But for a certain group of professionals, the ins and outs of getting thousands of pounds of horseflesh on and off a flying contraption are routine.
I thought it would be interesting to walk through the process of shipping a horse internationally via air. Procedures vary, depending on the requirements of the receiving country.
First, horses need to have a health certificate similar to the ones most horse owners who ship interstate are familiar with. Vaccinations for international health certificates are contingent upon what the destination country requires, so horses may sometimes have innoculations before and after a flight.
International import and export points in the United States are John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City and Miami International Airport. I did a recent export for three horses traveling from Athens, Ga. through Miami to Grand Cayman Island. Here’s what happened.
Just a quick note about quarantine facilities — there’s a team of professionals on staff at each one in the U.S. who adhere to stringent regulations to keep diseases from entering or exiting the country. Horses in these locations get daily vet inspections. Fly, bird and rodent control is a big deal — in fact, a lot of these stables have screens surrounding them to keep out living things that might bring in pathogens. They’re responsible for spotting diseases that have already taken hold in their equine charges, and they have to look for potential carriers like ticks.
Staff often enters the stabling area with full protective equipment, including gloves and booties. Their whole goal is to create an environment where disease can’t get in or out. Things are done not just to protect the horses that are coming in but also the other horses already in country. These quarantine teams are essentially responsible for the entire population of horses in the U.S.
Low risk factors
Now, the trip I described above was a smooth one, but I’ve flown enough now with horses that even when there’s a bobble, I can usually smooth things over. For instance, I was helping transport a horse to the the Caymans when he injured his eyelid en route to the airport. The team was on a timeline, and we decided I would sew the small laceration on the plane. So there I was, several miles above Cuba, putting in six sutures. The horse continued its journey with no further setbacks.
When you think about the number of horses that travel in and out of the U.S., it seems pretty incredible that we can pull off events like the World Equestrian Games, which recently took place in Tryon, North Carolina. We didn’t have any new diseases to contend with here after the visiting WEG horses left, and there were no major injuries.
When you consider all the moving pieces in the flying process, it’s amazing how low we’ve whittled the risk factors. So, now that you have some insight into how horses fly, next time you see an FEI event on TV with its gleaming dressage horses or high-flying jumpers, you’ll know a little more about how those athletes got from their home countries into the sandbox or the timed arena.