Horse Transport FAQ: Flying Horses to the USA

FAQ: Flying Horses to the USA
- Everything you need to know

Where do I start with the process of arranging my horses travel to America?

This is a question we are asked time and again by concerned clients and owners.

It can be an extremely daunting thought to handover your beloved animals to a complete stranger and trust them to fly your pony or horse safely halfway across the world to the USA. Many owners feel very out of control and uncertain about the process. We’ve all heard the horror stories about horses flying long distances but fortunately these are the extreme exception rather than the norm, and with literally hundreds of horses travelling to the US (and worldwide) on a weekly basis, the process is becoming more and more streamlined and is fairly commonplace for those arranging it.

What does the process involve?

We are often asked how horses cope with the flight, do horses find flying stressful?

Horses are by their very nature unpredictable and one can never truly know how they will react in a given situation – especially one that is far outside the normal routine. Generally speaking, transporting a horse by air is not too far different to being on a trailer or horse lorry but there are other factors that can make it more stressful for some horses – take-off and landing for example can be difficult and horses will often scrabble to find their footing. For this reason, there is a gap at the bottom of the air-stalls that they fly in so that they can spread their legs wider to find their balance.

It is of course quite a bit noisier inside the plane than it would be by road on a truck – some horses find this unnerving whilst others take it in their stride. A professional flying groom will always travel with the horses so that they can monitor them constantly, make sure that they aren’t stressed during the flight and ensure that they are watered regularly to keep them hydrated. Ad-lib hay is provided throughout which helps to ensure that they are eating regularly and the trickle-feeding will aid their guts to keep moving and prevent the risk of compaction colic.

In effect you could almost say that a flying groom is a highly skilled airline steward but for horses (no offence to either flying grooms or airline stewards!) – at the very least they provide a reassuring word or pat to those horses that are finding the flight worrying, they provide a food and drinks ‘trolley service’. Most importantly though, they have to go through rigorous testing and qualifications so that they are able to deal with emergency situations whilst up in the air. The Pro Grooms are trained to administer chemical restraints (sedatives) as and when required and have security clearance to be allowed ‘airside’ at any given airport.

On a serious note, some horses do react to the change of situation and surroundings far better than others and that’s why it’s far safer to have a trained professional to oversee their care and welfare.

How do horses travel on an aeroplane?

Horses generally fly in what are known as Jet Stalls, they are custom built containers that allow horses to travel in safe compartments. They are usually divided into 3 stalls where horses travel in ‘Economy class’ - or they can travel two per jet stall – this would be the ‘Business Class’ option and they would have a space and a half each. Horses may also travel ‘First Class’ where all of the partitions are removed and the horse would have use of the entire space of the jet stall. All of the stalls are well ventilated, have ample headroom and have space to allow grooms to provide hay and water throughout the journey. Upon loading at the airport the team of professional staff ensure that the loading is carefully controlled, and the horses are walked up a non-slip ramp into the specialised horse container.

The jet stalls are designed to have horses loaded from the ground into their individual partitions, once they are safely loaded the jet stalls are then transferred on a hydraulic lift into the main body of the aircraft. Inside the aircraft on the floors are tracks with rollers (ball decks or roller/ball mat systems) that allow the stalls to be pushed or turned easily by hand into position by the aircraft attendants. They are then secured into place with floor locks.

During take-off and landing, especially the pro-flying grooms would be with the horses as this is often when they find it most stressful.

Horses are generally the last to be loaded on a flight – this is so they are the first to be offloaded once they reach their destination. If there are any other animals on the same flight, horses would take priority and be offloaded and processed first. There are passenger seats designated for the attendant/s so that they have easy access to the horses at all times and they will monitor the horses for the duration of the flight, ensuring that they are fed and watered throughout.

Which airport do horses fly to in the USA?

