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How Do Showjumping Horses Travel to Competitions?

Thousands of horses travel each year to get to destination competitions worldwide to compete in top-class events.  How do they get there?

Showjumping horses can travel to competition destinations by air or by road. The most frequently used, fastest, and easiest way for horses to travel to showjumping competitions is by airplane. Horses are loaded onto trailers and transported by road to one of the major airports. Upon arrival at the airport, the horses are loaded into specialized containers for livestock transportation and loaded into the plane to begin their journey to the competition destination.

The goal of all sport horse transport is to get your horse to the competition as safe, smooth, and quick as possible.  Let’s look at all the details and extensive planning and logistics of showjumping horse transportation.

Horses at altitude

Traveling to a competition can be a stressful time for the horse and owner.  You want your equine partner to arrive safely and on time at your competition destination.

One of the best ways to transport showjumping competition horses is by air. However, a lot of planning and logistics go into planning a flight path for your horse to get to the competition destination.

Equine travel documents

When your horse travels, be it by land or air, he needs to travel with certain documents.  Some documents are vaccination and health documents, while others show proof of ownership and your horse’s registration.  Make copies of the original documents. The copies will travel with your horse.

Here is a rundown on the documents you need to travel with your showjumping horse;

Certificate of Veterinary Inspection

The CVI is also called a health certificate. The Certificate of Veterinary Inspection certifies your horse’s health status, ownership, and address where the horse is stabled.

Why a CVI is needed?

Your horse needs a CVI for any international travel and to cross any border or state line in the United States.  Your horse needs a current health certificate within 10 to 30 days of travel.

How to get a CVI

Make an appointment with your veterinarian to check your horse within 30 days prior to travel.  This examination should include a general health check, vaccination, and deworming program review.

The CVI should also include a verification of the Coggins test and a complete description of your horse. Your horse’s microchip number should also be listed on the health certificate. 

Coggins Test

The Coggins test was developed by Leroy Coggins, DVM Ph.D., in 1970. It shows your horse didn’t carry any equine infectious anemia antibodies at the time of your horse’s test.  This document is a legal document and also states the ownership and address where your horse is stabled.

Why a Coggins test is needed?

The Coggins test is required by any International travel as well as any state border crossing in the United States. A Coggins test is required 30 days to 12 months before travel.

How to get a Coggins test

Make an appointment with your veterinarian within 30 days prior to travel.  Your veterinarian will draw some blood from your horses and send it to a laboratory to verify that your horse is negative for Equine Infectious Anemia. 

Also known as Swamp Fever, Equine Infectious Anemia is a highly contagious, potentially fatal disease that has no cure or effective vaccine against it.  Your horse’s microchip number should be listed on the Coggins test.  

Power of Attorney

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that allows a legally appointed person to decide the treatment, care, and disposition of your animals.

Why you need a Power of Attorney?

If you get injured, become incapacitated, or die during travel with your horse, someone else will have to make decisions on behalf of your animals.

How to get a POA

A free downloadable PDF form is available on the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan website as an example of how you should word your Power of Attorney. You are able to modify the form as you need. After you have printed out the completed form, take it to a notary public to be witnessed and signed.

Make sure the person you appoint as your POA agent is aware that they have been selected.  You are asking them to make difficult decisions about your horse’s care, medical treatment, or euthanasia of your horse in your absence.  Relay your wishes to this person regarding your horse and make sure they know what to do and what you expect if anything happens to you.

Emergency-Responder Form

This is a legal document that allows a licensed veterinarian to assess, treat or euthanize your horse in case of an accident.  This document provides crucial information to firefighters, first responders, and law enforcement to notify assistance for your animals.

Why you need an Emergency-Responder form?

Suppose in the unfortunate event of you getting injured, you are becoming incapacitated or die while traveling with your horse, first responders, and law enforcement to notify for assistance.

How to get an Emergency-Responder form

You can download a free PDF form from the USRider Equestrian Motor Plan website as an example, adjust it where necessary, print it out, and take it to a notary public to be signed.

Emergency first responders often don’t know what to do after an accident. Having your veterinarian’s information, a horse minder, and relative’s contact details on the form will facilitate a quick response.

