Shipping Horses by Plane
 By Winniefield Park   •   20th Jun 2015   •   2,372 views   •   0 comments

Despite the fact horses donít have wings of their own, many do fly. Thousands of horses are transported by airplane across continents and over the oceans. Iíve known several people whoíve flown horses to Europe and Asia. In most cases, the owners benefited from fund raisers as the cost of flying and competition is costly - about $10,000 was required for the trip. In some cases, itís a lot easier to put a horse on an airplane, than have it trailered for days to get from one side of the country to the other.

Shortly after people started flying in planes, so did horses. Racehorses were frequently shipped by airplane by the 1950s. Large planes like 747s can carry dozens of horses, and those who can afford the trip donít think twice about putting their horses in the air.

Any sort of transportation can be stressful for horses. Changes in environment, handlers, feeding schedules, noise levels and motion can stress a horse. Some can handle traveling better than others. In a study done by the Japanese Racing Association, the heart rate of six Warmbloods was monitored during quarantine, trailering, pre-flight wait time and during a flight. They discovered that while trailered, the horses were initially stressed, but their heart rate decreased after the first hour. While in the air however, the horseís heart rates remained slightly above normal, despite acting calm.

Many of us have heard stories of horses freaking out in trailers. Horses fall in trailers, kick walls, end up upside down and get loose. Iíve even heard of one horse that escaped out the trailer window, ending up on the highway. Thankfully, the horse ended up with only a few broken teeth, and didnít cause a worse accident. But on a plane, a horse having a panic attack due to the noise, vibration and confinement will be quickly sedated. If the panic increases to the point where the sedation does not work, the pilot may order the horse to be euthanized. This is rare, but can happen. Air travel itself may not be any more stressful than ground travel, but when a horse panics, thereís no way to simply unload it to calm it down.

Like you and I, horses can feel the effect of the changes of air pressure while flying. Take offs and landings tend to be the worst part of the flight. Turbulence can be as upsetting for a horse as it is for the human passengers. And like you and I, horses may end up bumping elbows with their neighbors, as the most common way of transporting horses in the air is to put them in a container just big enough for two or three. A very special horse might travel solo.

Flying with your horse isnít just a matter of buying a ticket and showing up at the airport. There will be lots of paperwork to do, depending on where you are landing. If you use a carrier that specializes in horses, they might do this for you. The airline may also require you bring, or will supply a new halter and leadrope. And unlike riding in a trailer, horses that fly donít wear leg wraps or boots during transport. During the flight, trained attendants make sure that horses have hay to eat, and are watered regularly, since flight is as drying for horses as it is for humans. During any transport there is a risk of colic and of shipping fever, a pneumonia type respiratory problem caused by dust particles. And like humans, horses get jet lag. The difference in time zones, the stress of the flight and the adaptation to a different climate, can leave a horse very fatigued, which is why horses used for competition are given several days, or even weeks to adjust and rest before they are expected to perform.

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