Although horses have been transported via airplane for over 80 years, many of the best practices have come through trial and error, experimentation, and experience. Now, industry scientists and experts are coming together in the largest, most extensive study of its kind to find out what the effects of air travel are on the health and welfare of equines. The focus of the study is risk factors and is the first large-scale examination of its kind. Previous research has focused on road travel. It began in August of 2020 and is being conducted by Barbara Padalino, DMV, Ph.D., through the University of Bologna in Italy. This specific study is backed by the Morris Animal Foundation, which has previously funded studies in foal pneumonia, canine osteosarcoma, and Tasmanian devil facial tumors, as well as others. The Morris Animal Foundation's work with horses and the impact of travel is also working on guidance regarding risk factors of transport-associated colic in horses, performed in Australia, and travel guidance for unbroken or wild horses, also performed by Dr. Padalino in Italy.
Shipping horses by Air is utilized for long-distance domestic trips and international travel. While the results of this study likely won't change the number of horses traveling by air, they should be able to improve the safety and health of those travelers, as well as dispel any myths surrounding the specific risks. They can also be used to develop better practices for improving outcomes for all equine air travel.
The equestrian community is already aware that two factors predispose horses to health concerns during air travel, namely, the length of the flight and the season of travel. Instinctually, it makes sense that shorter flights carry fewer health concerns, but counterintuitively, neither travel in summer nor winter is the most problematic. Instead, spring is the season in which horses tend to experience the most air travel-related impacts.
Responses in this study will be gathered via survey rather than observation or experiment. Each stakeholder in the equine air transport process - horse owners, air cargo operators, flight grooms, and veterinarians - will respond to questions tailored to their individual areas of expertise. About 2000 horses will be included in the study, in flights from five of the seven continents. Data will be collected from before the horses even get on the plane through about a week after arrival, which is the usual window in which symptoms of stress or ill health reveal themselves.
This study won't be focused on accidents that occur during travel but on the more pernicious, less obvious concerns, such as respiratory ailments that about 10% of all horses develop after traveling by air. Depending on the carrier and quality of care, over half of the equine flights had at least one horse develop a respiratory concern during or immediately after the flight. If scientists and researchers can come together to discover why some horses are likely to develop these issues or what practices could help prevent them, owners and competitors can feel safer and even more confident when sending their horses abroad by air.
Until the results of the study are published, owners can still take steps to improve their horses’ flights. First, make sure the length of the trip is minimized where possible. 2. Observe your horse before the trip: is your horse bright and acting alert? 3. Make sure your horse is properly hydrated and has a proper amount of electrolytes. You can call or email us today to get more details on flight times and what it takes to get your horse shipped safely with a minimum amount of stress.
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