Flying Horses: What to Consider

Be mindful of the associated health risks and understand how to best manage your horse before and after air travel.

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Flying Horses: What to Consider
Air stables are lightweight aluminium boxes designed to carry up to three horses safely during the flight. | Photo: Dirk Caremans/FEI
By Amy Kelly, BVSc, and Chris Riggs, BVSc, PhD, DEO, Dipl. ECVS, MRCVS, of The Hong Kong Jockey Club Department of Veterinary Clinical Services

The international transport of horses by air is becoming increasingly common. With the appeal of international racing meets, high-level equestrian competitions, and the import and export of sales and breeding stock growing steadily, elite horses are becoming gold-status frequent flyers.

At airports worldwide, horses are loaded into dedicated air stables in preparation for their flight. Air stables are lightweight aluminium boxes designed to carry up to three horses safely during the flight. Once the horses are contained within the air stables they are transported to and loaded onto the plane via a hydraulic lift. Most horses are very accepting of this process; however, nervous or claustrophobic horses might require mild sedation to ensure they load into the air stable and onto the plane safely.

The horses are monitored closely throughout the flight, with refreshments coming in the form of hay and water offered at regular intervals by the flying grooms. Veterinary emergencies that occur on the ground—such as colic, choke, and lacerations—can also happen in the air. Therefore, the in-flight groom must have the appropriate facilities and equipment to manage these problems should they arise. Sometimes a veterinarian will fly with the horses, providing the option of giving more comprehensive and immediate medical treatment if the need arises

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