While shipping your horse by air can be tricky, being prepared can make the trip a lot smoother. 

Few things are trickier than trying to ship a 1,000-pound animal halfway around the world, and then expecting him to perform at his peak once he arrives at his destination.

As most competitive riders know, a lot goes into getting an international performance horse to the country where he will be competing. A firm knowledge of equine care, a good shipping broker, and diligence in following the individual country’s rules are all mandatory if you plan to successfully ship your equine athlete out of the country for an event.

Probably the most difficult and complex aspect of shipping a horse overseas is trying to meet the health and vaccination requirements of the destination country. Every country has different requirements, and they change often. If you don’t meet the vaccination requirements of the host country, your horse can be denied entry.

The best way to avoid running into trouble with vaccines and other health requirements is to plan far ahead for international competition, making sure you know what the health requirements are for your destination country. Import and export health requirements can be very complex, and can vary for stallions, mares and geldings. Some countries require horses to be blood tested for different diseases. Other countries require pre- and post-export quarantine requirements.

Probably the best way to ensure your horse has met all the necessary health requirements is to make sure you are using a good shipping broker. Brokers do the work of making all the arrangements for your horses travel, from door to door. Since the broker you choose has such an important role in your horse’s trip, one who is experienced and responsible, and comes with plenty of references.

Once you have chosen a broker, it’s important to understand the broker’s responsibilities, as well as your own. The broker’s job is to make sure transportation goes smoothly by carefully coordinating all the arrangements.

While the shipping broker takes on the primary responsibility of getting the horse to its destination country, the owner of the horse also has obligations. The horse’s FEI passport must be up to date, and vaccinations given at the right time before travel. As the owner, it’s also your job to make sure the horse is fit for travel. You should let the broker know if your horse has any issues with loading, confinement or health. The owner should also give the broker a list of all equipment being shipped along with the horse.

Photo Credit to Ken Braddickm, The Dutta Corporation

Preparing Your Horse

Shipping overseas is stressful for horses, and with stress comes the increased chance of illness. Respiratory infections are common on overseas trips because stress lowers the horse’s immune system. Confined horses also can’t put their heads down far enough to clear their nasal passages and lower airways of mucus and debris. On top of this, the atmosphere in the enclosed cabin is conducive to high bacterial growth. Horses are sharing breathed air, and the humidity and the temperature inside the cabin can be high because of their combined body heat. This is a perfect environment for respiratory bacteria or viruses to grow.

The good news is that you can do a lot to prepare your horse for the long journey, and hopefully head off any problems that may lie ahead.

Start with a well-hydrated horse, and stop every few hours on the way to the airport, even if you can’t unload. Regular stops will help the horse relax and loosen up. If you are able to unload, walk the horse for 20 to 30 minutes, and encourage grazing if you can.

Make sure your horse can handle general travel well before even attempting a plane ride. The horse should be an experienced traveler who loads well, and doesn’t mind being in a confined area. If your horse has issues with loading or confinement, talk to your veterinarian. Some horses don’t travel well and have to be sedated en route or when being loaded. It’s important to have a calm horse in the air since a panicked horse could pose a hazard to personnel, other horses and to the physical integrity of the plane.

Make sure your broker makes arrangements to have your horse’s health monitored throughout the trip. Once the horse arrives at his destination, have his temperature checked twice a day to get a jump on any infection that may have started during the flight.

Once your horse has arrived, help him adjust to the new climate and surroundings. It’s important to get the horse moving and exercising when he gets off the plane. Muscle circulation is important so the horse doesn’t tie up, and so he can clear his airways. If you can’t turn him out, hand walk him for a few days before you start riding slowly under saddle.

While your horse is adjusting, make sure he is eating and drinking well, and having normal bowel movements. If he has weathered the trip without issue, he should be ready to compete in a week’s time.