Traveling with your horse by air

Paperwork done and dusted, moving on to traveling by the most frequent form of travel for showjumping horses, traveling by air.  Horses travel in cargo planes, not the same aircraft we fly to our destinations. 

Horses booked on a flight will be transported by road from their stables to the nearest major airport, where they will be loaded into special transportation containers made explicitly for equine transport.

Horses are not sedated while traveling they need to remain alert enough to balance on all four feet during transport.

Nervous Thoroughbred horses with a companion travel buddy like a goat, which live with them and help calm them on the ground, can bring their buddy along on the plane like carry-on luggage at no extra charge.

The shipping airfreight container or pallet for your horse

The containers that the horses travel in during the flight are generally called ‘pallets.’ Each shipping container can carry a maximum of 3 horses.  Most pallets have removable partitions or dividers and can be adjusted for two horses or even one horse in bigger spaces.

Each horse is loaded into the shipping airfreight container the size of a horse’s length onto the tarmac at the airport.  The horses walk into the container using a ramp, just like loading a horse into a horsebox.

All horses traveling on a flight will travel in these airfreight containers regardless of the class of travel. The size of the container your horse travels in depends on which category you booked your horse for travel. 

The dimensions of the air travel containers for horses can vary slightly between airlines and different model planes, but generally, they fit three horses standing next to each other comfortably.

Economy class air travel for horses

The most cost-effective option is the Economy class. Horses travel in a container with two other horses standing side by side with a partition in-between each other in the single standing container. Usually, three horses fit into the economy transportation container. 

The dimensions for economy class stalls are 57×230 cm or 23×91 inches.

Business class air travel for horses

Dividers are re-arranged to create two double stalls in the container, allowing the horse to stand wide and travel more comfortably.  Business-class horses travel in a container with only one additional neighbor horse beside them. 

The dimensions for Business class stalls are 114×230 cm or 45×91 inches.

First class air travel for horses

All dividers are removed so that your horse has the entire stall all to himself.

First-class horses travel in the transportation container all by themselves, giving them space to move around.

The dimensions for a First-class stall are 171X230 or 68×91 inches.

Weighing the container

Once the horses are secured in the container, they are then loaded onto the plane via a weighbridge.  Weighing the horses is essential as the container’s weight is used to ensure that the aircraft has the weight evenly distributed throughout the plane, all cargo is on pivots, and every pivot is weighed against, allowing for the calculations to be made correctly.

Loading of the container

Once the horses are securely loaded into the container, it is then lifted into the plane by a scissor hydraulic lift and then put in place with a high-loader and roll-system.  Attendants and experienced grooms that accompany the horses on the flight make sure this whole process goes smoothly. 

Every groom meets their horses on the tarmac after going through the airport terminal’s security and immigration just like a regular passenger.  Grooms flying with sporting horses spend about 50% of their time flying around the globe traveling with their horses.

What happens onboard the flight?

Once the horses are loaded on board, they are given hay and access to water throughout the duration of the flight.  The temperature and humidity are carefully monitored and maintained throughout the flight.

You might think standing for the whole flight your horse will be uncomfortable, but horses can sleep upright.

Is there a veterinarian onboard?

Veterinarians will often accompany showjumping horses on a flight to a competition, depending on the flight’s length and what the owner requests. 

If the flight is less than 10 hours and the horse stops to eat or drink, it is not such a huge problem, but if the flight is longer than 10 hours, it can become a severe problem if a horse stopped eating.   A veterinarian onboard will be able to treat any health issues immediately.

Shipping fever, an infection brought on by long-distance travel, can quickly become serious.  Having a veterinarian journey with your horses is always a good investment.

Having a veterinarian onboard for long-haul flights just gives that extra bit of peace of mind to any worrying owner.  In general, horses tend to cope with flying quite well, and most of the time, no serious issues are reported.

Do horses fly comfortably?

With precious cargo on board, pilots will adapt take-off and landing angles for a smoother flight.  Pilots will avoid weather conditions that might be turbulent and bumpy.  They will even take a whole new route to avoid bad weather conditions that might disturb the horses.

Pilots don’t want to give the horses positive or negative G’s because the horses feet can slip and they can fall.  So, taking extra care at take-off and landing is essential.

Flying showjumping horses to competitions has become one of the most preferred ways to transport competition horses.  Flying is more comfortable than road travel with no stops, no merges, and no roundabouts.  Everything is so much smoother and quicker for the horse when flying.

