Horse Transport

Following is a guide to transporting horses. The topics covered are:

  • 1.0 Types of Transport
  • 2.0 Horse Transport Costs
    • 2.1 Tips to Cutting Costs
    • 2.2 Costs of  Professional Transporters
  • 3.0 Choosing a Rental Trailer
  • 4.0 Choosing a Rental Van
  • 5.0 Choosing a Professional Transporter
  • 6.0 Transport Tips
  • 7.0 Horse Transport Regulations

1.0 Types of Transport

The main ways to transport a horse are:

  • By Foot. For short distances, one can ride or walk a horse. While this may seem obvious, it is worth noting that a horse transported in this way is exempt from some (but not all) of the regulations associated with other forms of horse transport. Consequently, for short distances, it may be worthwhile just on this basis. See 'Regulations' below.
  • Horse Trailer. A trailer (your own, borrowed, or rented) is the most common form of horse transport.
  • Horse Van. The difference between a trailer and a van is that a trailer is towed behind a car, whereas with a van there is a single motor vehicle which includes the horse transport. Horse vans are specialised horse transport vehicles, which generally offer superior facilities for transporting horses but are more expensive than trailers.
  • Airplane. Horses can be transported by airplane, typically in specialised boxes in the cargo hold. Although expensive, it is the preferred method for transporting horses long distances.

Regardless of which method you use, one should take carefull note of the associated regulations (see 7.0 Horse Transport Regulations, below), particularily if one crosses a state or national border.

2.0 Horse Transport Costs

The costs of transporting a horse depends on a number of factors, such as: type of transport (see topic 1.0), distance, and borders. Following is a rough guide for illustrative purposes. Although the figures are quoted in dollars, one could convert them to pounds or euros and they would still be approximately correct.

Method 10km (6 miles) 100km (60 miles) 500km (300 miles) 1000km (600 miles) 5000km (3000 miles)
Self-transport (own trailer)  $2.50  $25  $125  $450 ($250+$200)  $3050 ($1250+9*$200)
Self-transport (rent trailer)  $52.50 ($2.50+$50)  $75 ($25+$50)  $175 ($125+$50)  $550 ($250+$200+$2*$50)  $3350 ($1250+9*$200+2*$150)
Self-transport (rent van)  $100 ($1+$100)  $110 ($10+$100)  $150 ($50+$100)  $500 ($100+$200+2*$100)  $3100 ($500+9*$200+2*$300)
Professional transport  $100  $100 to $120  $150 to $600  $300 to $1200  $1500 to $6000
Airplane        $1150 ($1000+$150)  $3150 ($3000+$150)

Following are explanatory notes for the above table:

  • Self-transport (own trailer). If you are transporting using your own trailer, you only need to pay fuel, plus car wear (brakes, tires, engine). For this table, we used a rate of $0.25 per kilometer as a rough guide for these costs (note that both fuel and wear for your car are higher when pulling a loaded trailer).
    • For long journeys, one needs to stop overnight to rest both driver and horse (see 'Regulations' below reference maximum journey periods and minimum rest periods). For this table we allow a rest stop of every 500km (professional drivers would cover longer distances between stops), with a charge of $200 at each rest stop to cover food and overnight accomodation for both driver and horse.
    • Note that in addition to the financial costs, there are also your costs in terms of your time.
  • Self-transport (rent trailer). This is the same calculation as above, except for the rental cost for a trailer. Actual rental costs vary widely but we've used a median figure of $50 per day and $150 per week.
  • Self-transport (rent van). This is similiar to renting a trailer but rental costs are higher (we use a figure of $100 per day and $300 per week). You still need to pay for fuel (we use $10 per 100km) but as you are not using your own car you save on the associated wear.
  • Professional transport. The cost of professional transporters varies from about $0.50 per mile ($0.30/kilometer) to $2.00 per mile ($1.25/kilometer), depending on a number of factors (see section 2.2 below for explanation). They normally have a minimum fee; we've used $100 as a typical figure. The price per mile drops as the distance increases; for an immediate online estimate try the USHIP facility by clicking here.
  • Airplane. We calculated costs based on the airline transport costs (both the airfare and rental of a horse cargo box) plus $150 for transport to and from the airport. Note that the costs for transporting horses depends on the route and the season, so actual figures could vary substantially from the above figures. Transporting a horse by airplane is expensive due to the weight and space it occupies. However, for long trips it can be economic as there are no overnight costs, and it uses up a minimum of your time. Furthermore, it is less stress for the horse than a very long trip by road.

