The movement of horses by airfreight has grown as the world’s racing industry has expanded beyond national boundaries to chase ever-increasing prize money. This in turn means there is no shortage of specialised individuals and forwarders with skills to transport these creatures.
As well as supporting the international horseracing world, horses are moved by airfreight for two other reasons. Small numbers are moved for breeding or variety preservation efforts. Some are being moved for food purposes. The majority, however, are concerned with horse racing, now a multi-million dollar global industry.
The most common, and often the most newsworthy reason, to transport horses is the global horse racing industry. Racehorses fly around the globe in search of prize money, now often worth millions. High profile and high prize money race meetings are held on almost every continent, meaning that horses can be raced in North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia all in one race season.
When an individual horse is worth millions of dollars, specialist forwarders have come forward to move such livestock with special expertise.
Florida-based HE Sutton Forwarding, better known as ‘Tex’ Sutton, is one such forwarder.
Rob Clark, president of the company his father co-founded, is a horse-lover who happens to run a freight forwarder. His company leases a dedicated B727 Freighter for the sole purpose of equine transport. This aircraft quickly became dubbed “Air Horse One”.
Clark says: “Air Horse One is on a long term ACMI contract with us so it is available anytime we need to fly. We flew 2,560 head in 2017 and 2018 so far is ahead of that pace slightly.
“They can be worth anywhere between $10,000 and up to $10 million. Most are in the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
The forwarders’ USP is that it had developed custom-built portable loading ramps and ramp trucks instead of the traditional scissors lift to move the horse ULDs onto the aircraft.
These ‘walk-on’ ramps are unique in the equine air transportation industry. On arrival at the airport by truck, horses are led by professional and hands-on horsemen up the ramp and into the aircraft.
Once aboard, they are immediately bedded down in their stall. The reverse takes place upon arrival at the destination.
“We have 10 portable loading ramps as trailers and five ramp trucks with the loading ramp built on its chassis positioned around the country’” says Clark. “When we charter into an airport without a dedicated loading ramp, we simply transport one to that location.”
The company’s stall system is designed to be durable, lightweight and modular. The flexibility of the stall system allows it to provide for larger horses in a stall and a half and gives the option of flying mares with their foals, as well as weanlings together in a larger box stall.
Individual hayracks and in-flight access to water help keep horses content and occupied throughout their journey.
The company has little turnover of staff, which pleases him, he says.
“We have very little turnover of our handlers. They really love the work that they do and they tend to stick around. Our longest running groom has been with the company for 38 years. When we do need to hire a horse handler we draw from horsemen who we know in our area. It’s never a problem.”
Proud of never having lost a horse in flight, he is equally proud that this remains a family business, started by his father and the late ‘Tex’ Sutton.
He says: “It is very important to me to carry on the legacy that Tex Sutton created and I am proud to keep this a family business.”
While the transport of horses is a global business, HE Sutton transports horses almost exclusively within the United States.
Clark says: “We get inquiries from time to time to charter to more faraway locations. Generally it’s hard to be competitive price-wise since we most likely would have an empty leg one direction or the other and that’s hard to compete with airlines who run overseas routes routinely and have revenue both directions.”