How Do Horses Travel For International Competitions?

How Do Horses Travel For International Competitions?



Transporting riders is one thing, the process is relatively simple. However, transporting equestrian horses for international competitions is a much more complex procedure. So, how do horses travel?

This year we had the 2020 Olympics, where we got to see horses from all over the world compete in various disciplines. We unfortunately saw some horses misbehave as well as riders and coaches behaving poorly. However, the question still remains, how do horses travel for these major international competitions?

How Do You Transport A Horse?

The answer to how horses travel is simple but the process of travel is not. There are various methods of overseas transportation and not only is it incredibly expensive, it can be a very traumatic, stressful experience for the horse. Oftentimes these travelling horses require numerous stops, check ins and vet visits.

Cargo Planes

On these planes horses go two to a stall. The horses go from stable to the airport, where they receive veterinary checks to make sure they’re ready and clear to fly. They usually go on long walks before the flight to ensure they aren’t stiff or stressed. Once they are in the loading area, the horses undergo an additional check. From there they are loaded into their stalls on the plane. Oftentimes a vet, groom or owner will travel with them bringing luggage full of all the necessities: food, equipment, medicine and whatever else is needed.


The process for traveling via ship is similar to travelling on a plane. There are numerous vet checks and the rider, groom or vet will keep the horse company for the duration of the trip. However, horses often get seasick when they travel on a boat. Additionally, plane travel is often quicker, safer and overall better for the horses.

Do Horses Experience Jet Lag?

Unlike us, horses do not experience jet lag. Due to the amount of competitions that take place all over the world, a lot of research has gone into the effects jet lag has on horses and their performance. Horses spend less than 15% of their day sleeping and usually only sleep for 10 minutes at any one time. They have a lot of little naps throughout the day which is why they are not affected by jet lag like we are.

Is It Safe And Healthy For Horses To Travel Overseas? 

Long distance travel, especially overseas can put the horse at risk for injury and illness. There is a lot to consider when travelling with a horse, primarily when travelling internationally. Most trips need to be broken into several stages that consist of stops and regular checks. Most horses complete tips with good health but there is always a chance of injury or illness.

Potential Risks & Dangers For Travelling Horses

Just like humans, travelling poses plenty of risks. However, horses are sensitive creatures and can react differently to types of stress. It all depends on preparation and travel conditions. Here is what you need to keep in mind when travelling with horses for international competitions:

Contagious Disease & Infections

Contagious diseases and infections spread rapidly. One horse with a respiratory infection can spread the infection to many other horses in its area. Whether at a show or back home at the stable, the infection can spread. The treatment and preparation for this depends on type of infection/disease, the way it spreads, level of immunity amongst exposed horses and environment conditions. Understanding the biosecurity when shipping horses is crucial.

What to be aware of:

  • Equine Influenza

  • Equine Herpes Virus 

  • Respiratory Infections “shipping fever”

  • Dehydration

  • Intestinal Impaction 

  • Colic


Injuries are most likely to happen early on in the trip while serious illness or infections occur with the length of the trip. Ensuring your horse doesn’t undergo injury, frequent stops to adjust or maintain balance and comfort is crucial. It’s not as simple as standing in a stall like at home, there could be turbulence, breaking or rapid acceleration that affects the horse’s stability. Additionally, a tired horse is much more likely to suffer from injury and a lower immune system.

Stress & Trauma 

Travelling is stressful for everyone, especially animals. They aren’t as aware of what’s going on as we are. They require frequent adjustments and check-ins to ensure their safety as well as their comfort. Get them used to the trailer and moving around days before the big travel day. Allow them to get comfortable in their travel gear and triple-check that the horse is hydrated. Before heading home, make sure the horse gets lots of rest and water as well.

Bottom Line 

How horses travel for international competitions is a complex process. It requires patience and most importantly compassion. Travelling is a very stressful experience, especially overseas. Ensuring they are hydrated, comfortable and with proper air flow to their  travel stall is vital.

Additionally, being aware of potential contagious infections and mindful of injuries is crucial for the safe arrival of the horse. It’s not just travelling to the show, but home as well. Horses are sensitive and require a lot of preparation before they hit the road, sea or sky.


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