2.1 Tips to Cutting Costs

Here are some tips to cutting horse transport costs:

  • Timing. If you have flexibility about when to transfer your horse, try to do it in the off season (e.g. not during the horse showing season) as rentals and professional transport are more expensive during busy transport times. Likewise, the cost of air transport may vary, depending on season and routes.
  • Advance Booking. Last minute bookings are more expensive, so try to plan and book things in advance.
  • Weekend Rentals. If you need to rent a trailer or van for just a couple of days, a weekend rental is usually cheaper than renting during the week.
  • Be Ready. Professional transporters will charge for waiting time, if your horse is not ready when they arrive.
  • Shared Loads. Transporting 2 horses is about the same cost as transporting one, so try to share transport with someone else and split the savings. Some professional transporters will try to set up shared transport for you if you book well in advance and are using a common route.

2.2 Cost of Professional Transporters

The cost of professional transport varies widely, from about $0.50 per mile to about $2.00 per mile. This is partly due to region, transport costs in the UK are higher than in the USA, and transport costs in some states of the USA are higher than in others. However, in large part the difference is due to differences in service:

  • Number of Horses. As the number of horses in the transport van increases, the cost per horse decreases. For example, a transporter may advertise $0.90/mile for one horse but if you want to transport two horses it is only $1.10. The reason for this is that their costs are much the same for an full van as for a empty van (driver cost is the same, fuel cost is similiar, only overnight horse stabling increases). Consequently, on a route where a transport company can fill up a large van they can charge less per horse.
  • Van Quality. Like cars, vans differ greatly in quality, cost and in fuel consumption. A van providing air cushioning, termperature control, comfortable stalls and so on costs more to buy and to operate than a basic van. Likewise, a high standard of maintenance increases costs to the transporter. These benefits and the associated costs are reflected in the associated transport price.
  • Service in Transport. Some transport companies will drive the maximum legal allowance between rest stops. Others will stop more often to rest, water, feed and examine the horses. The more frequent the stops and the longer the stops (the more service provided at each stop), the greater the cost. The reason for this is that during these stops the driver and expensive van are tied up and not earning any money.
  • General Service. Aside from the service directly related to the horse, there is the quality and investment in services for the client (quotes, communication, billing, etc.).
  • Driver. A basic driver is cheaper than a highly experienced and trained horse transport professional. A number of the best firms hire experienced horse professionals and then train them as drivers, so that the person driving the van also has expertise in horses, how to treat them and how to see the early signs of illness. Especially on long journeys this helps ensure that the horse arrives with minimum fatigue and risk, but of course such people are more expensive than a basic driver.
  • Stabling. On long trips, it is a legal requirement that horses are removed from the van and allowed to rest in a stable or on pasture. These facilities vary from a cheap tie-up, to a comfortable stall (large and deep bedding) with pasture. The better the facilities, the greater the cost.

Although some companies offer better value-for-money than others, it should be apparent from the above that the quality of transport varies greatly from one company to another and that the associated costs have to be reflected in the price. Consequently, the choice of a transporter is not simply looking for the lowest quote, but of choosing a level of service and associated price. See section 5.0 for further discussion.

Another choice is whether to use a professional transporter, or transport the horse yourself. When making this decision, some factors which are important (especially on long journeys) are:

  • Time.  If you transport a horse yourself, you are commiting your own time. On a long journey (e.g. accross the USA) you can easily spend a week of your time or more transporting your horse. With a professional transporter, you could use this time for something else.
  • Horse Comfort & Safety. Although a trailer is OK for short to medium distances, over long distances a modern horse van can offer specialised facilities (e.g. air cushioning, air conditioning) which the average trailer-for-rent cannot match. Furthermore, much as you love your horse, experience shows that professional transporters are less likely to have an accident than private individuals. Keep in mind that a car with a loaded horse trailer behind does not behave in the same way as a car without a trailer and needs to be driven differently (especially in braking conditions).
  • No Returns. If you are renting a van or trailer, you will normally have to return it back to the originating point. Consequently, you incure all the costs of a 2-way trip. If your trip is 2-way anyways (e.g. if going to a horse show, then returning) this is not a problem. However, if the trip is 1-way (e.g. moving home) then it may in fact be cheaper to use a professional transporter for a 1-way trip, rather than having to pay the costs of a 2-way rental trip.
  • Rest Stops. On long trips, your horse needs proper overnight rest stops. Professional transporters will have experience with arranging these.
  • Speed. When transporting a horse long distances, a professional can do this in a much shorter period. Not only is this more convienent, but important for minimising stress on the horse (the longer the journey time, the greater the stress). In part this is because they have the experience and equipment to allow them to drive safely at a higher speed, in part because they have the organisation to minimise lost time (e.g. no time lost trying to find overnight accomodation or due to getting lost).