The vast majority of equine flights to the USA will fly from Northern Europe airports such as Liege (Belgium) or Amsterdam (Holland). There are only a select few airports that can receive horses into the States: Miami (Florida), New York (JFK) and California (LAX) as well as New Jersey. The most frequent route is into New York and there are usually at least 2 flights a week with shared loads being relatively easy to secure.

Generally speaking, New York (JFK) offers the most frequent and cost effective routes for equine flights direct from Liege and Amsterdam. Thousands of horses travel to the USA every year for competition, auctions, sales, racing, relocations and purchases. LOC offers a service to collect your horse from his home yard and transport by road to The Netherlands or Belgium as required. Our vehicles are fully approved and authorised for long distance travel and our qualified and certified driver grooms will be your horses first chauffer as they undertake their journey.

So where do you begin when planning your pony’s flight to the US?

That’s where we step in, as agents we will arrange every aspect of your horses’ flight to the USA, from your initial quotation to delivery to your new yard overseas. The agents and companies we work with enable us to be your main point of contact throughout so that you are not having to go from pillar to post contacting different companies about each stage of the journey. Where possible we will put you directly in contact with the people responsible for your horse so that you have a first-hand account of their progress and well being.

It all starts with a comprehensive quote which we will endeavour to get back to you within 24 hours wherever possible. You will no doubt have questions and your LOC agent will be on hand to guide you through the process, we will discuss your timeframes, your requirements and of course your horse and any specific concerns or worries you may have. Once your travel dates are know we will hep you plan backwards to ensure your horse is prepped and ready in time.

How long does the process take to make arrangements to fly my horse to The States?

Whilst the flights are direct and same day, there is a certain amount of pre-export preparation to take into account before your horse can travel. That’s where LOC comes in, we will help guide you through and take care of the requirements so that your horse travels legally, with all the correct paperwork to meet export and import regulations.

Things to consider before moving your horses to America:

What is the process for equine flights?

  1. Age & Health – Whilst every breed is different, age is a very important factor to consider when thinking of shipping your horse to America. Some horses remain fit and healthy well into their late 20’s and if they are active and sound they may find the long journey fairly easy – especially if they are experienced travellers. On the other hand a horse that is not very active or in work, or that has a lameness for example, may find the journey very tiring. Older and unfit horses tend to lean on the partitions or on their rumps when travelling to support themselves – this can cause friction rubbing to occur if unprotected.
  2. Vaccinations – Your horses vaccinations should be up to date before travel, however they should not be given a live vaccine within 14 days of the horse leaving the UK.
  3. Vets & Preparations – Do you have a good, reliable local vet that we can liaise with to ensure your horses blood testing and paperwork is done correctly and within the timeframes required? LOC can work with you and your vet to ensure that correct protocols are adhered to and everybody understands what is expected. Geldings are relatively straightforward and the turnaround time for blood tests is 5-7 days, whereas mares and stallions will need a little more planning ahead as they have to undergo CEM testing which takes slightly longer.
  4. Kit & Equipment – Does your tack, rugs and grooming kit all need to be shipped as well? Generally speaking your horse will travel with a head collar and if required, a lightweight travel rug (for example). Other items needing to be shipped with your horse will be checked in as cargo and charged accordingly by weight – this usually carries a minimum charge. The better option may be to courier the items separately as this is often a lot more cost effective.
  5. Shod or Unshod? – Some agents will vary in their requirements, many will prefer that the horse has all four shoes removed for flying. At the very least we would recommend that the hind shoes are taken off for the safety of your horse and his handlers, so remember to book a slot with your farrier before your horse starts the journey.

How much notice do I need to give to plan my horses’ flight to the US?

Whether your horse needs to travel immediately or you are planning ahead for a long term relocation, LOC can assist with setting timeframes for preparation. Working backwards, your horse would need to be at a horse hotel near to the airport for at least one day (preferably two) prior to the departure of their flight so that they have sufficient rest. The journey duration from the UK would very much depend on where the horse is beginning his journey. Bloods must be tested within 30 days of travel and can take up to 10 days for results to come back after testing so it is important that these are carried out within the correct parameters for the horses’ departure date.

