In any given race, only one horse will take the prize, but the victory belongs in part to a large group of individuals who help make it happen, including the team of people who make sure horses arrive when and where they need to be.
Chartering a jet for a horse might sound like an extravagance but it’s actually quite common among those in the racing industry.
The physical health and emotional well-being of a horse is extremely important to its owner, which is why owners must be able to rely on equine transportation by jet charters to deliver the horse ready to race. Equine transport flight crews are trained to understand the air travel needs of the horses so they can operate aircraft to meet those needs.
The leading equine air transport company in operation today is H.E. Sutton Forwarding Company. Started in the late 1950s by the now deceased Halford Ewel (Tex) Sutton, the company has revolutionized horse transportation practices. One thing that sets Sutton Forwarding apart is the fact that the company employs only capable horsemen to load, unload and see to the horses’ needs while in flight.
H.E. Sutton is the only United States based equine transport company that uses a dedicated Boeing 727 cargo aircraft. The aircraft is outfitted with a special loading ramp that allows the horses to walk from their vans into the aircraft. When horses arrive on board, they are shown to first-class stalls where a member from their own team of trainers or handlers may be present.
A lightweight, modular system of stalls is used and allows the equine transport teams to accommodate horses of all sizes. Horses are provided racks of hay as well as in-flight water access for optimum comfort and contentment. The climate inside the equine transport aircraft is specially adjusted to be cold, which ensures the horses are comfortable.
When it comes to horses receiving the VIP treatment, 2008 Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes winner Big Brown knows how it feels to fly first-class. The horse’s connections chartered a plane for Big Brown to fly and even though he ended up traveling with a handful of other horses, he was afforded the luxury of boarding last and disembarking first.
When a horse is taking a flight, its name as well as the name of its trainer or owner will be noted on the halter. The Tex Sutton Company takes extra precautions to make sure horses are delivered to the right place and the right people. Most clients book flights for their horses a couple of weeks in advance, but if there is room and schedule permits, horses can be added to the charter up until the flight takes off.
Equine transport flights are quite a bit faster than commercial flights and usually are given special consideration by air traffic control.
A representative from Sutton Forwarding expressed that the horses seem to enjoy flying. When that winning horse crosses the finish line at the next race of the season, there’s a pretty good chance he arrived by private charter!