What’s The Best Way To Transport A Horse Overseas?

With advances in modern technology, the advent of the internet, and cheaper fights the world has become a much smaller place these days, that is until you decide to take your horse overseas. There are a number of ways a horse can travel overseas but the most popular way (and the best for the horse) is by plane. This is because horses can suffer from seasickness but, unlike us don’t get jetlag. They’re also able to sleep during a plane journey.

How do you transport a horse?

By far the most common way that horses are transported overseas is by air, it’s quicker, safer, and better for the horse than any other method of transportation but how do the horses actually travel?

While some animals do travel in regular passenger planes this isn’t the case for horses, instead, they travel in special cargo planes. Horses are usually put into stalls on the ground that can take up to three horses, these stalls have divider walls that can be removed to give the horse more room. If your horse is traveling first class then he’ll get the whole stall to himself, whereas if he’s traveling business class he’ll share it with another horse while coach class means that three horses will share the stall. After all of the horses are in the stalls are then lifted onto the plane. 

You can often fly with your horse but as you’ll be traveling via cargo plane there’s no air stewards or stewardess to bring you food nor is there an inflight movie so make sure you’re prepared for this. If you are traveling with your horse then during the flight you’ll need to make sure that the horse is kept fully hydrated and feed them little and often, especially if your horse is prone to eating too quickly and it’s a long flight.

Do horses suffer from jet lag?

You might expect that if a horse is flying halfway around the world then they’d experience jet lag just the same as we do yet you’d be wrong. With people flying horses all over the world for various competitions you can imagine that a lot of research has gone into the effects this could have on the horse and its performance. The results of this research have shown that, contrary to what you may think, horses don’t suffer from jet lag in the same way we do.

The main reason for this lack of jet lag is down to the way that horses sleep. We spend around a third of our day asleep but rather than having lots of little naps we get all of our sleep in one block. Horses, on the other hand, spend less than 15% of their day asleep with this being spread across the whole day, in fact, an adult horse won’t spend more than ten minutes asleep at any one time.

On top of not suffering from jet lag horses do in actual fact travel better by air than they do but any other means. 

Ever wondered just how horses sleep? Do horses really sleep standing up?

Do horses get seasick?

The seas can be very unpredictable and while we would all want them to be calm and level when we’re at sea the chances are that this won’t always be the case and horses are no different to us in that they can often suffer from seasickness. 

Science is constantly making new discoveries and new research always leads to a better understanding of things, but it was in fact research carried out by Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton in the early 1900s that showed horses do suffer from seasickness. Like all explorers, Shackleton kept detailed records of his journey, and it’s these records that show how the horses and ponies (and all of the other animals on board) suffered. He noted that during the stormy weather the horses showed signs of deep distress, confusion, and even dizziness. 

While cats and dogs are able to take medication to help them deal with seasickness sadly there’s no pharmaceutical option for horses. Instead, you can use things such as lavender oil to help keep the horse calm. You can either use a diffuser, spray a little in the trailer or try rubbing some on your horse’s halter. Research carried out at the University of Arizona showed that lavender can help to lower a horse’s heart rate and help to keep them calm.

Are there alternatives to flying a horse?

If you’re worried about the carbon footprint of traveling by air then there are alternatives, such as by sea, road, or even rail, but while they may be better for the environment are they really any better for the horse? 

Travelling by sea

Transporting a horse by boat can be a great alternative to air in terms of the environment but when it comes to the horse it’s a different story. Long before Wilbur and Orville Wright’s first flight we were transporting horses by sea so there’s no doubt that they can travel in a boat but what most history books won’t tell you though is how the horses coped with traveling by sea. In fact horses, along with all animals, can suffer from seasickness. It’s not sure why they do but it’s thought that the motion of the boat and the lack of vision (horses tend to travel below deck with the other vehicles) to help the brain explain the motion causes the senses to be confused with seasickness being the result. Seasickness in horses can be more serious than it can in other animals due to the horse’s inability to vomit, instead of vomiting a horse is likely to suffer from colic.

On top of the suffering from seasickness transporting your horse by boat can take a long time and your horse will have to remain in his trailer for the duration of the journey. Depending on the weather condition and the ferry company you’re using there may also be a long delay before you’re even allowed to board the boat. Will your horse be okay with spending prolonged periods of time in the trailer while being stationary?

Travelling by road

Okay so traveling by boat isn’t the best option, what about transporting your horse by road instead? Let’s presume for the sake of arguments that you need to transport your horse to another country that you can get to without needing to cross any expanse of water. In this case, traveling by car could be a good alternative to flying but the journey is likely to be a very long one. 

One of the drawbacks to traveling long distances by road without stopping though is that the horse won’t be able to sleep. This is because the trailer will constantly be changing its speed as well as direction so the horse will need to keep rebalancing himself and therefore won’t be able to sleep. This is why if you are going to travel long distances it’s important to stop regularly, let your horse stretch his legs, and have a little nap if necessary.

Travelling by rail

Lastly what about traveling by rail? There’s no doubt that the carbon footprint of traveling by rail is much lower than that of a plane and what’s more important is that, unlike transporting horses by sea or road, horses are able to sleep and won’t suffer from seasickness. Research has shown that horses traveling by rail are no more likely to suffer from motion sickness than they are if they travel by road but the advantage of rail is that any changes in speed and direction are progressive, therefore horses don’t need to continually rebalance themselves and are able to sleep.

The main drawback to transporting horses by rail is that you have to go where the railroad goes and that could be many miles from where you actually want to go. That said if flying was out of the question and I had to find another alternative to transporting my horses I would opt for taking them by rail. Yes, there would probably be a further journey by road but that would be far shorter than it would have been if I’d made the whole journey by road.

How much does it cost to fly a horse overseas?

The cost of flying a horse overseas is dependant on so many facts such as where you’re flying to and from, how many horses are traveling, and what class their traveling in. While it’s not really possible to list the cost of every flight to and from every country, to give an idea of the price I’ve listed the cost for a 10-year-old Quarter Horse traveling in coach class from the USA to the UK and Australia as well as the cost of the return journeys.

USA$10,200 / £7,890$21,950 / AUD $31,825
UK£8,510 / $11,000£14.850 / AUD $27,738
AustraliaAUD $28,200 / $19,450AUD $13,000 / £6,995

The costs above include 30 days pre-export quarantine (which is required if your horse is going to spend more than 60 days out of the country) or a 14 day pre-export and 14 days post-export if you’re traveling to Australia, vet preparation, pre-flight boarding, professional in-flight groom, shipping supplies such as food, water, and bedding as well as agency fees. The cost doesn’t, however, include transportation to the pre-flight farm where the horse will spend his quarantine, foreign charges, and insurance. Most companies won’t transport a horse without at least mortality and transit insurance.

Do I need any special paperwork to make my horse abroad?

Every country is different and requirements will vary from country to country so it’s important to check what paperwork you will need before you leave. Most countries do require a horse passport, a certificate of veterinary inspection (or CVI), and a negative Coggins test (To show that your horse is clear of equine infectious anemia (also known as swamp fever) – a virus that is transmitted by bloodsucking insects) as well as proof that the horse has been vaccinated against certain conditions such as equine influenza. Depending on the country you’re traveling from your horse may also need to stay in quarantine although this is becoming far less common these days.

Do I need special insurance for my horse to travel overseas?

While some horse transport companies do have insurance companies they work with it’s always better to speak to your current insurance provider. They will be able to add a transit policy to your cover but will also be able to tell you if there are any geographical limitations on the cover you already have.

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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