Any links on this page that lead to products on Amazon are affiliate links and I earn a commission if you make a purchase. Thanks in advance – I really appreciate it!
For the 2019 Kentucky Derby, Master Fencer was flown from Japan for the race. Flying a horse half-way around the world made me wonder how much this trip costs. I had no idea how much it cost to fly a horse overseas, so I researched flying horses overseas and the associated expenses.
Overseas travel for a horse average from $8,000 to $30,000 depending on several factors. These factors are the travel class, the departure/ final destination of the horses, and what airline operates from your closest airport.
Shipping a horse overseas is expensive and tedious. The United States has regulations concerning the importation of horses that must be complied with before an animal enters.
To help you get an idea of the rules and the flights’ associated cost, I’ve compiled what I learned in this article.
What factors determine the costs to fly a horse overseas?
- Class of Travel: Horses can be transported alone, or they can be shipped with other horses. The stalls used to transport horses on planes are unique and vary in size.
- Coach class is three horses to a stall. Horses are herd animals and are comfortable with the company, especially when traveling.
- Business-class: A stall and 1/2 with two horses to a stall;
- First-class travel: One horse per stall.
- Departure/ final destination: The distance between the flight and the airport will be a factor in cost determination. Just like with humans, different destinations and airports are more expensive than others. Also, if you have to make connecting flights, there is an added expense.
- What airline operates from your closest airport. Not all airlines will transport horses. If your airport does not transport horses, the airline will have to send a plane to pick up your horse. If this is not possible, then the horse must be transported to the closest airport that will accept your horse for transportation.
To ship a horse overseas is expensive, but it’s not the only expense associated with transporting a horse internationally. The horse will have to complete specific steps before and after his flight.
What to expect when flying a horse.
Flying a horse overseas is expensive, but there is a lot that goes into the process. There are pre-boarding procedures, in flight considerations, and post boarding regulations.
Pre-Boarding Procedures To Fly a Horse
Japanese Kentucky Derby Contender, Master Fencer, flew from Tokyo, stopped in Anchorage, Alaska, and landed in Chicago. But before he began his trip, he had to prepare.
When an owner decides to fly a horse overseas, he will need to contact authorities in the destination country to determine if there are any special quarantine requirements.
Generally, horses must be isolated 30 days before the flight. The United States requires the isolation facility to be approved, and there is an associated fee, usually ranging between $1,000.00-$3,000.00.
Vaccinations and Bloodwork
All countries try to ensure the health of their livestock and prevent the spreading of disease. The running of a simple blood test helps authorities ensure the transported horse is healthy.
The test must be performed by an approved veterinarian and will include a Coggins test. Testing will run between $1,000 to $3,000.
Once the horse has completed its isolation protocol and has undergone and passed his blood test, he is ready to be transported to the airport. Upon arrival at the airport, the animal is quarantined for an additional five hours. The quarantine allows for examination and ensures the horse is healthy enough for the flight.
Upon completion of his five-hour quarantine, the horse walks into a specialized stall. The stall must be explicitly designed for air travel, be inspected and approved for this purpose.
The horse stalls are loaded while on the ground and then raised into the aircraft by lift, maneuvered into place and locked into position.
What Happens Once the Horse is Aboard the Airplane?
The stall is locked into place and the horse calmed by the grooms.
The horse can not travel alone. Horses travel with experienced flight grooms. They have sedation close at hand and can administer it if needed. If certain conditions are met, owners and their grooms may be allowed to travel with their horses.
However, tranquilizers are discouraged for horses being transport by Plane. But once they are fed some hay and given water, they usually begin to relax.
During a flight, the horse has to stay hydrated; water is critical. If the horse won’t drink and begins to show dehydration symptoms, there is an IV available, which the grooms will use.
Horses usually are not allowed to fly with leg wraps. Owners are also encouraged to have the shoes removed from their horses’ feet. In special situations, shoes may be kept on the horse.
The airplane cabin pressure is maintained with the airconditioning system; however, the less the horse has on his extremities, the better.
Overall horses seem to travel very well in airplanes, actually probably better than humans. It is rare for a horse to require sedation during a flight.
The Overseas Flight is a Success, The Airplane Lands, and the Horse Exits, What’s Next?
Upon arrival, the stall containing the horse is removed and placed into a trailer. Most countries require Post Arrival Quarantine (PAQ). The quarantine location is usually close to the port of arrival.
However, each nation has its regulations. In the United States, the mandatory quarantine requirement is 42 hours for most imported horses. While in quarantine, local veterinary authorities monitor imported horses.
The horse transporting company will also have someone watch the horse during this time. Once quarantine has been completed, the horse will be transported by trailer to his race location.
As soon as he is able, the horse will need time to acclimate to his new environment. Rest and exercise are key to his post journey recovery.
Was The Cost of Flying The Horse Overseas Worth the Price?
Master Fencer: He earned enough points through the Japan Road Series to qualify for the Kentucky Derby. The Japan Road is an approved series of races in Japan that allows for a horse to be nominated for Triple Crown.
Master Fencer, had two wins in six career starts, before his run at the Kentucky Derby. These wins earned him enough points to qualify for the Kentucky Derby.
To make his trip to Kentucky, Master Fencer was loaded on a plane in Tokyo, then had a brief stopover in Anchorage, Alaska, and finally arrived in Chicago.
Upon his arrival in Chicago, he entered mandatory quarantine for 42 hours. He was then loaded into a horse trailer and hauled 7 hours to Keeneland Kentucky.
Overall, Master Fencer seemed to have handled all the travel well and was relaxed during training. He ran a respectable race at the Kentucky Derby finishing 6th overall.
Yes, to his owner, this would have been an experience worth the expense of flying his horse from Tokyo to the United States. What is it worth to own a horse running in the Kentucky Derby? Priceless.
Lines of Battle?
Lines of Battle an Irish horse earned his way to the Kentucky Derby with a grade I win in the $2 million UAE Derby. This race qualified Lines of Battle for a shot at the triple crown.
He was transported via a direct flight from Shannon, Ireland to Chicago. The owners used a private charter. After his arrival in Chicago, he had to remain in quarantine for 42 hours. Once completed he made it to Kentucky in just enough time to have one day to practice for the biggest race of the year.
The estimated costs for the private charter and accompanying travel expenses reached nearly one quarter of million dollars.
Was it worth a quarter-million dollars to enter Lines of Battle in the Kentucky Derby? Yes, Lines of Battle ran a good race, finishing 7th overall.
At this point, he had earned the money it cost for his transportation and deserved the right to run. Plus, what is it worth to own a horse running in the Kentucky Derby? Priceless.
- If you are interested in learning more about stakes races, you can read this article.
- To learn about claiming races click here.
Transporting horses by boat or train
Shipping horses by sea
If your horse doesn’t have to be overseas in a hurry, then sea travel is much cheaper. Ships that specialize in horse transport will have safe, comfortable stalls for the horses with groomsman available to take care of your horse.
Transporting horses train
If you intend to send your horse overseas, then train transportation is not an option. Shipping your horse cross country on a train may not be the ideal situation either. For most interstate transportation consider hiring a professional horse moving company that uses trailers specifically designed for horses.
IRT transports by plane over 5,000 horses per year. If you need to fly your horse to the Kentucky Derby, you can contact them for prices. https://www.irt.com/