3.0 Choosing a Rental Trailer

There are many types and sizes of trailers for rent. When choosing which one is best for you, some factors to consider are (see horse trailer for discussion of following points):

  • The trailer must not be too heavy for your car.
    • Your car needs to be powerfull enough to pull the trailer, taking into account driving up hills and required speeds.
    • In addition to having sufficient power, it must have adequate weight relative to the weight of the loaded trailer, or you can lose control (especially during braking).
  • It must not exceed the maximum trailer weight on the driver's driving license.
  • Has a trailer connection type which matches the trailer connection on your car.
  • Is in good condition and safe for your horse.
  • If your horse is difficult to unload, a trailer with front end unloading is a benefit.

Different rental firms charge in different ways. When comparing quotes, some things to consider are:

  • Per-day and mileage. Some rental firms charge a fee per day (good for you if you are driving long distances), others charge by mileage (good for you if you are driving a short distance) and some charge a daily fee plus an additional mileage fee if your mileage exceeds a given amount. Look at how long you need the trailer for and what distance you will be driving when comparing prices for each of the options.
  • Cleaning and Sterlizing. Some firms charge an additional fee for this, others charge a fee only if you don't muck out and some include this in their price.
  • Insurance. This may be included in the price, or may be an additional fee. Many firms will offer you an insurance option for the trailer, but most will not insure your horse.
  • Breakdown Cover. Check what cover is provided for breakdown assistance.
  • Pick-up, drop-off. If you want an early start, can you pick up the trailer the night before? At what time do you have to return it? If you are taking a horse on a long journey, can you return the trailer to a branch office at the far end or do you need to drive it back to the starting location?
  • Condition. It should of course be in good condition. In particular, the floor should be solid, the signal lights should be working, and the tires should be fully inflated and with adequate tread.

4.0 Choosing a Rental Van

Horse transport vans come in a variety of types and sizes. Some items to consider which selecting one are:

  • Smaller vans are easier to drive and park, as well as using less fuel. Consequently, choose a van big enough for your horse (or horses) but avoid overly large vans.
  • Check that the size of the van does not exceed the maximum vehicle size/weight on your driver permit.
  • Make sure that the van is in good condition and safe.
  • If your horse is a difficult loader, consider a van with easy load and un-load facilities.

When comparing quotes for van rentals, some items to consider are:

  • Per-day and mileage. Some rental firms charge a fee per day (good for you if you are driving long distances), others charge by mileage (good for you if you are driving a short distance) and some charge a daily fee plus an additional mileage fee if your mileage exceeds a given amount. Look at how long you need the van for and what distance you will be driving when comparing prices for each of the options.
  • Cleaning and Sterlizing. Some firms charge an additional fee for this, others charge a fee only if you don't muck out and some include this in their price.
  • Insurance. This may be included in the price, or may be an additional fee. Many firms will offer you an insurance option for the van, but most will not insure your horse.
  • Breakdown Cover. Check what cover is provided for breakdown assistance.
  • Pick-up, drop-off. If you want an early start, can you pick up the van the night before? At what time do you have to return it? If you are taking a horse on a long journey, can you return the trailer to a branch office at the far end or do you need to drive it back to the starting location?
  • Condition. It should of course be in good condition. In particular, the floor should be solid, the signal lights should be working, and the tires should be fully inflated and with adequate tread.

5.0 Choosing a Professional Transporter

When choosing a transporter, some items to consider are?

