Preparing a Horse for Overseas Travel


Ensuring that your horse has all the paperwork necessary to horse show either locally our out-of-state can sometimes be a supreme effort in time management. You have to be sure your vet can have a Coggins and a health certificate prepared by the time you head off the farm on your next adventure—sometimes these must be as recent as 10 days of leaving your home base. Additional paperwork, such as equine entry permits or brand inspections, also may be necessary to ship in or through some states.

Knowing how difficult it can sometimes be to get just the minimal paperwork in order, imagine taking a horse overseas to show in an event like the World Equestrian Games or the Badminton Horse Trials. Surprisingly, it isn’t as burdensome as you may think.

Lynn Symansky and Donner
Internationally competitive horses like Donner, shown here with Lynn Symansky at the 2014 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, need the right paperwork to travel around the world. Photo: Lesley Ward.

Rules and Regulations

The United States Department of Agriculture is tasked with regulating both horses leaving the country and those coming in, though the horse’s destination may have additional or differing protocol for horses entering their country. All U.S. horses traveling internationally must have a negative EIA (Coggins) test and a Certificate of Veterinary Inspection (CVI or health certificate) stamped by the USDA, which states that a vet has deemed the horse healthy enough to travel.

Additionally, horses shipping to the European Union must test negative for vesicular stomatitis and be vaccinated for both Eastern and Western equine encephalitis. They must have a current Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI) passport. The owners of these well-traveled horses will also need to pay import taxes, so they will need to provide a Declaration of Value form as well.

To return to the United States, horses will need to test negative for glanders, equine piroplasmosis and dourine.

To make sure all of the tests, vaccines and paperwork are done correctly, owners typically use a shipping agent, says Max Corcoran, who was the head groom and stable manager for the O’Connor Event Team for 11 years. Having flown internationally with horses for over 12 years, Max has travelled to England, Belgium, Amsterdam, Brazil and Hong Kong, and is well versed in shipping protocol. “[These agents] let us know of any special quarantine procedures and what the necessary vaccinations are. The shipping agents have a ‘clearing agent’ in the country where you are landing and also make sure the rules and regulations are known and followed.”

Shipping Similarities

“International travel actually is not as hard on a horse as one would think,” says Max. “The only big challenge is that the travel time [stall to stall] can be quite long, as it takes time to load the horses on the pallet, weigh them, load them on the plane, et cetera.

Flying a horse is very similar to transporting your horse on the ground in one big way: “You want to make sure the horses start out healthy and are well hydrated.”

To make shipping even easier, Max packs an “airplane bag” for the horses in her care. This bag includes a blanket, baggies of feed, treats and emergency medication—which doesn’t sound too different from what humans pack on planes!

In-flight Amenities

Max tries very hard to keep the horse’s routines in place by feeding them on the plane, and having a hay net and a bucket of water available. She also keeps carrots stashed in the airplane bag; she says they can act as a source of water if the horses aren’t drinking and it can distract them if they’re getting nervous. She also tries to let the horses lower their heads, which allows them to clear their nose and throat, and helps prevent lung infections.

What a horse wears when it flies is up to the individual owner and groom, though typically horses wear exactly what they would for van travel, which might include leg wraps, a blanket or scrim, and a fleece halter. Many times wraps are forgone as the horse will be standing for such a long period of time and they can be difficult to get off if necessary.

Surprising to many people, horses very rarely have trouble flying. “Think of how much quieter it is for us to travel in a plane rather than a car,” says Max. “Horses also appreciate a smooth ride. Many times when we check on them they’re snoozing or munching hay.” Tranquilizers to calm a horse are used only as a last resort as they can affect a horse’s balance.

Flight Information

There are two types of planes on which horses fly: cargo or combi-flights (where there are passengers in front and cargo in the back), and charter planes. On the first type of plane, horses travel in pallets; on charter flights, the horse walks onto the plane and a stall is built around them. These plans are typically more open than a cargo flight and temperatures can get a bit chilly; horses on this type of flight may be shipped in a light sheet.

Stalls in planes are very similar to those in a trailer, says Max. Horses usually ship up to three abreast on a pallet, or in a stall and a half if the horse is big or needs more room. Also available are full box stalls, just like on a commercial horse van.

There is always at least one “professional groom” with the horse, notes Max. This is a person who is hired by the shipping agent and is in charge of all the horses. When a lot of horses are flying, there is usually more than one groom. Additionally, a groom, owner or rider can fly with the horse, depending on how many jump seats are available on the plane. People who fly with the horses must go through security and have a completed background check prior to the flight.


The decision on how many days in advance to get to a destination is related to how long the flight will be and to the availability of a flight, Max notes. “Typically you would like to land the horses near where they are competing four to five days before the competition starts.”

U.S. horses flying internationally are required to complete both a pre-export and a post-export quarantine, depending on the country. The pre-export quarantine is dependent on the country to which the horses are traveling, says Max. Brazil and Hong Kong, for example, both require a 10 day pre-export quarantine that must be managed by the USDA. Max notes that this quarantine is not meant to be a hassle; many farms can be set up for this quarantine so that day-to-day training isn’t affected.

There is a mandatory minimum 36-hour quarantine for all horses coming in to the U.S.; for horses returning from South America, the quarantine can be as long as seven days.

With the help of qualified shipping agents and great communication between vets, owners, grooms and riders, shipping a horse overseas can become as routine as sending him across the country.

Liked this article? Here’s more on safe traveling with horses:

Caring for the Traveling Horse

Horses in Flight


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