Shipping your horse – either by van or by air – is risky, though an inevitable and routine part of owning a potentially winning stable. Not only do the racing meets move from track to track throughout the year (both in Northern California and in Southern California), but as your horse rises or drops in class and ability, you may have good reason to ship to another track or state, even if only for a single race.

Though your trainer will have his or her own preference with regard to transport companies and will make the actual arrangements, it’s useful for the owner to have an overview of the process. There are financial choices worth looking into – and there are little-discussed downsides to be prepared for.


Most of the ground transport companies work a given route or area, i.e., Southern California or Northern California. Only a few run between L.A. and San Francisco, at an average cost of $225-$235 one-way. “Cross-town” runs are currently $60.00 one-way. In terms of mileage charge, the rate schedules are determined by each carrier, and all companies are within $10-$15 of each other, even for North-South runs. A price break may come depending on the number of horses being shipped. Including your horse in a large shipment may be preferable in that the horses tend to feel less confined in larger vans, and have a more relaxing ride.

Within California, the cost of vanning a horse to to race at a racetrack from a state-approved training facility is covered by a fund set up for that purpose – the Stabling & Vanning Fund. A horse must ship in, for the purpose of racing, no more than seven days prior to race day from a recognized, qualified off-site stabling location to a live race facility; and the horse must ship out no more than three days after race date. Reimbursement is made directly to the carrier (vanning company), who must submit a standard reimbursement form to the racetrack.

In case you are curious, most trainers ship their horses to “across town” meets on the morning of race day: the mesmerizing ride in the van, some believe, tends to relieve and quiet the horse. Every trainer has his or her own philosophy, however, and some will ship particularly nervous or immature horses a day or two in advance of the race in order to “settle” the horses and accustom them to the new environment. Other trainers will have all of their “raced” horses rest overnight at the host track before returning them to their home barn.

There are two rules to be remembered: One is that the horse must be checked by an official veterinarian for soundness on the morning of the race. If the horse is being shipped on the morning it is to race, it must be checked before it’s loaded by the approved track veterinarian at the track where it’s stabled, and that vet’s report must accompany it to the racing-meet track. Rule-to-remember, number two is that every time the horse is shipped for racing, it must have with it its Jockey Club Registration certificate and its racing silks. If the horse has not been described on its registration since it was a yearling, its identifying markings may have changed radically – so radically that the official known as the Horse Identifier may not accept it as the horse it is represented to be. This is a disaster that can take weeks to rectify – and will certainly keep you out of the race you went through the trouble to ship for!

Additionally, whenever the horse ships in from out-of-state in order to race, the trainer must present to the CHRB Office a hand-signed, written binder (not a copy) proving that the trainers’ Worker’s Compensation Insurance is current.


Certain shipping companies specialize in this line. Most firms base their fees and mileage estimates on the index called the Household Goods Carrier’s Bureau Mileage Guide. Those companies who obtain the designation of “Contract Carrier” can make a special, negotiated arrangement to ship a large number of horses to an event. In this case, a true contract must be drawn up, with all details spelled out.

The only big variable in vanning costs comes into play in these “charter” interstate hauls. The price will vary enormously depending whether the company has horses to bring back from the destination, and again, there will be a differential based on the number of horses being shipped.

It’s important to know that whenever a horse is shipped into another state to race, the Horse Racing Board in that state will require that the owner be specifically licensed to race there (see chapter on “Licensing”). The Horse Racing Board will also require a health certificate (including a negative “Coggins” test for Equine Infectious Anemia) along with a $2 filing fee, which should be mailed within 10 days in advance, but in no case later than the day of shipment. The Health Certificate must include the name of the testing laboratory, the laboratory identification number of the sample, test results, and date of test (which must have been conducted within 6 months of shipping). Again, these formalities are customarily coordinated by your trainer, but as always, you as the owner will be the one ultimately liable – and very disappointed – if all is not in order.


There are two ways to go here. One is via a charter airline company (specific to the large-animal business), the other is on commercial airlines, using “air cargo” rates and terms. When horses are shipped on commercial airlines, they are usually loaded onto a pallet of three stalls, and the pallet is then hoisted into the cargo hold by crane. The price for air travel, then, is dependent on whether or not the pallet is full. The charter companies own their own planes, which are outfitted with proper stalls. In these shipments, the horses simply walk up a ramp and into the stall, and the owner is charged a flat rate per horse.