  • Transport fee. How much will the transporter charge you for transporting your horse? Ask carefully what this includes and what it excludes.
  • Food and water. Do the horses have food and water in the transport vehicle (if so, what food)? What food is offered at rest stops.
  • Rest breaks. How often does the transporter stop and give the horses a rest, and for how long? How often are the horses offered food and water?
  • Rest stops. On very long trips (e.g. multiple days), the horses need 24-hour rests (in addition to being neccessary for the horse's welfare, it is a legal requirement in many countries). What facilities (stable, paddock, pastures) will your horse be provided at each rest stop and what is their quality (e.g. is the stabling a simple tie-up, a small stable, or a large comfortable stable with a deep bed of straw)? What food is provided? How frequent and how long are rest stops?
  • Direct route. Is the transporter taking your horse by the quickest route, or are there diversions to pick up or drop off other horses along the route? Minor diversions may not be an issue, but long ones increase the travel time for your horse and consequently the stress on it.
  • Health. How often do they check the horse during long-distance transport? What do they do in the event of illness or medical emergency?
  • Registration. Ask what relevant registrations and licenses the driver and the transporter company have. In the USA the horse carrier should have a USDOT and MC number, which can be verified on In the UK the transporter should be DEFRA registered. Check that the driver has a live animal transport license and insurance that will adequately cover the loss, injury, or death of your horse during transport.
  • Experience. How long have they been in business? What is the name of the person who will be driving the vehicle and how much experience does he have with horses in general (important for spotting illnesses during transport) and horse transport specifically?
  • Feel. How do you feel with the people? Do they appear experienced, professional, reliable and horse loving? Even if the transport company looks good, if you have a bad feeling about them, trust your gut instinct.
  • Contract. Any professional transporter will have a written contract (if not, find one who does). Go through the contract carefully to make sure you are comfortable with all aspects of it.
  • Payment. You may be asked to pay a deposit, but be wary if you are asked to pay in full in advance. If you have the option, pay any advance with your credit card, as this provides you with additional legal rights should there be problems.

You should also look at the van which will be used to transport your horse:

  • It should be in top condition (if not, think about finding another transporter).
  • For long journeys avoid diagonal stalls (horses take road bumps better head on).
  • Comfort features such as air cushioning and air conditioning are particularly beneficial for your horse on long journeys.

One area of special note is cancellations.Transporters normally use large vans which are designed for multiple horses. If the van is full (or near full) the transporter makes a profit on that trip, but if the van is near empty then they lose money since the cost of transport and driver exceeds the revenue from the small number of horses being transported. For this reason, transporters will normally ask clients for a substantial deposit to help avoid such loses. For the same reason, less professional transporters sometimes cancel trips if they are unable to fill the transport van for that trip. To avoid issues:

  • You should not cancel a trip unless absolutely neccessary (e.g. horse becomes ill shortly before scheduled departure). If you do need to cancel, tell the transporter as soon as possible so that they have an opportunity to fill the vacant space.
  • Before committing to a given horse transporter, you should carefully discuss their cancellation policy. Is the transport date guaranteed, or do they reserve the right to cancel/postpone the date? Does a deposit guarantee you a place and date?

6.0 Transport Tips

Following are some tips for transporting your horse:

  • Gentle loading. Allow plenty of time at the start of the journey for loading your horse. Try to avoid force or using pressure when loading your horse, as this will not only increase its stress but any negative experience tends to result in future loadings becoming more difficult. If you have your own trailer, it is adviseable to practice loading and unloading before you need to take a trip; this will not only familarise your horse with the procedure (making loading easier on the day of the journey) but also will allow you to learn how much time you need to allocate for loading.
  • Dust. Try to avoid dust during transport, as this will tend to clog the horse's lungs. If you have hay, water it before transport, especially in the case of a hay net hanging in front of the horse. Likewise, avoid dusting bedding.
  • Illness. It is both illegal and unwise to transport an ill or weak horse (unless it is for required transport for veternairy attention). Even if your horse is well, be aware that the stress of a long journey will tend to depress it's immune system until it has had time to rest, so special case should be taken of the horse (e.g. avoid it getting cold or wet). Likewise, contact with other unknown horses (even indirect contact such as communal water) should be avoided after long journeys as your horse will be less able to resist any communicable diseases other horses may have. Finally, one should monitor the horse closely during the trip and for the first few days after the a long journey to insure that any problems are identified promptly.
  • Rest. On long journey's, rest is essential. Studies have shown that a horse burns energy at the same rate during transport as during walking, so 8 hours standing in a box is somewhat equivalent to 8 hours of walking exercise. To prevent excessive fatigue and risk of illness, during long journeys horses need rest stops where they can sleep and recover. A high-quality rest stop (e.g. a large and quiet stable with a deep straw floor) will allow your horse to recover far better and faster than a low-quality rest stop.

