• Flying with horses

    Do you wonder how it's done?

    Have you thought about how horses fly?

    Horses cannot travel in the usual planes that you and I would travel in – they have to travel in cargo planes, and not all cargo planes can carry horses – so moving from A to B is not as simple as it is for humans.


    Each country has a specific set of rules for importing and exporting horses, and not all countries accept horses from other countries, so sometimes movement might be via another country, where rules have to be complied with before horses can move on to the next country.


    Sometimes it is just too difficult or too expensive to get a horse into a certain country, due to the requirements or the lack of country-to-country protocol.


    Countries on what needs to be complied with before shipping set the protocol – each country would have its own import protocol. So to send a horse to country A might have a very different procedure than sending it to Country B. Some can be very time consuming and frustrating, while others are simpler.


    Paperwork aside, the shipping can be frustrating, as cargo flights don’t always operate to the same timeframe as passenger flights, they can be delayed, diverted, cancelled and even moved forward to an earlier time. They also don’t run as often as you might think – sometimes once a fortnight or even only once a month.



    The type of containers that horses travel in varies according to the type of airplane – here we will show you some photos of different shipments that we have completed.



    The container


    The containers that the horses travel in are generally called ‘pallets’ each pallet can carry a maximum of 3 horses – some pallets have movable partitions and can travel 2 horses, or even 1 horse in bigger spaces (think economy ticket, business and first class) – the pricing obviously works in the same manner – as the space on the plane is filled by the pallet regardless of whether there is one horse or 3 horses in it – only the weight of the pallet changes.

    Different types of HMD

    The container that the horses travel in

    Small airplane – so these horses travel in an open pallet, as there is no room in the plane for the pallet to have a cover on it.

    The pallet is constructed on the pivot (pivot is the term used for the base plate, that is moved from the ground to the plane, the pallet itself in this case has no base, so it is strapped to the pivot to be more secure).

    How do they get up there?

    The loading process

    The horses are loaded on to the pallet by way of a ramp, if they are loaded on the ground they are then moved by fork lift onto the trolley which takes them to the plane. Loading them in situ reduces the risk, although it is not without risk whichever method is used.

    Once on board

    Hanging around

    Once the horses are loaded we make sure they have enough hay and are settled before moving off. If it is a long flight we need ensure there is enough hay and water for the duration and to allow enough extra in case of delays.

    Moving off

    Getting weighed

    Once they are secured in the pallet they are then moved to the plane, via a weighbridge. Weighing the horses is important as the weights of the pallets is used to ensure that the plane has the weight evenly distributed throughout – all cargo is on pivots and every pivot is weighed to allow for the calculations to be made.

    Preparing to board

    Going to the lift

    The loading is done via a scissor lift (high loader), they move the pallet on to the lift and then raise the lift and slide the pallet into the plane. Everything here has rollers so they are fairly easy to move.

    Entering the plane

    Doorway size

    In this situation the door to the plane is fairly small, you can see how tight it is when the horses are pushed into the plane

    Into position

    Weight distribution is essential

    Once in the plane they push the pallet into position, either forwards or backwards depending on where in the plane the pallet is positioned for weight distribution. Obviously the pallets are loaded on to the plane in the correct order as they cannot move them once they are aboard.

    Neck Straps

    Keeping the horse low

    In this situation, you can see the ropes around the horses necks – these ropes are to stop the horse rearing up and putting its head through the roof of the plane – or of course injuring themselves on the roof.

    Biting Boards


    The boards between the horses are to stop them biting or annoying each other, they are not always necessary, it depends on the horses themselves. This picture shows 2 stallions and a mare travelling in the same pallet, so in this case, they were required.

    Travelling Groom

    The key person

    Once in the plane the horses travel with grooms, usually experienced people who have travelled with horses before and who know how to react if a situation arises. As no one knows how the horses will react it is fairly import to lower the risk for everyone concerned so we take relevant actions in advance to prepare for this.


    This can take a while

    Unloading at the other end is the same procedure – unload pallet, take to unloading area, offload horses, put in truck and send to wherever they may be going.


    Both ends of the journey have paperwork

    The paperwork should all be completed beforehand, vet checks, import / export permits and customs clearing. Grooms have to be cleared by the airlines to fly, this usually takes up to a week. There is usually a vet check on arrival, so a lot of time is spent at the airport just waiting and waiting, at both ends of the journey. Being a travelling groom is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds, it’s all about patience and hanging around airports. The flight part is usually the shortest time of all!

    Frequently asked Questions


    Are the horses sedated?


    Not usually, as they usually don’t need it, they are often used to travelling and it is just like going in a lorry from their point of view.


    Do they go in the pallet easily?


    It is like travelling them in a lorry, most walk in happily but the occasional one doesn’t want to go in. For our staff, we try to read the horses behavior and work according to the character of the horse, if it seems anxious then we put another braver one in first, the anxious one will usually go in easily once another one is in.


    Do you feed them in flight?


    Their diet for the journey is just hay and water, they get offered water throughtut the trip by the traveling groom, the water intake is monitored, as some horses will not drink during the journey and then the information is passed over on landing so that the intake can be monitored on arrival, if a horse gets too dehydrated then it has no desire to drink, so this little snippet of information is critical to the wellbeing of the horse on landing.

    We don’t offer hard feed as hay is sufficient and gives them something to munch on throughout the journey, we also don’t want to increase the likelihood of colic.


    What about delays?


    If the horses have a transit, or a delay, we leave them on board the pallet, they are fairly safe in there, so leaving them inside reduces any risk of injury from loading and unloading.




    Are travelling boots and bandages required?


    We don’t like to travel the horses with anything on – boots may slip and become uncomfortable, they cannot be removed mid flight, as access to the legs is impossible. Tail bandages can be too tight or too loose, may slip and again access is not possible, so we avoid them too. As the temperature is controlled they do not need rugs, these can be taken for arrival, along with boots for the lorry part of the trip, but we avoid it for in flight. There is a slight risk of injury loading and unloading but the risk of boots and bandages causing harm inflight is greater.


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