Last updated: December 7, 2023
As a seasoned racehorse owner, my curiosity was piqued during the 2023 Kentucky Derby when Derma Sotogake, a notable contender, raced in Japan and the UAE before flying to Louisville. This remarkable journey led me to delve into the intricacies and financial cost to fly a horse overseas.
With my extensive experience in the equine industry and a thorough research process, I gathered insights into the costs and logistics involved in such an endeavor. What I learned is that the cost of flying a horse overseas can range from $8,000 to $30,000. Factors like travel class, specific departure and destination points, and available airline options influence this significant variance.
In this article, I demystify the complex and often costly process of shipping a horse internationally. I guide you through the various regulations set by the United States for importing horses, and provide a detailed breakdown of the costs associated with different flight options and travel classes. You will have a clear and authoritative perspective on what to expect when considering such a journey for your equine companion.
Overview of Horse Transportation Costs
When considering the transportation of horses overseas, understanding the cost implications is crucial for making informed decisions. The expenses involved can vary widely based on several key factors. Here, we present an overview of the average cost range and highlight the main elements that influence these costs.
Average Cost Range
The cost of flying a horse overseas typically ranges from $8,000 to $30,000. This broad range is due to the variability in specific requirements and choices made during the transportation process. It’s important to note that these figures can fluctuate based on market conditions, specific airline pricing, and international regulations.
Factors Affecting Transportation Costs
- Travel Class:
- Like human air travel, horses can be transported in different travel classes, significantly impacting the cost.
- Coach Class: This is the most economical option, where horses are transported in shared stalls, usually accommodating three horses per stall. It’s suitable for horses that are comfortable in a herd setting.
- Business Class: Offering more space, this option usually includes a stall and a half for two horses. It’s a middle-ground choice balancing cost and comfort.
- First-Class Travel: The premium option involves one horse per stall, providing maximum space and comfort. This is often chosen for high-value or particularly sensitive horses.
- Departure and Destination Locations:
- The distance between the departure and destination airports plays a significant role in determining the cost. Longer distances generally lead to higher costs.
- Costs can also vary depending on the popularity and accessibility of the chosen airports. Some destinations may require additional connecting flights, adding to the overall expense.
- Airline Choices:
- Not all airlines offer equine transportation services. Those that do may have varying pricing structures.
- The choice of airline can also affect the level of service provided. Some airlines specialize in equine transport and offer comprehensive services, including pre-flight and post-flight care, which can influence the cost.
- Availability of direct flights versus flights requiring layovers or transfers can also impact the price.
Understanding the cost factors of transporting horses overseas is essential. It allows for better budgeting and preparation, ensuring that the chosen transportation method aligns with the specific needs of the horse and the owner’s preferences. As with any significant investment, obtaining quotes from multiple transportation companies and airlines is advisable to find the most suitable and cost-effective option.
Logistics of Flying Horses Overseas
Flying a horse in a plane can be a daunting task, but with proper planning and preparation, it can be a safe and smooth experience for both horse and owner. The first step is to choose an airline that is experienced in transporting horses.
Be sure to ask about their policies and procedures for flying horses, as well as any special requirements that may need to be met. Once you have chosen an airline, you need to find out about their pre-boarding procedures, in-flight considerations, and post-boarding regulations.
Pre-Boarding Procedures To Fly a Horse
2019 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. An approved veterinarian must perform the test 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 and 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.
The stall is locked into place, and the horse is 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 transported 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 groom 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 air conditioning 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.
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 own 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.
United States Regulatory Compliance
Navigating the regulatory landscape is a critical aspect of transporting horses to the United States. Compliance with these regulations ensures not only the safety and well-being of the horses but also adheres to legal requirements. Below is an outline of the key U.S. regulations for importing horses and the importance of adhering to these rules.
U.S. Regulations for Importing Horses
- Health Certification:
- All horses entering the U.S. must have a valid health certificate issued by a licensed veterinarian from the country of origin. This certificate confirms that the horse is free from contagious diseases and fit for travel.
- Quarantine Requirements:
- Upon arrival, horses are required to undergo quarantine. The duration and specifics depend on the country of origin and the horse’s health status.
- Quarantine facilities are typically government-approved and are designed to monitor the horses for any signs of illness that could pose a risk to other animals.
- Vaccinations and Testing:
- Horses must be up-to-date with certain vaccinations, particularly against diseases not prevalent in the U.S.
- A negative Coggins test for Equine Infectious Anemia (EIA) is mandatory. This blood test must be conducted within a specific timeframe before travel.
- Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Clearance:
- Importers must declare horses at the first port of entry and comply with CBP regulations. This includes providing necessary documentation and paying applicable import duties and fees.
- Special Permits for Endangered Species:
- If the horse is of a breed considered endangered, additional permits may be required under the Endangered Species Act.
Importance of Regulatory Compliance
- Ensuring Animal Health and Safety: Compliance with health and quarantine regulations is crucial for preventing the spread of diseases. It protects not only the imported horses but also the domestic equine population.