Note: On chartered flights, the company may drop their per-horse price by a significant amount in order to fill a given flight.

The “single stall” rate for air shipping from Los Angeles or San Francisco to any domestic site (i.e., Kentucky, New York, Florida, Canada) averages $2,500 one way, and generally includes one handler or groom for every three horses. Ground transportation to and from domestic flight is not included. To ship a horse form California abroad (including Hong Kong, Tokyo, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia, Brazil, France, England or Ireland) costs approximately $7,500 one way. This fee encompasses a great deal of detail work, including the acquisition of passports for grooms or handlers accompanying the horses; arrangements for necessary health certificates; U.S.D.A inspection; pre-export quarantine facilities and paperwork; ground transportation to and from the carrier; the Export Certificate, and registration of the horse in the “host” country. Usually, the shipper must “leave at the border” the horse’s official Jockey Club Registration, in return for which an Export Certificate will be issued. If the horse is not going for sale, but only to race (and if the horse comes back unclaimed), the Export Certificate will be handed in and the Jockey Club Registration form returned to stay with the horse in perpetuity.

Insurance for air transport outside Continental North America (U.S. and Canada) is also extra. One-way insurance from L.A. to Japan is 1% of the value of the horse; round-trip is 1+1/2%. One-way insurance to Australia is 1+1/2%; round-trip is 2%.


You will want to brace yourself before reading this paragraph… it concerns what measures are currently in place to protect your precious investment during van transport. Though accidents, injuries and fatalities are not common during vanning, they do of course happen. These are high-strung animals… and everyone knows the perils of highway travel. It is entirely possible that you, as an owner, could have the unhappy experience of being called out of the blue and told that the van carrying your horse was in a bad accident, and it is not yet known whether or not your beautiful animal will be able to run again – or, for that matter, even survive. That news would be shattering enough on an emotional level, but when recovery of costs for treating – or actually losing – your horse come to the fore, the news is financially crushing as well.

If your horse was killed during vanning, or so badly injured that it had to be put down – and if you had mortality insurance covering that horse – you would be able to recover some or even all of your financial losses, at least. However, when the claim is submitted, the insurance company will assess the actual current worth of your horse, based on its current “market value” (a figure so tricky that it sometimes goes to 3rd-party arbitration for determination). Whether or not the horse was worth a million dollars to you – in fact, whether or not you had been paying premiums on it for a million dollars, you will only receive compensation in the amount of the horse’s assessed worth at the time of death.

What if the injuries caused in the vanning incident are not life threatening, but are serious enough to require surgery, long-term care or lay-up? What if, even after all that, it is clear that the horse’s racing career is over? Such losses can easily amount to hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. You would logically turn to the transport company for recovery of your losses (particularly if there is indication that the company or its driver was negligent or at fault). You would be in for a rude shock on top of one of the one you’re already enduring. The transport company’s limit of liability is a total of $2,000.00. Two thousand dollars, regardless of what the horse is worth. An expensive amount of legal jockeying might change that figure.

The rueful fact is, you have agreed to that limit of liability whenever your trainer or his employee affixes a signature to the bill of lading handed him by the transport driver – a signature which must be in place before the driver can allow your horse to be loaded. The $2,000 limit of liability is there, unarguable – and so far legally irrefutable – in the fine print of every bill of lading. Your only option to more coverage, at this point, is to ask the transport company for its higher limit of liability, again at a higher price, on a per-horse, per-trip basis.

At the fairly low rates transport companies are currently charging the thoroughbred industry, and with the kind of insurance they currently carry, it would be impossible for them to offer anything even approaching full loss-of-use compensation on their expensive cargoes. On the other hand, it is clearly a far too punishing situation for a owner to simply absorb the costs of care and recovery for his horse, particularly if the horse’s value as a racing animal is utterly lost.

This transport insurance issue will continue to be as untenable as just described until the owners’ alliances (such as T.O.C) can bring transport associations to the table and work out a new policy equitable to both sides, at a bearable cost. One answer, according to some legal experts, may be found in copying a type of policy offered by many breeding and lay-up farms: this insurance, whose premiums are spread among customers in the farm’s overall rate, is known as a “care, custody and control policy” – and it does provide for a reasonable compensation in the case of injury or loss of use.

 Next Section… Stewards


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