How Horses Travel to the Kentucky Derby


One of the perks of being a professional athlete is that you get to travel in style. Lebron James is not flying coach when he goes to a game. And it turns out that is also true when those athletes are not human. As we got ready for Saturday’s Kentucky Derby, we started to think about how all those horses actually got to Churchill Downs.

For years there have been companies dedicated to providing first class air travel for equine passengers and the perks are pretty good. At least if you’re a horse.

Emirates for example, which also happens to have some of the best human perks among airlines, offers a special Emirates Equine Service as part of its sky cargo program. Horses receive their own “purpose-designed stalls” with adjustable roofs, ventilation covers and special groom access doors. Think of them as the lay flat seats of the horse world. Speaking of groom access doors, horses that travel with Emirates also have groom service throughout their trips across the country and sometimes across the world.

But the gold standard in horse travel seems to be Kentucky company H.E. Sutton Forwarding Company. H.E. Sutton has a special Boeing 727 configured exclusively for horse transport. That plane has become so well-respected in the horse transport community it’s gotten the nickname “Air Horse One.” Instead of loading the animals into the stalls on Air Horse One, the stalls are built around the horse, which means there is always plenty of room for food, water and the opportunity for horses to travel with their foals (we’re guessing they don’t travel free until their two-years-old) to keep them maximally comfortable throughout the flight. Besides the accommodations, Sutton takes other considerations for its passengers “avoid[ing> steep ascents and descents, steering clear of adverse weather conditions, putting a premium on smooth, uneventful landings.”

Next time you’re stuck in a TSA line or in a middle seat, just know that somewhere in the sky there is a horse up there living it up.