John Kennedy International Airport – A one-year-old European warmblood named Virteuse was found dead on an Israeli EL AL cargo plane when it arrived at John Kennedy International Airport. A complaint referencing the deceased horse from Port Authority of New York and New Jersey was received about an hour prior to Flight 831 landing.
The horse’s value was estimated to be $140,000. Warmbloods are specifically bred for dressage and other equestrian sports.
The horse was owned by a private individual from Illinois. The flight originated in Israel, stopped at Belgium’s Liege Airport, and then headed to John Kennedy International Airport. The flight carried nine other horses.
Inflight caretakers reported hearing the horse “kicking forcefully” for 30 minutes after the take-off, but after that, there were no further reports about any movement for the duration of the eight-hour flight.
A necropsy has been ordered by the United States Department of Agriculture to determine the cause of death.
Have you ever wondered what’s involved in preparing a horse to fly internationally? It’s actually quite common for horses coming and going to Europe, Australia, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.
Horses arrive at the airport by standard transportation in either vans or horse trailers and are loaded onto Airstables which appear very similar to horse trailers except without the wheels. Each adjustable Airstable is capable of holding one to three horses, and when the animals are loaded the Airstable is locked onto a shipping pallet and loaded via a cargo elevator onto the plane.
Horses can move back and forth in the Airstable, but are not able to exit. There are only access doors for their human caretakers who can periodically check on the horse to make sure the animal is doing well. The units are well-ventilated and horses are usually given ample suppplies of hay to keep them busy. Water is usually monitored so as to reduce the mess and the risk of getting sick.
As with humans, the most stressful time for the horses is the take-off and the landing. For very high-strung horses, veterinarians commonly lightly sedate the animal to keep him calmer. Air time is generally from six to ten hours, and most horses do fine. The biggest threat to air travel with horses is colic, and it is very difficult to deal with while in the air because of the space constraints.
Horses must also abide by vaccination and quarantine regulations depending on their point of destination.
Many horse owners have full time grooms, experienced in basic veterinary care accompany their valuable horses when the animals fly. It is not clear what the arrangements were for Virteuse, but we will update as more information becomes available.