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USA to Europe: Flying with Horses!

02 Nov 2021

USA to Europe: Flying with Horses

Shipping horses by ground transport is a familiar thing for most equestrians, but the process of flying with horses is still a mystery to most of us.

Eden Pessin, Stable Manager for Equo CEO, Steven Bluman, recently travelled to Europe with two horses and shares her experience and travel tips.


I have travelled by land transport with horses around the U.S. and Canada, but had not yet flown with horses, so making the journey by air from New York to Brussels with two of our horses was a totally new experience.

Horses at The ArkPhoto By: Stefanie Walchuk (groom for Mario Deslauriers)

 The day started very early, as we needed to arrive at the ARK at JFK Airport by 5:45 a.m. Horses are required to be at the terminal for 8 hours before the flight to allow plenty of time to monitor them and make sure they are in top shape before flying. I settled our horses into the quarantine barn and fed them a nice bran mash so they would be able to eat something filled with lots of water but that was easy on their stomachs. The atmosphere at the ARK was calm, the stalls were cozy, and everything was spotlessly clean. Once the horses were all settled, we had a long wait before we could start loading for our flight. There were Covid restrictions for humans and the horses were in a quarantine area, so the staff accompanying the animals were not able to move around much, but it was very pleasant. There was wifi so we could occupy ourselves while we waited. The ARK staff were wonderful, offering to help make everyone comfortable in any way they could, even setting up an area for you to sleep if you needed.

Periodically, ARK vets and officials came through to check the horses. They get a pre-departure medical check, health certificates and microchips are verified, and agents confirm the paperwork is in order.

Before we started getting ready to load the horses, the agents also came around to explain the loading and departure process and give us all the paperwork we needed for the horses once they arrived in Europe.

 There were travel tags on each horse with their names and contact phone numbers. Before loading, I wrapped our horses in leg wraps all around, as that is our preference for the two horses we were flying. It seemed most horses on the flight had leg wraps, except ones that do not tolerate them well. I gave each of our horses a tube of GastroGuard to help prevent and relieve any gut discomfort they may experience from the stress of traveling.

Horse loading plane

 

Stalls

 

Photos By: Stefanie Walchuk (groom for Mario Deslauriers)

We loaded two hours before take off so they could take the jet stalls from the ARK to the plane and load them before the actual flight. The jet stalls the horses ship in are like a cross between a horse trailer and a giant dog crate. They load from the back and exit from the front.   At the ARK, the container is backed up to a loading bay so the horses walk right into the jet stalls from a controlled, quiet ramp. I loaded one of our horses and a staffer loaded the other.  It is very similar to loading a horse on a trailer, with a chest bar in front of the horses and a man door for you to exit. There were shavings on the floor and a haynet for each horse. Typically, there are 3 horses per box, but ours had a half-box each so they could have more room.

Once all of the horses were loaded, it was time for the grooms to board. We were driven around and dropped off at the front building where we were met by security guards who escorted us to a break room. Once the captain arrived, our boarding passes and passports were checked and we were taken to the plane.

It was a huge cargo plane, so it was much different than the commercial passenger planes we are used to, but it was very comfortable. We were driven to the plane and boarded via a staircase on the tarmac. Above the cargo area, behind the captains’ cockpit, there is a small passenger area for grooms and staff accompanying the horses. Our seats were right behind the captain's cockpit and the containers with the horses were below us with the other cargo. Usually on the flights there are multiple agents and grooms. On my flight, there were 6 people accompanying horses, including one of Daniel Coyle’s grooms and a couple of people whose sole job was to accompany horses on trans-Atlantic flights.

Horse with Airplane Horse on Stall

Photos By: Stefanie Walchuk (groom for Mario Deslauriers)

Before takeoff, we were briefed on safety procedures and protocols for checking your horses mid-flight. During the flight, you go down to check on your horses every two hours. Before going down into cargo, we let the captain know that we are out of our seats, so the crew can keep track of where everyone is at all times. It is a very odd feeling, going to the cockpit and interrupting someone who is busy flying a huge plane across the ocean.

 

The journey into the cargo area is also very surreal. From our seating area, we exited a door and climbed down a ladder into the cargo area. It is pressurized for the animals, but we take a small portable oxygen tank with us just in case there is a sudden change in air pressure. The cargo hold is giant. It looks and feels like a warehouse. The horses were in the middle, so there was a bit of a walk past tons of wrapped containers. It is definitely a strange experience, but your commitment to your horses overrides the weirdness of it all.  And seeing your horses happily munching hay is very reassuring.

 You check the horses like you would any other time. You make sure they are eating, give them water, and watch for any signs of distress. We brought our own hay so they could have familiar hay at all times during travel. Each horse had access to a water bucket and I had two big jugs of water to offer them throughout the flight as needed.

When the plane landed in Brussels, I checked the horses one last time before all the grooms and agents deboarded the plane. From there, the containers with the horses were transported to the import barn. We were escorted to an office where our passports and paperwork were checked. Then we proceeded to the import barn where we waited for the horses to arrive from the plane.

 Stalls, cargo plane and sunsetPhotos By: Stefanie Walchuk (groom for Mario Deslauriers)

The jet stalls arrived at the import barn and ramps were then attached to the front. Each horse was taken off one at the time to check their health and all of their paperwork. Once cleared, I took them to holding stalls that were all set up for the horses with shavings, hay and water. The horses had some time to relax before the ground shipper arrived to take us to the farm. All of our equipment was also unloaded from the plane onto the trailer and it was time for us to leave and start our adventure in Europe!