- Legal Obligations: Adhering to these regulations is a legal requirement. Non-compliance can result in penalties, including fines and denial of entry for the horse.
- Smooth Transportation Process: Proper compliance ensures a smoother transportation process with fewer delays. It helps avoid complications at ports of entry.
- Reputation and Responsibility: For horse owners and transporters, following these regulations demonstrates a commitment to responsible animal care and ethical practices in the equine industry.
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 the 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 Lexington, 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.
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 a 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.
Comparison of Different Methods to Transport Horses
While air transportation is a popular choice for moving horses internationally, other methods like sea and train travel also exist. Each mode of transportation has its unique set of advantages and disadvantages. Understanding these can help horse owners make informed decisions based on their specific needs and circumstances.
- Cost-Effective: Generally cheaper than air travel, especially for longer distances.
- Suitable for Multiple Horses: Can be more practical for transporting several horses simultaneously.
- Less Restrictive on Space: Provides more room for horses, potentially reducing stress during transit.
- Longer Transit Time: Sea journeys are significantly longer, which could be stressful for horses.
- Risk of Seasickness: Horses, like humans, can experience seasickness, which can lead to health complications.
- Limited Availability: Fewer specialized services and routes available for horse transport by sea.
- Stable and Smooth: Trains offer a stable and smooth ride, reducing the risk of motion sickness.
- Cost-Effective for Domestic Travel: Often more affordable than air travel for domestic routes.
- Accessibility: Rail networks can sometimes offer more accessible routes to certain destinations.
- Limited Routes: Train travel is geographically limited and may not be feasible for international transport.
- Transit Time: Generally slower than air travel, leading to longer journey times.
- Handling and Transfers: This may require additional handling and transfers, increasing the complexity of travel.
- Speed: The fastest method for long-distance and international travel.
- Reduced Transit Stress: Shorter travel times can mean less stress for the horse.
- Specialized Services: Many airlines offer specialized services for equine transport, ensuring safety and comfort.
- Cost: Typically the most expensive mode of transport.
- Limited Space: Space constraints can be more challenging, especially for larger horses.
- Complex Logistics: Requires careful planning and adherence to strict regulations.
Transport by Trailer (Truck-Pulled)
- Flexibility and Accessibility: Trailers offer the flexibility to travel to various destinations that might not be accessible by other means.
- Control and Familiarity: Owners can have more control over the travel conditions, ensuring the horse’s comfort.
- Cost-Effective: Generally more economical than air or sea transport, especially for shorter distances.
- Travel Time and Distance Limitations: Longer travel times can be stressful for the horse, and distance limitations might apply.
- Driver Expertise: Requires a skilled driver familiar with transporting live animals.
- Road Conditions and Weather: Travel can be affected by road conditions and weather, potentially causing delays or requiring stops.
Choosing the right mode of transportation for horses depends on various factors, including the distance, budget, and the horse’s specific needs. While air travel offers speed and specialized services, sea and train travel can be more cost-effective and less restrictive in terms of space.
However, these methods also come with longer transit times and other logistical challenges. Ultimately, the decision should be based on a careful evaluation of these pros and cons, ensuring the horse’s welfare and safety throughout the journey.
Below is an Inside Edition YouTube video about transporting horses by plane. Note the reference to horseracingsense.com
Conclusion: The Cost to Fly a Horse
Transporting horses overseas requires careful consideration of various factors to ensure safety, compliance, and comfort. The cost of flying a horse internationally ranges from $8,000 to $30,000, influenced by travel class, departure and destination points, and airline selection.
While air travel offers speed and specialized services, alternatives like sea, train, and trailer transport provide cost-effective options with their own set of pros and cons. Adhering to regulatory requirements is crucial for legal and safe transportation. Understanding these diverse aspects helps horse owners make informed decisions, ensuring the well-being of their horses during transit.
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/
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I choose the right airline for flying my horse?
Select an airline experienced in equine transport, offering comprehensive services, including pre-flight and post-flight care. Compare costs, check for direct flights, and read reviews for reliability and safety.
Can I accompany my horse during the flight?
Generally, owners can’t accompany horses in cargo. However, some airlines allow grooms or handlers with special arrangements and
Does FedEx ship horses?
Yes, FedEx Charters will ship horses, cattle, and even zoo animals. And they claim their customized security measures ensure your precious shipments arrive safely with no damage done along the way.
Can pets fly on international flights?
Yes, you can usually bring your pet on the plane with you. However, there are a few things you need to keep in mind. There are different charges and rules depending on the airline, destination country, and your pet.
We value your thoughts and experiences! If you have transported horses overseas or have insights on the topic, please share your stories in the comments below. Your contributions not only enrich our community but also provide invaluable perspectives to fellow readers. Let’s create a vibrant space for sharing knowledge and experiences about equine transportation.”
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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