We also suggest this veterniary transport advice.

7.0 Regulations

There are a large number of regulations and requirements associated with the transport of horses, even if the transport is for short distances and by private owners. These regulations vary from country to country (in the USA, they vary from state to state), change over time, and also depend on circumstances (e.g. private versus professional transfer, personal versus economic travel, distance, journey time, border crossings). Furthermore, in times of disease outbreak (e.g. foot and mouth disease), additional interim requirements and restrictions are put in place to control the spread of disease. Consequently, rather than try and list all the rules, following is a general overview only. Please contact the appropriate authorities (see below) to determine the exact requlatory requirements for your intended journey.

In general, the regulations address three areas:

  • Animal Welfare. There are an increasing number of regulations to protect horses during transport. They may restrict or forbid transport of:
    •  Long Durations. The amount of time a horse can be transported without rest is limited. Long trips may require not only that you stop periodically but also that the horse is removed from the trailer and placed in an environment (e.g. stall or pasture) where it can rest.
    • Likely to be injured. It is illegal to transport horses with certain conditions (e.g. unable to stand, blind in both eyes) as these conditions make them prone to serious injuries.
    • Pregnant. A mare in late pregancy or likely to give birth during transport.
    • Illegal Activity. Transport of a horse for certain illegal purposes (e.g. for slaughter in a state where this is illegal).
  • Spread of Disease. To prevent the spread of disease, horses must have the required innoculations and health examinations, along with the associated documents prior to transport.
  • International Transport. Import and export of horses accross national boundaries involves additional regulations in terms of taxes, animal registration and prevention of the spread of disease.

To ensure that these regulations are enforced, certain documents (e,g, horse passport, horse transport record, driver and vehicle certification for long-distance transport) must be held by the transporter and available for inspection. In certain cases (e.g. professional transport or long-distance transport), the transporter may be required to have special licenses and the transport vehicle may be required to have periodic inspections.

The regulations change over time and are tending to become more strict. The animal welfare groups have successfully supported additional animal protection laws and continue to be active in this area. Meanwhile, the national and state departments of agriculture are responding to changing disease patterns (which diseases are found in which areas) by updating the regulations intended to prevent the further spead of such diseases. Good sources for the latest requirements are:

  • Department of Agriculture. In most countries, the regulations relevant to horse transport are administered by the department of agriculture.  They will generally have a variety of ways (telephone, EMAIL, website) in which you can contact them for the latest requirements. As the official source, they are the most reliable contact for this information.
  • Veterinarian. Your local veterinarian may know the current regulations or can contact the department of agriculture on your behalf to determine the requirements.
  • Specialist Horse Transporter. Although a generalist transporter is unlikely to be up to date on the requirements, a specialist transporter likely can help you.
  • Horse Friends. Although a quick starting point, a lot of people in the horse business transport horses without always knowing or following the current regulations. So, while a convienent source of information, not always a reliable one.
  • Customs. If you are crossing a national boundary, you will need to check with customs in terms of their regulations for import taxes and animal registration. Even if you are not staying in the country but just transiting, you may require certain documents. Make sure you check both export requirements (for the country you are leaving) and import requirements (for the country you are entering).

The regulations also vary by circumstances. Professional transporters have more stringent requirements than a private individual moving their horse. Transport of horses for economic reasons (e.g. for sale) is in some countries more restricted; note that in some countries even going to a competition is considered 'economic'. Crossing state or national boundaries exposes one to additional requirements (e.g. health certificates, import taxes). On the other hand, transport of a horse to or from a veterinary location under instruction of a veterinarian will exempt you from some (but not all) of the requirements. Consequently, you need to be very specific in terms of WHO, HOW and WHERE the horse is being transported in order to determine which regulations are applicable to the transport of horses.

In general, if you transport a horse by foot (either riding the horse or leading it), you are exempt from transport regulations unless you cross a state  or national border. If you cross a state border you will need to comply with the disease prevent regulations (e.g. have a current health certificate and appropriate innoculations for your horse). If you cross a national border, you will need to comply with disease prevent regulations, horse import regulations and pay the appropriate taxes. If you transport a horse by a vehicle (e.g. horse trailer) or airplane, you will also need to comply with the animal welfare regulations.

For further information, we would suggest:

  • United Kingdom. Contact DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), in particular this page
  • USA. Contact the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture).
  • Canada. The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is responsible for humane transport regulations and import regulations.