Shipping horses over long distances can be a daunting but rewarding undertaking. Many breeders, trainers, exporters and equestrians eventually find themselves needing to transport a horse over a long distance via air or land travel.

Even settled horse owners may need to ship their horses long-haul as a result of a relocation. Knowing how to prepare your horse for long-haul shipping can save you some stress and protect the health and well-being of your horse.

For the purposes of this guide, long-haul travel is defined as transporting your horse to a new location for more than 12 hours in a trailer or any duration of travel on an airplane.

During these extended trips, horses must stand for long hours in a small moving box that shifts constantly, tolerate temperature and weather changes, and adapt to changes in their routine and social grouping.

These kinds of events are major stressors to horses, both physically and psychologically. It is up to you as their caregiver to prepare your horse and plan their trip to ensure an easy transition to their new environment.

Shipping Horses Long Distances

Long-distance travel with a horse may involve land, air or water. The most common shipping method is road transport in a trailer towed by a vehicle.

However, every year an estimated 30,000 horses are flown around the world in specially designed equine airplanes. [22] Horses may also be transported on trains or ships, but these methods are not as common.

The shipping method you choose will depend on the following factors:

  • Distance
  • Budget
  • Suitability of the horse for travel
  • Availability and timeline

Distance

The first factor to consider is where and how far your horse needs to travel. Does some or all of the journey involve transportation over large bodies of water or challenging terrain?

Will shipping the horse over land extend the journey compared to air travel? Are direct flights possible, or is your destination far away from suitable airports?

If you are importing a horse from overseas (i.e. travelling between Europe and North America), flying is your only option. However, if you are travelling within the continent, you may have the option of shipping over land or by air.

Some distances are too long or challenging to traverse with a vehicle and trailer. In these circumstances, flying may be your only option.

Image: Horses prepare for loading onto a specialized equine aircraft.Transporting Horses by Airplane

Budget

Which form of transportation is within your budget? If trailering your horse, the cost of the trip will depend on the distance to be travelled, the number of horses being transported, and current fuel prices.

Shipping companies also adjust their prices to reflect insurance costs, wear and tear to the vehicle and trailer, toll costs incurred along the route and the driver’s total travel time.

If flying your horse, expect to pay higher prices since air travel is more expensive and more people are required to make the trip. Flying with a horse requires a pilot, a co-pilot, one or more flight grooms to care for horses, and other staff involved in organizing the flight.

These costs can add up quickly but may be made more economical by putting as many horses on the plane as possible. Some cargo planes can hold between 15 – 20 horses, while other specialized aircraft can hold up to 87 horses. Splitting costs is at the discretion of the shipper, but most companies will try to fill their capacity to reduce costs for the client.

Airplane tickets for horses cost anywhere between $5,000 to $30,000 for flights within the United States. If you need a private charter, flights can cost upwards of $100,000.

Extra Costs

Depending on local and international guidelines, you may also need to factor in quarantine costs at your horse’s destination. Shipped horses may be quarantined in a biosecurity facility to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Horses may also need veterinary examinations or blood tests to ensure they do not have any communicable diseases before being released from quarantine.

The costs of quarantine and required veterinary exams are the responsibility of the horse owner. If you are flying with your horse, expect to spend $2,000 to $10,000 on quarantine expenses.

Also, prepare an emergency fund in case your horse’s trip is disrupted, or they need unexpected veterinary care while being shipped.

Suitability of Horse for Travel

When deciding how to transport your horse, consider your horse’s general demeanour and past experiences with travel. Also, consider their overall health, body condition and any special care needs.

Does trailering tend to cause your horse a lot of stress? Are they generally tolerant of loud noises and strange people, or do they have an anxious temperament?

Considerations for Air Travel

Both travel by air and trailering over land can be stressful for horses. But some horses benefit from shorter-duration trips and may be better off being flown to their destination.

Keep in mind that horses are herd-based prey animals and are naturally wary of new surroundings and changes in routine. Travelling by air involves bringing your horse to new, noisy facilities away from their normal social grouping and with unfamiliar human handlers.

Depending on governmental regulations, your horse may have to remain in quarantine with no turnout for several days upon arrival, undergoing blood tests to ensure they do not have any communicable diseases.

Staff working at these facilities are knowledgeable about horse care, but they are new people that your horse does not know. Some horses may be better off travelling by land to avoid the additional stress.

Considerations for Land Travel

Long-duration land travel comes with its own set of risks and complications. Horses travelling by trailer can spend more time in a small space without freedom of movement, increasing the risk of colic. [1]

The movement of a trailer also requires a great