Equine Air Transportation: What You Need To Know

As equine shipping around the world will soon ramp up as the winter equestrian season winds to a close in the United States, horse owners will need to prepare their horses, documents and equipment for transportation. Do you know how to book equine air travel and prepare your horse, or what to expect when he lands?

Molly Smith

To get answers to some of the equestrian industry’s most frequently asked questions regarding equine air travel, Phelps Sports consulted Molly Smith, the resident Import/Export and Logistics Specialist at EquiJet, one of the leaders in international equine transportation.

A Canadian citizen, Smith has served as an integral part of EquiJet’s operations thanks to her firsthand knowledge of transporting horses across borders, both state and national, and brings a deep understanding and transparency to the travel process to ensure client confidence. As an equestrian herself and tenured employee of EquiJet, Smith knows all the ins and outs of horse transportation, and has answered some of the community’s “need to know” questions about equine air travel:

1. What is the entire process of moving a horse via air, starting at the initial communications with the client all the way to when the horse is delivered?

When we are first contacted regarding shipments of horses, we gather information about the animal, location, ideal shipping date and, if necessary, tests that must be done. 
Once a date is secured, we arrange pick of animal(s) and proceed to the pre-import quarantine. Horses are then monitored, test drawn, and paperwork is filed. Once approved permits and paperwork are established, horses are then ready to make the trip!

Upon arrival at the airport, horses and paperwork are looked over and approved by a vet. Our EquiJet grooms prepare and load horses for the flight to their new home.

Upon arrival in Canada, USA, or another decided country, horses get a stamp of approval by customs and proceed to post-quarantine.
 Country of importation and the sex of animal will determine the amount of time spent in quarantine. Following post-quarantine, the horse is shipped via ground transportation to their new home! 

2. How do you handle a horse that has never flown or is spooky about flying?

When horses fly with EquiJet, we only send the most experienced grooms with our horses. Grooms accompany the horses when they are loaded into their stalls, out on the tarmac and anytime during flight that is allowed. Each situation is different, but when dealing with spooky or frightened horses, we try to check on them or spend as much time with them as possible. In case of emergency, there are pharmaceuticals we can use to ensure each animal is safe, but those are generally not required. In fact, flying is often less stressful for horses than being in a trailer because it is a smoother ride and easier on their bodies!

3. What are some of the most common problems you run into while shipping horses?

There are always obstacles when flying horses, but overcoming them is why we are able to be a successful business. We work endlessly to provide a seamless experience for our clients by avoiding issues such as hiccups in paperwork, conflicting flight dates and issues at international borders.

4. How does quarantine work? How long is quarantine on each end?

Quarantine is ordered to monitor the horse’s temperature and to take new blood work. The time depends on country of importation, as well as the sex of the animal.

In the U.S., geldings, mares and stallions are required to be in quarantine for a minimum of 3 days for European arrivals and 7 days for South and Central American arrivals. During that period, horses are monitored for temperatures and communicable diseases and blood is tested. Then, depending on the country of origin, mares and stallions will have to undergo a Contagious Equine Metritis (CEM) quarantine, which for mares is roughly 2 weeks and for stallions is about a month. 

In Canada, it’s significantly longer, but there is a possibility to quarantine at home if approved by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). 

EquiJet passengers in quarantine in Chicago.

5. How much of the shipping process is different if you ship a horse internationally versus domestic?

When shipping internationally, quarantine is required. Different tests and blood work are required when shipping. Domestic shipping is not much different than shipping by truck. All you need is a coggins and interstate health certificate.

6. Do the horses get checked on during the flight?

Once in flight and given the OK from the pilot, EquiJet grooms are allowed to check on horses as frequently as desired. Grooms will do a quality check on animals, refill hay nets and provide water for horses. 
If there are any concerns, grooms act accordingly to what the horse’s needs are.

7. Does a horse and its equipment have to go through any kind of security screening like a person would?

When traveling with equipment, we require a complete list of every item that will be shipped. If it is in a tack trunk, we need a list of every item in the tack trunk and set value. The list is sent to customs in advance to be cleared before the departure date. All items are then inspected prior to departure, like personal luggage would be.

8. How many horses can fly on one plane?

This depends on a few different things: the route of the flight, size of the aircraft and the quarantine of the received airport.

On flights into New York, there are regularly 15 horses on a flight. But into Miami, there can be upwards of 40 horses on a flight as a result of how many scheduled flights there are into each airport, as well the size of the quarantine receiving. There are also options for chartered flights that realistically could have anywhere up to 100 horses on a flight.

9. Can the horses lay down? If not, how do you prevent it?

No, horses cannot lay down. The pallet is similar to that of a straight load horse trailer.
Pallets have the option of three different sizes of stalls: divided, double stall and single stall. Divided stalls are in three sections, whereas double stalls are split into two and the single stall allows the whole stall space for one horse. You can kind of think of it like Economy, Business and First Class for people! The set-up in the plane is comparable to trailers with six horses head-to-head.

10. What kind of wraps or protective gear should a horse wear during a flight?

On most new imports, we do recommend having the horses fly with no bandages or bell boots. Part of the reason for that is that we can’t rewrap the legs well if a bandage falls off due to the nature of the stalls. Before and after flights, we take pictures of the horses and their legs to send to the new owners to assure horses are happy and healthy. But, we are happy to ship horses in bandages or bell boots if requested by owners. During the winter months, we provide blankets for the horses and monitor the temperature of the aircraft during flight to assure horses are not overheated or too cool.

When transporting your horses, be sure to contact an experienced shipping company to ensure your horse’s health, safety and happiness. More than just the flight itself, shippers should be equipped to handle quarantine logistics and necessary paperwork, allowing owners and trainers to send their horses with peace of mind. To learn more about Smith or EquiJet, please visit EquiJet.com.


After finishing her BBA at University of New Brunswick, Smith spent winters riding in Florida, which led to meeting the owners and founders of EquiJet, Bastian Schroeder and Margot Peroni. She has been working with EquiJet since the spring of 2018. Her extensive background in business and the equine industry, as well as knowledge of the international borders and connections, gave her a strong foundation for developing a successful career with EquiJet.

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