Unloading your horse at the destination airport

When the horses arrive at the destination airport, unloading can take a while when waiting for customs clearance and veterinarian health checks.  After the containers have been unloaded, the horses are loaded into horse trailers. Depending on if there are no quarantine rules, the horses are then transported to their destination.  Japan, Australia, and China require a 30-day quarantine period.

Recovery on arrival

In general, horses don’t suffer from jetlag.  The climate change at the arrival destination is usually the most significant issue.   However, don’t ask too much from your horse right away.  It is recommended that horses get enough time to rest and recover after a flight before attempting another long journey or strenuous exercise.

What does it cost to send your showjumping horse by plane to a competition?

The price of an air ticket for a horse varies depending on the airline, class of travel, and where your horse travels.  Domestic flights will cost less than international flights. 

The price of an airfreight ticket can vary from $3 000 to $10 000. Payments usually need to be made seven days in advance.

What Airlines fly competition horses?

These Airlines are frequently used to airfreight showjumping competition horses all over the world and have a worldwide reputation of excellence. 

These Airlines use only the best aircraft in their fleet to safely transport your horse. The Boeing 747, 777, 767, 727-200, the MD-11, and the Airbus 319 are all aircraft used to transport horses.

  • TNT.
  • Kalitta.
  • Atlas Airline.
  •  KLM.
  • Lufthansa.
  •  Martin Air.
  • FedEx.
  • Qatar Airline.
  •  Etihad Airline.
  •  LAN Cargo.

Traveling with your horse by road

When the showjumping event is being held in another county or neighboring state, and it’s not possible to fly your horse there, you could drive your horse to the competition yourself.

Traveling with a horse by road with a horse trailer can be very stressful, be sure you plan and prepare in advance for the trip before you hit the road.

Studies have confirmed that the longer your horse travels on the road, the greater the threat to his health. Trips less than three hours long are unlikely to cause transport-related issues.  When travel time exceeds the 12-hour mark, risks increase dramatically.

Your horse becomes dehydrated during transport because he eats less, drinks less, and sweats more. Dehydration increases the risk for colic, as well as other metabolic problems that can threaten your horse’s health.

Long-distance road travel puts strenuous demands on your horse’s musculoskeletal system.  Following long haul transport, blood tests show increased creatine phosphokinase (CPK) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST), two enzymes that are being released from the muscles.

These increased levels show that your horse’s muscles work hard to help him keep his balance while he is in the horse trailer.  It will take 24 hours or longer for these levels to return to normal levels, leaving your horse sore and stiff after a long-haul trip.

When traveling with your horse by road, the same health checks and documentation apply as for traveling by air.

Tips to safely drive your horse in a horse trailer by road

  • Check your horse trailer.  Make sure your horsebox or trailer is roadworthy and has a spare tire.
  • Plan your route.  Plan both the route and time of day for travel prior to your trip.  A trailer in the hot sun can be 20 degrees higher on the inside than outside, which could make long waits in traffic unbearable for your horse. When the weather is scorching, consider traveling during the night as the temperature will be cooler.
  • Plan for regular stops on your route.  If your trip is longer than 3 hours, plan a stop every 4 hours for half an hour at a time.  Check your horse for any signs of discomfort and offer your horse hay and water.  Horses need access to water throughout the trip to avoid getting dehydrated and overheated.
  • Give your horse probiotics before travel.  The stress of travel can upset the flora inside your horse’s stomach.  Giving probiotics to your horse a few days in advance of travel probiotics can support a healthy gut when the horse gets stressed.
  • Bring enough hay along.  Make sure you eliminate grain from your horse’s diet while traveling. Free access to a horse’s regular hay is advised during transport. Take enough hay along to last the entire trip, as well as a few days in the new location.
  • Make sure there is adequate ventilation.  A steady stream of fresh air is needed to keep your horse cool and comfortable and breathing easy.
  • Take a water tank along.  Make sure to bring enough water along for the trip.
  • Secure everything in the trailer.  Tie-down buckets, containers, riding gear, first aid kit, and anything else that might slide loose and connect with your horse.
  • Don’t tie your horse’s head too high.  Leave room for your horse to drop his head.  If you tie your horse’s head too tight, he won’t be able to lower his head to cough to clear dust from his lungs.
  • Prevent Shipping Fever.  Shipping fever is a term used for a viral or bacterial respiratory infection a horse can develop while traveling.  A strong cough characterizes shipping fever, and it can last for weeks after travel.  One of the best ways to avoid shipping fever is to make sure your horse can drop his head while traveling and cough to clear particulate matter from his respiratory tract.  Shipping fever can also be triggered by stress, shipping with a second horse or companion animal is recommended.
  • Avoid dusty bedding.  Even with a skilled driver driving the horse trailer, balancing on a moving trailer for hours isn’t easy for a horse. Bedding the trailer floor can help reduce leg stress for your horse.  Dusty bedding like pine shavings, however, should not be used as it can cause respiratory problems and irritate your horse’s eyes.
  • Use Rumber flooring in the trailer to combat muscle fatigue.  Rumber flooring is a rubber synthetic material made from recycled tire bits and is considered the best flooring for horses during transport.  Rumber flooring absorbs tension during travel. Horses experience less stress on their muscles during the ride when Rumber flooring is used.  That means the horses arrive happier, calmer, and less fatigued.

