An Inside Look at Equine Air Travel

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Jollybo’s coast-to-coast journey to WEG begins! Photo courtesy of Hawley Bennett-Awad.

For five decades, the name H.E. “Tex” Sutton has been synonymous with world-class equine air transportation. They are North America’s leader in the field of safe, efficient and timely travel of both race and show horses to all major venues. Their fully-equipped dedicated aircraft “Air Horse One” affords them the luxury of scheduling trips on demand, avoiding unnecessary stops along the route and ensuring the on-time arrival of a healthy, happy horse — ready to perform to their fullest potential.

We caught up with H.E. Sutton Forwarding Company President Rob Clark to get an inside look at equine air travel.

Q: Tell us a bit about your aircraft “Air Horse One.” What makes Air Horse One different from other equine aircraft carriers in the country?

Our aircraft nicknamed “Air Horse One” is a Boeing 727 that is in Cargo configuration, meaning it has been modified to fly freight/cargo rather than passengers. It becomes an equine transport plane once we install our custom stall system into the cargo area. All aircraft that fly horses are cargo aircraft, but the horse stall systems used can vary. Most carriers use stalls that are basically large boxes that are loaded with the horses. Normally, there are three horses to a box. Then the boxes (or stalls) are lifted vertically on a large platform and then wheeled into the aircraft and into the cargo area and secured.

Our system is different in that we hand-walk the horses from the van or trailer up our custom ramps and into the aircraft where our stalls are partially assembled. We then walk the horse into its stall then the stall doors are put in place. Essentially, we set up the stalls as we load the horses. Most horse owners and trainer agree that walk-on loading feels more “natural” to the horses, making the loading and unloading process less stressful on the horses.

Q: How do you keep horses comfortable during air travel?

We keep the aircraft nice and cool. This keeps the horses comfortable and prevents overheating. Also, our expert handlers pay close attention to the horses, tending to their every need and offering them water during flight. Hay nets are tied next to each horse, so they can munch the whole time if they like. Our handlers tend to the needs of our equine passengers also making sure that each horse safely loads and unloads the plane.

Q: How are you able to accommodate multiple horses and all of their equipment?

When each horse is in a “regular stall” we can accommodate up to 21 horses. We also have several seats for grooms accompanying horses in the rear of the aircraft. Most warmbloods/show horses require a “stall and half,” which limits us to 14 horses if all are in the larger stall configuration. If we have a mixed load or horses of varying sizes, we can provide both stall sizes. We also can accommodate standard barn equipment in the lower cargo area.

Q: What are the benefits of air travel compared to ground transportation for equines?

The key advantage of air transportation is the drastic reduction in travel time, therefore minimizing any travel-related stress on the horses.

Jollybo all settled in at Tryon International Equestrian Center. Photo courtesy of Hawley Bennett-Awad.

Q: How are you able to manage and schedule multiple requests for flights from across different areas of the United States?

Our schedule is created by demand, with the goal of providing service to and from most major horse shows and racing events. Most of the time we are able to provide flights that fit the needs of our clients. We have invested heavily in loading ramps that are strategically stationed for most of the popular airports. We also have mobile ramps that allow us to serve most major airports on demand. In addition, whenever there are multiple events that are close together we have the option and ability to bring in extra flight crews to help provide additional flights.

Q: Is equine air travel affordable?

Air transport costs more than going by road but the added cost is well worth it for most owners. With very valuable equine athletes, it is important to make transport as safe and stress-free as possible. We can provide transport in a matter of hours vs. days with traditional trailering. Our flights run from $3,150-$4,950 one-way depending on the route.

 

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