It’s All in the Details

It’s All in the Details

The responsibilities of an equine transportation dispatcher are important whether by land or by air
By: Cynthia Mcfarland

Thoroughbreds are often well-travelled horses, moving Down the road and across the country via truck, van, and airplane.

For those commercially shipping their horses, every ship begins with contacting a shipping company to arrange for transportation, but the details and requirements may differ greatly, depending on whether it is a short local run, a trip across state lines, or an international transport. It is up to the company dispatcher or representative to make sure all the details are in order before the horse begins its journey.

To find out what is involved when an owner or trainer needs to move a horse, we spoke with three different transportation companies about the process.

Personalized Service

Crystal Creek Horse Transport ( is based in Williston, Florida, just north of Ocala, and is a privately owned business specializing in custom hauling. Owners and operators Eric and Crystal Petteway founded the company in 1999 and primarily transport horses in the Ocala area and throughout the Southeast. Although Crystal Creek Horse Transport does employ a bookkeeper and an accountant, the husband-wife team of Eric and Crystal does all the driving and handling of horses.

“This time of year, in between local trips, and emergency runs to the clinic, we’re running to Kentucky once or twice a week,” Crystal Petteway said. “Our main route is back and forth from Ocala to Lexington. Most of our clients will foal their mares here and then ship the mares and young foals up to Kentucky for the mares to be rebred.”

Although some large farms use their services. Petteway said the majority of their customers have only a few horses.

“They like the personalized service and we’re hands-on with the horses.” she said. “Our clients always know who they’re going to get; it’s either me or Eric they’re talking to. They know when we pull up to the farm, it’s us.”

When a client calls, Crystal Petteway typically handles the scheduling. When she and/or Eric arrive at the farm to pick up the horse(s), they collect all paperwork (health papers, Coggins certificate, and any pertinent health information on the horse) and the owner signs the bill of lading before the horse leaves.

When making the Florida to Kentucky run – which is approximately 13 hours – the Petteway usually drive straight through. The trailer, which is generally divided into three box stalls, is equipped with cameras so the horses can be monitored at all times. Routine stops to check and water the horses occur every three to four hours.

“Normally, we pick up in the afternoons; horses seem to travel better at night and in the summer, it’s cooler, so we always Down what’s best for horses.” Petteway explained.

“We drive through the night, when the roads are usually quieter, and plan to arrive at the destination farm by 7 or 7:30 in morning.”

Although the client usually notifies the destination farm that its horse is on the way. Petteway always calls to be sure that farm personnel know they are coming and when to expect them. Once at the destination, a farm representative must sign the bill of lading verifying that the horse (and any equipment, feed, and medication) has been received.

Although all the business responsibilities rest on their shoulders, Petteway said there are advantages to running a small operation.

“I love working with the people,” she said. “Many of the we’ve shipped for since we started the company; they’ve been very loyal to us and have become like family. Plus, we often ship the same horses year after year, so it’s fun to see them as foals, then as yearlings, and as older horses.”

Around Town

For transportation companies located in the heart of horse country, breeding season is especially busy.

“On any given day during breeding season, we’ll have 15 to 20 trucks on the road [locally], and each truck does multiple trips,” said Nicole Pieratt, president of Sallee Horse Vans (, a third-generation, family-owned business htat has been transporting horses since 1963 and has offices in Lexington, Ocala, and Toronto, and a Belmont Park. “We Down morning and afternoon runs, and this year, night breeding have been very popular. We’re doing more night runs than normal this season.”

When calling to arrange for a breeding run, the farm representative always gives the mare’s name, which is necessary for the bill of lading, but does not necessarily tell the dispatcher what stallion she is going to visit. The caller typically just tells the dispatcher what farm the mare is going to, and the scheduled breeding time.

“With Zenyatta, they called in just like it was any other trip and ordered a truck from Lane’s End over to Darley,” said Pierratt, who is based in the Lexington office. “They told us the time and that we were taking Zenyatta. Of course, from all the news in the press, we knew that she was going to Bernardini.”

On local breeding shed runs, typically there is one mare in the truck, unless the farm happens to be sending two mares to the same shed at the same time, but that is rare, Pieratt said. The dispatcher always asks what stall accommodations the owner prefers. Most of Sallee’s horses travel in a stall-and-a-half or a box.

Even if the mare has a nursing foal at her side, the foal is generally left at home while the mare leaves on a local breeding trip. If, however, the stallion’s farm is farther away – for example in Lexington while the mare is shipping from the Louisville area – the foal may come along and both ship together in a box stall. Upon arrive at the breeding farm, the foal remains in the van with an attendant, while the mare is unloaded and bred. The decision whether to send the foal with the mare is up to the owner, but because of the potential for danger, babies are not welcome in the breeding shed.