Commercial Transportation

If you feel uneasy about driving that far and long with your horse in a horsebox or trailer by yourself, you could arrange a commercial shipper to transport your horse to the competition.

Commercial transportation trailers are better insulated for protection against extreme heat or cold. Therefore, giving your horse more protection. 

A plus point for commercial transportation trailers is they have video cameras that allow your horse to be monitored while driving.  Ventilation fans allow for excellent airflow in the trailer keeping your horse cool on his way to the destination.

When choosing a commercial transportation company, look for a company that uses experienced horsemen as drivers.  Drivers that understand how horses react will take extra care driving.

Ask how often the commercial transportation company will stop for breaks and their water and feeding schedules. 

Traveling by road with your horse is an option, but a three- to five-day trip across the country in a horse trailer can be accomplished in a single day of air travel.  There’s no doubt about it; flying is a better option that will be physically much easier on your horse. 

Unfortunately, it will cost you a lot more than traveling by road.  Peace of mind and stress-free, safe arrival at the destination is all worth it in the end.

How long does my showjumping horse need to recover from a trip?

When your horse has traveled for 6 to 12 hours, give your horse at least one day of rest to recover.  If your horse has traveled for longer than 12 hours, it is recommended to give your horse at least two to three days of rest to recover.

Usually, a horse will lose five to six percent of his body weight during a 24-hour long trip.  This weight loss is due to a combination of dehydration and reduced feed intake.

Half of that weight loss can be recovered by your horse within the first 24 hours again; however, it can take as long as seven days for your horse to fully recover after a long trip.

 So, if your horse is facing a complex or long trip, know that it will take at around a week before your horse will return entirely back to normal. 


It takes an incredible amount of logistics, planning, and teamwork to ensure that your valuable showjumper arrives safely and in top form at the competition. Preparation and planning are critical to a successful, safe travel journey for your horse.

Thousands of showjumping horses travel all over the globe each year to get to destination competitions on the global show jumping circuit.  The only way horses get to travel to their competition destinations safely and successfully is through the well-run business of equine air transportation.

Show horses can also travel by road; it depends on the distance to the destination. Road travel is considerably cheaper but takes a lot longer, and the stress and health risks to your horse are also so much higher. 

Traveling by air is more expensive but gets your horse to the destination much faster and with less risk.  Unfortunately, traveling by air is more expensive, and owners can expect to pay in the four figures per stall for transatlantic flights.

Traveling by air, horses are meticulously monitored to ensure they are comfortable, safe, calm, and have plenty of hay and water throughout their journey.

Traveling by road, frequent stops have to be made to check on your horse’s wellbeing and give your horse some time to rest, which could prolong the traveling time. 

The goal of all showjumping horse transport is to have your showjumping horse travel as safely, smoothly, and quickly as possible to its competition destination.  So that after your horse had a rest for a few days and recovered, your horse can perform at its full potential at the showjumping competition.  

Anrie Diedericks

I've been around horses since I was 6 years old and started competing at the age of 9. Horses are my greatest passion and I am thrilled to be able to share my 23 (and counting) years of experience and knowledge with you.

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