An On-Line Video Lesson Series with trainer Christopher Ewing

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"How are horses transported on airplanes?"


"What kind of planes do horses fly on when they are imported?"
"What do the planes look like?"
"Are they cargo planes? Are they commercial planes?"
After having imported countless horses from Europe, Christopher shows you,
using moving video from one of his trips overseas, just how horses are flown on an airplane. 

After having imported a ton of horses from Europe, I am often asked how horses are shipped on airplanes.  "What do the planes look like?"  "What do their stalls look like?"  Well, a few years ago, a jumper I imported from Europe to the US was later purchased and then exported to London, England.  I accompanied the horse to England and videotaped the entire process.  So, below is both a written detail of the transportation process, as well as moving video so that you can see the process for yourself.  I'm sure that some of it will surprise you.

Quarantine Station Approval

The first step began with having to have our farm in Michigan approved by the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) to serve as a temporary Quarantine Station.  Because the horse was being exported from our farm to England, the horse had to be evaluated and monitored medically prior to exportation.  Every country has their own required quarantine regulations and the period of time that a horse needs to be in quarantine varies depending on 1) the country receiving the horse and 2) the age & gender of the animal.    In this case, the quarantine period prior to leaving the US for the United Kingdom was 30 days of virtual seclusion, where the horse had to be totally segregated from any other horse.  He could not come within 20 feet of any other horse during those 30 days.  All of his tack, all of his buckets, everything, had to be totally separate from everything else.  A vet from the USDA came to our farm to inspect the facility so as to insure that their guidelines could be met in terms of proper distance from other horses, etc.  At that time he also examined the horse's overall health.  After about an hour or two we were approved for 30 days  to serve as a Quarantine Station for the horse and at the end of that 30 day period the horse was examined again.   The USDA gave the horse the "all clear" and he was now free to travel.

Leaving for the Airport

A trailer that was approved by the USDA came to pick the horse up for the 4 hour journey to the airport in Toronto, Ontario, Canada where he would then leave for England.  Once we got to the airport, I was met by the import/export agent, as well as the vet for the Canadian government who had to give the final authorization to export the horse.  Canada has VERY strict guidelines when it comes to importing and exporting livestock, thus, because the horse was only approved to be exported to England, it could not touch "Canadian soil" in any way.  So once we got to the exportation facility, a flat bed dolly with a hard aluminum stall on it was put into position and the horse trailer was backed up to the stall with about a 20 foot space between the two.   Then a "bridge on wheels" was put between the stall and the horse trailer and the horse was walked directly from the trailer into the stall so that it never touched the Canadian ground.  In this area were also actual horse stalls along the wall used for horses that are being imported into Canada. 

It was at this time that I found out that traveling on the plane with the horse was also going to be 11 alpacas which were packed into a giant crate all cramped up on top of each other.   They were very cute and were being sent from a farm in Australia to a farm in England to be used for their wool.  They were all packed into one crate and looked pretty cramped up but super cute!  There were even a couple of babies in there. 

Inside the Airport Export Station


The horse's stall was a single standing stall.  The walls were made of aluminum (not steel) and wood.  The stall is connected on the bottom to a steel platform, sometimes referred to as a pallet, but it really is more of a steel floor about an inch thick.  The stall had a rubber mat on the floor and the entire thing sat on a large flat-bed dolly of rollers.  Once the horse was placed in the stall, all of the horse's hay and water was placed on the outside of the stall and tied down, as was my luggage and a portable oxygen tank.   Even though once on the plane I will be sitting in an actual seat, I will be making frequent trips back to check on the horse during the 7 hour flight to England.  In case the plane loses oxygen during the time that I am back with the horse, there may not be enough time for me to get back to my seat to use the oxygen mask that falls from the ceiling.  Therefore, a portable tank was placed on the pallet for me to use and carry back to my seat in case of emergency.  Unfortunately, there is no way to give oxygen to the horse, or any animal, in the event of loss of cabin pressure.  Also, it is rumored that if a horse ever becomes uncontrollable during a flight, it is to be killed.  That is somewhat true.  Prior to our departure, I was told by the USDA to have our local vet give me a significant amount of tranquilizer to administer to the horse in the event that the horse becomes out of control.  I had enough tranquilizer with me to certainly knock him out cold, but probably not enough to kill him.  While the flight in the air is the least traumatic time for the horse during the whole trip (I will tell you in a moment what is the most traumatic), I recently heard of a horse that became so unruly on a plane while in mid air that the handler had to get word to the pilot to land the plane immediately.  The pilot told the handler that he could not land the plane anywhere because they were over the ocean and that the handler should try to kill the horse.  At one point one of the co-pilots came back to try to help calm the horse down and the horse broke the co-pilots arm!  Fortunately, the plane landed safely.  I was told that it was nearly 8 hours of mayhem and, thank goodness, nothing like that happened with my horse. 