On local runs, a bill of lading is prepared, along with any specific paperwork that may be required at the stallion’s farm.

Although breeding season is in full swing now, horses are always moving up and Down the road, Pieratt said, and many of those traveling long distance are racetrack bound. When shipping to the racetrack additional paperwork is needed, especially with the recent concerns about equine piroplasmosis surfacing again the U.S.

“One of the biggest things right now is that with health paper requirements at different racetracks, we have to double check all paperwork, “Pieratt said. “We try to keep the most up-to-date information on our website to help owners who are shipping to racetracks.”

Most tracks are now requiring that any horse shipping in have must paperwork showing the horse has tested negative for piroplasmosis and has been vaccinated with the equine herpes vaccine. “The health certificate must state that the horse hasn’t been exposed to either of these diseases or any other communicable diseases,” Pieratt added.

Racehorses shipping from track to track usually travel in a stall-and-a-half, but the dispatcher always goes over accommodations with the owner or trainer. On long-distance trips, some owners prefer the horse travel in a box stall, and yearlings often ship in a box stall simply because they are not used to standing in cross ties, as is necessary when a horse ships in a stall-and-a-half.

“A box stall is the safest way to ship,” Pieratt said. “It simulates their home on the farm and when the horse has free movement of its head and neck, there is a decreased risk of respiratory issues.”

Going by Air

Representatives from Mersant International handle a variety of tasks before and after shipping horses in and out of the U.S. including gathering all important information on each horse being shipped.

When a horse is traveling to the U.S. from overseas, transportation details become much move involved.

“We offer barn-to-barn transportation whether starting point is a barn in the Middle East or Europe and the destination barn is in America,” said Joseph V. Santarelli Jr., one of the principals at Mersant International (, which has been transporting horses since 1977 and has offices in Lexington and Jamaica, New York. Santarelli, who works out of the New York office, is one of the company representatives who typically handles all scheduling and shipping details.

Because Mersant provides a global service by shipping horses all over the world, there are far more requirements than transporting horses within the U.S.

“The biggest thing in this business is reputation,” Santarelli said. “When someone calls me to ship a horse, they’re trusting me with really important information, Since 9/11, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has made us adhere to very strict guidelines on storing and managing all client information. Because we have home addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, and such, all personal information is on lockdown. We’re licensed customs house brokers to act on behalf of owners, so we are held to very high stands in the industry.”

In the example of a client who has a horse in England who needs to ship the horse to Florida, Santarelli gathers information on both horse and owner, including all contact details, the horse’s age, breed, sex, name, and any other pertinent information.

“The I contact one of my agents in the [United Kingdom] to act on my behalf to arrange blood testing to meet the requirements to enter the U.S.,” Santarelli said. “That agent also prepares the international health papers and arranges any necessary ground transportation, air freight details, and a groom for the horse to ship to America.”

Mersant does not own planes but leases space with cargo airlines, such as FedEx or KLM, to transport horses.

Santarelli said it typically takes about three weeks to prepare a horse for shipment to the U.S. In addition to the details handled by Mersant’s agent overseas, Santarelli has work to Down.

Sallee, a longtime shipper with a strong reputation in Central Kentucky, will have 15 to 20 trucks on the road in the Lexington area each day during the breeding season.

“I request quarantine space with the New York Animal Import Center [or elsewhere if the horse is flying into a different city] on the date the horse is arriving, and I have to pay a deposit to hold that space,” he explained. “On top of that, I have to arrange all customs formalities for proper import into the U.S., such as getting a signed power of attorney from the owner allowing me to act on their behalf. Whether it’s me or another employee of Mersant, we always have someone from the company at every flight when a horse arrives.”

Whenever a plane carrying horses lands in the U.S., a representative from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is present to monitor the import process and oversee the collection of blood for testing. Blood is drawn from each horse and shipped to the National Veterinary Services Laboratories in Ames, Iowa, where it is tested for equine piroplasmosis, dourine, glanders, and equine infections anemia (Coggins test)

Horses are typically in quarantine for 48 to 72 hours until all the blood tests come back negative.

“Once tests come back and the horse shows no clinical signs of any disease, the animal is free to go,” Santarelli said. “We arrange for ground transport for horses from the quarantine center to their final destination. That’s why we call it “barn-to-barn” transportation. We don’t want the owner to be concerned about anything. It’s our responsibility to get that horse to its final destination.”