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When horses fly

Gigi Douban Jun 2, 2015
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The next time you find yourself balking at the cost of air travel, think of this: horse owners have it worse. Every year, thousands of horses travel by air domestically and internationally. And the price tag for these flights can be extravagant.

Triple Crown contender American Pharoah was expected to touch down today at Long Island’s MacArthur Airport before making the 40-mile trek over to Belmont Park.

When it came time for Mersad Metanovic to send his racehorse, Metaboss, from Los Angeles to Kentucky for a Derby prep race, he had a decision to make. Send him on a 72-hour road trip, or put him on a plane. For Metanovic, the choice was simple.

“We don’t want to put the horse on a van and go clear across country,” he says. “Especially that caliber of a horse. No way.”

Instead, Metaboss flew the horse equivalent of business class — two slots in a stall that holds three horses. Lots of leg room. Well worth the $8,500 price tag, Metanovic says.

“Those are better seats than sitting in between two people going clear across country,” he said.

Metanovic used Equi Air Shipping, which ships 500 to 800 horses a year. Co-owner Rachel DeBerdt says they’ve sent horses to Singapore, Malaysia, all over Europe and Saudi Arabia. Most expensive these days is Australia, DeBerdt says, because there’s a lot of quarantine involved.

“So for that, you’re probably looking at about $20,000 a horse,” she says.

Shipping to Europe from the U.S. bare bones is about $5,000. And what does a horse get for that kind of money? Alfalfa, on demand, according to Katie Schroeder, owner of Equiflight, another air transport company. “And then they get complimentary water,” she says. Horses get jet lag too, so just like with people, water is key.

KLM also transports horses, often with people.

“So it looks like it’s the back of the plane,” Schroeder says, “but then when you open the door thinking you’re going to the restroom or something, there’s actually a whole row of horses back there.”

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