What Blood tests does my horse need for America?

Prior to export, all horse/s will require blood tests for Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA), Dourine, Glanders and Equine Piroplasmosis. Mares and stallions (excluding young horses under 731 days old and providing that they have not been engaging in natural breeding) will also require additional CEM swabs - this must be within 30 days of travel and the results take approximately 7-10 for results to come back.

Your horse’s Flight Travel Wardrobe

We as caring owners sometimes tend to wrap our horses up in cotton wool the minute a road journey is mentioned and horses will be booted, bandaged and wrapped up to the eyeballs. Remember that on your horse’s journey to the USA, she will encounter different temperatures and will be stood for longer periods of time than she is used to – and wearing lots of kit may be irritating and annoying. It is useful to bear in mind that these factors can cause swelling in the legs which would mean bandages become too tight and restrict blood flow, boots can slip, your horse may find them annoying and try to kick them off – sometimes it can cause more harm than good. Most agents will prefer that the horse travels as naturally and ‘naked’ as possible. If your horse is heavily feathered he will have his own protection on his legs. As far as rugging goes – less is definitely more. It is useful for clipped horses to have a lightweight travel sheet for the handlers to use at their discretion. Generally our seasons are the same as the USA although temperatures can vary dependant on where they are travelling to so do take this into account when planning your horse’s wardrobe. It is also a good idea to pop some sheepskin protectors on the poll and noseband of the head collars to prevent and friction rubs.

What Health Paperwork will my ponies or horses need to travel to The States?

LOC will arrange for the relevant Health Certificates via APHA (DEFRA) and these can be sent by post to a vet of your choice. You will need to arrange for your vet to visit your horses within 48 hours of their departure to sign off the relevant health certificates. There will be two sets – one for travel to the EU (i.e. Holland or Belgium dependant on where your horse is flying from), and a set for the USA. Once your vet has signed your horse’s paperwork to say that he is fit to travel and free from any obvious contagious diseases, these documents then need to be taken directly to your local Animal Health (AHVLA) offices for counter signing by an approved DEFRA OV (Official Veterinarian). It is best to do this in person to avoid delays, however a courier can be used if required.

Transport timings:

LOC can work with you to ensure you have the package that best suits you and your horses. We can offer shared load transport for the ground transport from your yard to stabling in Belgium or Holland (dependant on where your horse is flying from) or if you prefer a more personalised service we can transport your horses on our VIP, Private, dedicated load basis. Generally you would allow 1-2 days for the ground transport, which will of course vary according to your horses’ location in the UK.

Rest prior to flight:

Your horse has a long journey ahead and will be taking in a lot of new experiences and surroundings. It is very important that your horse have adequate rest prior to the flight so that he is fit, healthy and in the best possible condition for his onward travel. LOC recommend an absolute minimum of one nights stabling, with a preference for 2 nights so would always work with you to co-ordinate the ground transport dates to tie in with the flight departure to the USA.

What happens on the Day of the flight:

Dependant on the time of the flight, your horse will generally be transferred by road from the stabling point to the airport in plenty of time for the flight. There are a lot of processes to go through and procedures to follow so your horse will need to be there well in advance. LOC works with a team of agents that are experienced in this and will ensure that your horse is presented and ready to board within the required timeframes. Flights to the States are direct so once your horse is on board, the normal flight time applies.

Experienced In-Flight Staff:

Throughout your horses’ various journeys, they will be accompanied by qualified grooms and at the airport they will be handed over to a team of Pro Flying Grooms. These dedicated individuals are highly trained to ensure that each horse has as safe and stress free journey as possible. Likewise when they touch down on American soil there will be a team of receiving agents ready to get the horses unloaded, processed, vet checked and all their paperwork check so that they can be transferred by road to the quarantine station.

What are the Quarantine Requirements for horses and ponies travelling to America?

