How horses travel by air across the world - Veterinary Practice
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How horses travel by air across the world

John Periam has been finding out what’s involved in getting horses to competition venues in different parts of the world, speaking to one of the major firms involved and an accompanying vet

MOST of us take flying for granted:
we arrive at the airport, proceed
through check-in, leave our
baggage, then clear immigration and
security, and wait to be called to our
departure bay ready for our flight.

We rely on the skills of the pilot and
his first officer to get us to our
destination whilst being looked after by
the cabin crew. It can be a long-haul
flight or a short-haul flight but our
safety is of the utmost importance to
the airline concerned and the air traffic
controllers who take us through the
controlled air space getting us there on

Have you
ever thought what it would
be like if you
were a horse
making your
way to a top
event the other side of the world? The idea of this feature is to give you some background to what happens.

The man who knows it all and
provides one of the most respected air
transport organisations is Henry Bullen
of Peden Bloodstock, based in
Hampshire. His company was
responsible for the transport into the
UK for most the Olympic Horses in
2012. In 2010 he transported over 450
horses to Lexington in Kentucky for
The World Equestrian Games. He is a
man with a wealth of experience and
knowledge in his subject.

I spoke to Tina Cook, one of the
UK’s top Event Riders and Olympic
Medallist, who is used to transporting
her horses around the globe. “Henry is
a true professional and I have the
utmost faith in him knowing that all will
be done to secure a safe veterinary-free
flight. From the minute my horses leave
our stables at Findon in Sussex to the
time they get to their destination I have
no concerns at all.

“Henry is very approachable,
knowing about all aspects of
horsemanship, having been a rider
himself. He has his veterinary contacts
on hand and provides his own grooms
to travel with the horses. The airlines he
uses are experienced in what they do
even to the extent of the pilots avoiding turbulence on route so the horses get a
stress-free environment.” This is a
glowing comment from Tina and every
other rider I have spoken to says the

How did it all start, I asked Henry?
“I have been involved for about 22
years, joining my father who founded
the company. After several years of
building cross-country courses linked to
some landscape gardening, he asked me
to join him. It has been a case of the
family training me within the business
so I worked in Germany for a year and
a half before returning to the UK to
run the office here.

“My father was an Olympic Event
rider representing the country in 1960
and 1964 and he got involved in horse
transport during that time, being one of
its pioneers. In those days it was
different as there were a lot of smaller
airfields and the regulations as such
were totally different from what they are

Today, Peden Bloodstock is
transporting horses every day of the
week to all corners of the globe to meet
their clients’ requirements. It could be to
Dubai or to South Africa and distance is
no object to them. A short trip within
the UK is as important as a long-haul
flight to the USA.

“Eventing is the mainstay of our
business as the logistics often involve a
larger number of horses – that is not to
say we don’t transport show jumpers
and dressage horses. Racehorses need to
be transported also and we work with
many of the top stables.”

Pedens has its own team of
professional flying grooms who are
employed by the company full-time to
fly with horses. They are very highly
skilled and can monitor the
requirements of each horse on flight.

Henry said, “The horses are looked
after very well indeed – we like to think
that they are treated like a first class
passenger in Club Class on British
Airways. The take-offs and landings can
cause a lot of stress linked to the noise
of the aircraft. Travelling on cargo
aircraft, the crew make sure the take-
offs and landings are less steep, and do
their utmost to limit brake pressure on

“The pilots also try to monitor bad
weather and fly around any storms; they
of course want to limit flying time but
unlike a passenger aircraft we have more flexibility as we are not
working to a specific slot

Veterinary support
plays an important role on
some flights as some horse
owners request they travel
with their horses. Recently,
Suzanne Duncan from the
Arundel Equine Hospital
took a 15-hour flight to
South Africa with some
horses which included a
mixture of warmbloods,
Arabs, racehorses and yearlings.

Each horse was accompanied by its
own set of export health papers. These
had been completed by LVIs and
included a pre-export health check to
ensure that all the horses were fit for
transport, and free from infectious
disease and that the appropriate blood
tests/swabs had been carried out.

“It took about 2-3 hours to load all
the horses and thanks to the expertise
of the flying grooms it all went
smoothly,” said Suzanne. “Take-off was
the most exciting part as we listened to
engine noise mixed with the clatter of
hooves. This lasted for a few minutes
before they returned to eating their hay.

“Our duties comprised mainly of
sedating those that started to get a bit
fresh. There is sometimes a possibility
of horses jumping out or turning
themselves over in their stalls. Thanks to
the expertise of the grooms this was
monitored well.”

Plenty to worry about…

Other things to worry about are
overheating, dehydration and the length
of time the horse’s head is up. Horses
need to be able to lower their head and
neck to drain mucus from their lungs.
This could result, if not done, in
shipping sickness resulting in
pleuropneumonia. Water is offered
frequently and they fly without rugs and
bandages, wearing legwraps and tail
guards instead.

Flight time for this trip was 15
hours: four hours to Libya, a two-hour
stop-over, then nine hours to Cape
Town. On arrival they were transferred
to the waiting horseboxes alongside
their corresponding paperwork before
making their way to quarantine.

Most UK airports will fly horses but
there are preferred ones such as Stansted, Prestwick, including
Amsterdam or Luxemburg in Europe
where they cater more for freight
aircraft. They are limited in which airline
they can use and prefer to work with
these. Flying fare-paying passengers and
horses on the same flight is very rare,
hence the use of freight airlines.

I asked Henry about any amusing
experience that came to mind. “We had
an occasion that a horse went on a
European flight and on touchdown the
groom opened the doors and asked the
captain if he had landed at the right
airport. After a slight pause the captain
realised that he had not checked his
documentation to find that it had been
changed at the last minute.”

Back in Hampshire Henry has a
staff of eight and a young family to
support. “It is an interesting job and
one that has many challenges but on the
whole we are delighted to be doing what
we do. Keeping our name to the fore as
a trustworthy and established company
has paid off over many years and with
more competition we have retained our
name for providing a service that is not

“I have two young children and it
would be nice to see them follow on but
perhaps they will want a proper job”, he
n My thanks go to Henry Bullen of
Peden Bloodstock, Suzanne Duncan,
Air Team Images and Peter Nixon for
use of their images.

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