February 2017 - Dressage Life: Flying With Your Horse 101
Written by Genay Vaughn
Tuesday, 31 January 2017 07:43

Coast to coast travel is no biggie for my horses, but requires preparation on my part.

by Genay Vaughn

This winter, my horses and I got invited to train with Debbie McDonald in Florida, where I will compete my 15-year-old Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (“DW”) in the U25 Grand Prix with the goal of qualifying to compete in Europe again. I also brought along my 9-year-old Hanoverian gelding Winchezter (“Whinny”) to focus on his training.

A look inside the horses’ plane shows the stalls that the horses fly in.

That’s DW on the left, and Whinny on the right, looking far more interested in their hay than their surroundings.

Driving from California to Florida would take four to five days, versus a seven-hour flight, so fortunately I was able to fly. Horses usually handle air travel quite well, and DW has flown a number of times.

California to Florida

We had a 6 a.m. flight on December 30 out of the Ontario airport in the Los Angeles area. Since we live in Elk Grove near Sacramento, we had a couple of options: Drive for seven hours to the airport and get directly onto the plane for a seven-hour flight, or make the journey in two steps.

The two-stage trip made a lot more sense! We left home on December 28 and stopped at my good friends Jan and Amy Ebeling in Moorpark for a little layover so that the boys could rest for their big trip.

On departure day, December 30, I had to have everything prepared to leave at 1:30 a.m. so that we could make it to the airport by our 4 a.m. required arrival time for our 6 a.m. departure. Talk about stressful.

We arrived at the Ontario airport at 4 a.m. and then sat around for a few hours while they checked off all of our paperwork. Then I helped load all of our trunks onto the plane and took my seat in the back of the plane.

Flying to Europe with your horse, you sit in the back of the passenger compartment, so you can go through the door into the horse section to feed, water and check on your horse.

Whinny took his flight to Florida in stride.

When flying in the States, you don’t get to help load the horses on the plane yourself. The shipping company has professionally trained grooms who have experience loading the horses and building the stalls around the horses.

During the flight, the grooms handle all the watering and feeding, so I would go check on my horses and keep them company. Sitting in the back of the plane with the horses, it can get extremely cold, so I brought lots of layers, blankets and snacks. There were no flight attendants – just me and the grooms!

Once we arrived in Florida, settling the horses into their temporary home was simple. Their stalls were ready and waiting for them, so all I had to do was the normal blanketing and leg wrapping. They were soon nose-deep in their hay, acting as if they hadn’t just flown across the country.

It’s Different in Europe

Flying with your horses in Europe is very different. There, you help load your horse onto a crate that has room for two or three other horses. Then the crate is put onto a conveyer belt and loaded onto the back of the plane.

Once the horses are on the plane, you can give them water and check on them to make sure they are ok.

It’s much more hands-on, as you are responsible for loading your horses, giving them water and feed, and you have to go by the horses for take-off and landing. In Europe I flew with Apollo on KLM, and you sit on a normal plane in the back row and then go through a door to where the horses are.

Travel Tips

There is a lot of preparation that goes on before you take your horse on a flight. I would suggest that you make a list of items that you should pack, just so that you don’t forget anything.

The most important thing to remember is constantly communicate with your agent to find out what items are prohibited and allowed. For example, when traveling to the United States you are allowed to take your grain, but when I traveled to Europe I wasn’t allowed to take grain from home.

After his in-flight meal, DW was ready for a relaxing nap.

Genay Vaughn is a full-time college student and active dressage competitor who also trains young horses and teaches students at her family’s Starr Vaughn Equestrian in Elk Grove. Last year she took the first step toward her lifelong goal of representing the United States in international competition when she was selected for the first-ever United States Under-25 Grand Prix team to compete in Europe. Her current equine partner is the Hanoverian stallion Donarweiss GGF (De Niro – Hohenstein – Archipel), owned by Starr Vaughn Equestrian Inc., bred by Greengate Farm, and approved AHS, ISR/OldNA, CWHBA, AWS,and RPSI. Find Genay on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/genay.vaughn.5

It’s also important to meet with your vet and find out all of the paper work, such as Coggins and health certificate, that you need so that you will be able to fly. If you are flying to a different country, the requirements for a stallion are different than for a mare or gelding.

Always make sure you give ulcer guard and electrolytes so that your horses don’t get dehydrated or ulcers on the trip.

Make sure you pack with your itinerary in mind, so that you do not end up having to repack everything because the things you need are at the bottom of your trunk … which, of course, is what I did!