Upon touch down at JFK, Miami, or LAX, your horse will be greeted by the receiving agents who will quickly and smoothly ensure that the horses are offloaded and ready to depart for quarantine. All horses are required to undergo a minimum of three days post import quarantine in the USA and horses will be transferred by road to the closest facility that offers this service.

Quarantine facilities are absolutely necessary to ensure that diseases from other countries are not introduced into America, and during this time your horses will have their bloods re-tested and will be monitored by a vet who will be looking for any signs of disease that the horse may exhibit. Once the vet is happy that the blood tests are negative, that your horses temperature is normal and they are generally weel, they are free to go and make the last leg of their journey to their new home – except of course for mares and stallions.

Contagious equine metritis (CEM) is a very contagious sexually transmitted disease that is acquired primarily via breeding. The disease can be carried by both mares and stallions, however it is the mare that suffers the ill effects of the infection. CEM does not occur The United States – hence there are strict protocols in place to ensure it stays that way. After the standard 3 day quarantine period, mares and stallions will be moved to a separate CEM Quarantine facility to undergo further testing before they are free to enter the general equine population. The quarantine time for mares is generally 14-18 days, whilst stallions are a lot longer at 30 days CEM quarantine.

Once again LOC will liaise with you as the client and with our agents to keep you informed of your horses wellbeing and progress and of course should there be any problems.

Once it is clear that your mare or stallion has met all of the testing requirements they are free to travel onto their final destination.

What Customs will I pay to export a horse to the USA?

On exiting the EU you horse must be cleared for Customs and LOC will take care of these arrangements for you. There is a small fee for raising the relevant documentation and this will be detailed in your breakdown of estimated costs.

There are currently no Duties to pay on horses being imported into The US; however The Department of Treasury do assess a U.S. Customs User Fee on all non-American goods entering the country, including horses. The fee is based on the value of the horse and is calculated at a rate of .0021%, the minimum being $25.00, and the maximum, per entry, $485.

The owner/agent of the horse being imported must supply true and correct information regarding the value of the horse which will be shown on the commercial invoice and submitted to U.S. Customs at the time of entry.

Your Horses passports and Documentation

All horses travelling within the EU must have a valid equine passport for transport – this is true whether they are travelling 5 miles or 5000 miles. In addition the certified Health papers will travel with your horse and must be kept for 12 months under current legislations. LOC will provide an A4, waterproof, plastic wallet which we will place all of your horses official documents and passport in and this will travel with your horse throughout the journey. The general practice in America is that these documents are not handed over to the ground transporter in The States that will truck your horse from the quarantine facility to their new yard. For securities sake the passport will be couriered to you separately and can sometime arrive a couple of weeks after your horse. Please do not be concerned as this is standard practice.

For those horses that are Weatherbys registered and are travelling to race or for breeding purposes, there are additional requirements that must be met in order for your horse to be permitted to compete or be bred. LOC will liaise with Weatherbys on your behalf to ensure that your horse has the correct certificates and endorsements that will be required by the Jockey Club on arrival in America.

How much will it cost to get my horse from the UK to America?

The prices will vary quite a lot dependant on your specific requirements, for example if your horses flies to JFK the airfreight and quarantine may be considerably cheaper than say Miami or LAX. Likewise, geldings are more cost effective to move simply because of the lack of CEM testing and quarantine – both of which will bump up the costs considerably.

So that we can work out an estimate specifically tailored to you, simply get in touch with our friendly team and tell us about your requirements. We’ll need to know where the horse is based in the UK (or EU), the rough location of the final destination (as this will affect which airport your horse flies into), how many horses as well as their sex and sizes. Larger draught type breeds such as such as Clydesdales, Shires, Comtois’ and other heavy horses will need additional space on the jet stall and ground transport and this can be catered for and priced accordingly. In addition some smaller breeds such as Shetlands, if travelling in groups may have different spacing allowances and can also be quoted accordingly.

Contact LOC today for your tailored quote – contact us

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