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The best way to transport horses over long & short distances

by Marlen Fischer
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Traveling with horses around the world is without a doubt more complicated than taking a dog or any other animal with you on a journey. But for all those of you who want to move to a different country, buy a horse abroad or go to international competitions it is important to know exactly which way of transport is the best and how to prepare for a long journey.

Air, Road, Rail or Sea?

Horses can travel by air, road, rail, or sea. On long distances, they are most commonly transported by air, whereas horse trailers are the standard way to transport horses over short distances. Professional competition riders even own lorries that can fit many horses. In case your journey takes a short ride with a ferry, you may take your horse with you on a boat. There are many ways to transport horses, and we want to explain how exactly horses are transported and which form of transportation is the best.

Air – do horses suffer from jet lag?

Flying is the most common way to transport horses. But there aren’t planes only for horses. Instead, the animals are loaded into specifically designed air-stables that look just like a horse trailer without wheels. These air-stables are then lifted onto cargo planes. There are usually 20 to 60 horses on a plane. An air-stable can be divided into sections to take up to 3 horses. Size, gender and the class the owner has booked for his horse decide how many horses are put together into an air-stable. There are three different classes. In coach-class, three horses share in one stable. This option only works for smaller horses and ponies. In business-class, two horses share one stable, and first-class means that the horse has the air-stable on its own. Once all horses have been loaded, the air-stables are lifted onto the plane. There’s always a groom with the horses during the flight to feed them and give them water. Sometimes there’s even a vet to monitor the equines.

But horses don’t suffer from flying at all. It is, in fact, the most comfortable way of transport as they don’t have to hold their balance actively. Therefore, they can sleep and eat as they would do at home. This is the reason why horses do not experience jet lag as humans do. It is their nature to take short naps instead of sleeping for several hours at once, which means they can get on with their sleeping routine on the flight. 

Alternatives to flying – can horses get seasick?


Of course, you can travel on the road with your horse. But longer journeys are pretty exhausting for the animals. Accelerating, stopping and being chucked from one side to the other isn’t fun to endure over days. Horses can’t sleep or relax when they are in a trailer or a truck. Yet, horse trucks are more comfortable as they are bigger and therefore steadier on the road. So, if you’re traveling for more than one or two days, you should consider using a different way of transport.


Horses can, of course, be transported by rail. It makes sense to use the rail if the starting- and endpoint of your journey is near a train station. However, even if you’re not particularly near a train station, you may consider traveling by rail as it is one of the most comfortable ways to travel for horses. There are no abrupt changes of direction, stops, or bumpy roads, and if you want to decide what’s the best way to travel for horses, traveling by rail would come right after flying. You can even take your horse on the Eurotunnel.


Traveling by sea is another option but for sure none you would want to consider and here’s why. Horses can get seasick. They usually travel below deck, where due to lack of vision, the brain gets confused by the boat’s motion. It’s just the same as for humans, and if you’ve ever experienced this, you know how horrible it feels. For horses, seasickness can even get serious as they’re not able to vomit. Instead, they suffer from colic. So, traveling by boat is not a good idea unless you lived in the 16th century and wanted to discover the new world. 

The best way to transport horses

The best and most common way to transport horses over long distances is definitely by air. Horses can sleep on a plane, and the steady noise makes them drowsy. Most horses are very accepting of the process of being loaded onto the plane, too, and only a few require mild sedation.
If you’re worried about the environment and your carbon footprint, you may want to consider transporting your horse by rail. Being on a train is similar to being on a plane for horses. They don’t need to hold their balance actively and can rest and even sleep while they’re being moved.

You may have realized that the bigger the vehicle, the better. So, the two-horse trailer you own is worse than a plane. Did you expect that? Also, horses usually board trucks easier than trailers. Trucks feel safer and more secure for the horse and the driver. But you don’t need to buy a massive horse truck now. There are two-horse trucks that are safer than a trailer and more comfortable for the horses. In these small trucks, the ramp goes sideways, and the horses face to the back so that in case you have braking issues, the horses are better prepared and can just sit back. If you’re traveling a lot with your horse, you may want to think about switching to such a truck.

We’ve learned that horses don’t experience jet lag as we do but suffer from seasickness. Consequently, traveling by sea shouldn’t be an option for you and your horse. If you need to get on a ferry for a short time, that’s not a problem, but don’t try to get your horse from Europe to America by boat. That’s more of an ancient practice.

Shipping fever

Along with traveling long distances goes the risk that a horse suffers shipping fever. This happens to approximately 10% of the horses and can appear whichever way of transport you choose. As horses usually travel by air, it typically occurs during a flight or a few days later. Therefore, the flight-grooms are well-equipped with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. Sometimes there’s even a vet on the plane. Nevertheless, it would be best if you kept checking your horse’s temperature a few days after a long journey as shipping fever can occur post-travel and should be taken very seriously. If it is not detected early, it can cause death. 

The paperwork

When moving horses abroad, the paperwork is the biggest part. Imagine you wnt to move your horse from Great Britain to the EU post-Brexit, the first steps you would have to take are contacting a shipping agent and an official vet. The shipping agent or transporter knows all about the right vehicle and transporter authorization. The official vet issues the export health certificate, and in case your horse is not registered, the government-issued travel ID as well. A horse counts as registered when it belongs to a recognized UK studbook or a national branch of an international body for racing or competition, for example, the FEI. Ten days before travel, you must apply for an EHC. However, the actual work starts long before this. You have to check residency and isolation requirements as well as which disease tests need to be undertaken. The required documents and tests vary between countries and horses. Therefore, you should always read the guidance on the government websites to know exactly what is required for the export or import. If you want to learn more about the new regulations on import & export of horses after Brexit, check out our article “Brexit & horses – implications on import & export”.

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