Loading at the Airport Export Station


Loading on the Plane - the most traumatic part

Once the horse was loaded into the stall, I had to get into the stall also so that we could be taxied out to the airplane.   We were first taxied to a holding area underneath the airport where everyone one's luggage is sent down to when you check your bags at the ticket counter.  There was luggage everywhere, all in sections with the initials of the airport where it was going directly overhead.  While underneath the airport our stall was backed onto a giant scale that was built into the floor so that we could be weighed to make sure that everything that was going to be placed on the plane wasn't too heavy.  Now it was time to be taxied out to the plane. 

Ride on the tarmac to the plane

Being loaded into the plane

The most traumatic part for a horse in my opinion is not the flight itself.  It is being taxied on the tarmac to the airplane.   A small tractor pulled the horse and I in the stall and the worst part of all of this is that the trailer that the stall is on has no shock absorbers and it has metal tires so every crack and bump on the tarmac can be felt BIG TIME!  During this ride to the plane, the horse was at times being thrown from one side of the stall to the other and the noise from the jet engines cannot even be explained!   When you see those guys at the airport with those headphones on, it is no joke!  The noise from the engines, and the smell of jet fuel, is almost overwhelming!

After about a 2 minute ride on the bumpy tarmac, we got to the plane, a massive 747 jumbo jet.  Most people think that horses are transported only on cargo-style planes, but no so.  The plane itself was the same kind of plane that many of us fly in all the time.  It had over 400 people on it, complete with movies, yucky airplane food and crying babies.  I'm sure that no one on the plane even knew that there was a horse on there.  Not even the stewardesses knew. 

From the trailer we were rolled onto a Hi-Low and lifted about 100 feet into the air and loaded into the tail cone of the plane.  Once we were lifted up to the cargo area of the plane, handlers rolled the stall off of the hi-low and into the plane.  Once the stall was rolled in it was then anchored down to the floor.  The floor of the cargo area of the plane is actually hundreds and hundreds of hooks and rollers.  The entire floor was nothing but hooks and rollers.  Because of turbulence in the air, everything must be securely anchored down to the floor because if anything as heavy as the size of a horse were to shift suddenly it could tip the entire plane over in mid air. 

Once we were rolled in I looked around and saw everything that was going to be flying with the horse.  The tail cone area was HUGE, about 60 feet wide and almost 100 feet long, and there was a ton of stuff in there, literally.  There were our friends, the 11 alpacas, in their crate anchored to the floor,  there was a HUGE airplane engine being shipped, as well as someone's car and someone's furniture.    After the horse's stall was anchored down to the floor, I climbed out of the stall, filled and hung his water buckets in the stall, gave him some hay and then walked through this little door that lead to the main cabin area of the plane and sat down in my seat.  The flight to London was about 7 hours, and during that time, I had to go back and check on the horse frequently.  He traveled very well, though.  He was a great horse to ride in the ring, and his great temperament carried over into the flight to England as well.   


Inside the plane / Horse arrives in England


Arriving in London

Approximately 7 hours later we arrived in London.  Once we landed, the entire process started all over again with me getting back into the horse's stall and being rolled with him off of the plane (I never went through the front door of the plane ever).   We were placed again onto a giant Hi-Low and lowered down and then rolled onto a flat bed trailer that would drive the horse and I, as well as the crate with the alpacas, like a train, about a mile or 2 to the British Department of Agriculture building.  Once we got there, we were then rolled off of the trailer onto another Hi-Low that lowered us into the courtyard area of the Dept of Ag.  Customs agents then came and checked all of the horse's paper work and then released the horse to his owners.

The horse went on to do quite well in the jumper division, competing throughout England,  with the young lady who owns him.

Did you know...
That you can send a horse via
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