Thursday, February 23, 2012

Flying Horses

You thought this was going to be a Pegasus, didn't you?

Have you ever wondered about how flying horses work? Me too-- but I'm not just talking about the fantastical ones. In the thoroughbred and warmblood worlds, it's common for horses to be shipped to different states and countries by airplane. The demand for popular bloodlines and accomplished horses is high enough to warrant the cost, risk and hassle-- and of course, international law requires Thoroughbred racehorses to be bred via "live cover" (actually bumping uglies) instead of artificial insemination or embryo transfer. This is done to minimize the possibility of mixed-up breedings and fraud (and, say some, to preserve the monopoly of the richest racing breeders, who are the only ones who can afford to fly a bunch of horses around constantly).

...and thousands of stallions are undoubtedly very grateful to not have this for a girlfriend.

So what's involved with flying horses? Well, first of all money of course. A horse's plane ride to Europe costs about $5,000 (US dollars). Which is actually not too bad, considering that a human ticket costs about the same. Unfortunately, that doesn't include the cost of the mandatory 30 day quarantine, health checks, or transporting your horse to an airport/airline that will actually fly a horse. According to this great article about the process of air-mailing a horse, "El Al, CAL, Lufthansa, KLM, and Cargolux have the most livestock shipping volumes. FedEx and Emery transports also offer international equine shipping services." Fed-Ex offers local horse airmail too, for cheaper prices-- only about $2,000 from the USA to Alaska. I LOVE the fact that you can Fed-Ex a horse.

This (left) is the shipping container they use. It's called an "air stable" and looks a little cramped, but then again, so are economy class seats for humans. The airstable container then gets bolted down to a shipping pallet and lifted into the airplane by what is basically a giant forklift (below). Alternatively, horses may be led up a ramp straight into the airplane itself, which has been divided into paneled sections (right).

OMG the nose comes off!
Nervous horses get sedated, and there are no windows or in-flight movies for horses, but otherwise their rides are totally normal. They get hay and water. Of course, should an accident happen, the horses are totally screwed (they can't get out) but flying is statistically pretty damn safe.

All of this exploration was brought on, by the way, by this article about a horse breeder in Sarona, Wisconsin who has just sent a horse to Hungary. "Lace" is a young, registered, old-style Morgan filly who will be the first Morgan ever to live in Hungary.

Rafter Bar D Morgans is the name of the ranch she was bred at. It looks like a fantastically prosperous farm. I do love old-type Morgans, and the pictures of the Rafter Bar D farm are gorgeous. However, even they seem to have hopped on board the Cremello train, a color-breeding experiment that ended quickly when the mare died due to "a tragic pasture accident." Hmmmm....*slightly suspicious noise*

And what do you think of their stallion, JMF True North?

I think he's very shiny, and very black... but not perfect. He looks downhill to me, with somewhat upright hocks. He's got a nice shoulder though. What do YOU think?

I just hope Lace's new owners really really really like their new pet. As someone who spends large gobs of money on own pampered equines, I can't really criticize someone for wanting to spend money on the luxury of importing a horse. However, it does seem to me that if you're just buying a pet (which is what Lacey seems to be) rather than a horse for competition or breeding, wouldn't it be better to spend all that money on a less fortunate horse in your own country?

I'm not necessarily one of those "never buy a purebred from a breeder when you could rescue!" types, but still...

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