Window or Aisle Stall? Equine Frequent Fliers Check In

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Michael Payne, an operational manager for H..E. Sutton, an equine air service, gently guiding a horse from a plane.Credit Deborah A. Roma

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — A worn and yellowed catalog for the 1937 Annual Sale of Thoroughbreds at the Lexington Sales Paddock offered 547 stallions, broodmares, yearlings and weanlings. Every page is marked in faded pencil with prices and codes like “O.K.,” “good class,”  “poor” and  “W,” which possibly denoted the horses won by the catalog’s original owner. Each page notes the final auction price ($85 to $2,000).  Many famous Kentucky farms offered horses, and sires included the Kentucky Derby winners Omar Khayyam (1917), Morvich (1922) and Burgoo King (1932). But equally fascinating are the notes on the back cover with estimates of train transportation costs.

• Saratoga, N.Y., to Los Angeles, 12 horses on a car: $1,245. $70 for each additional horse. Total of 16 horses for $1,458.

• Renton, Wash., to Frisco (12 horses): $339.

• Renton, Wash., to Los Angeles (12 horses): $429.

In the 1930s, trains were the primary transportation for cross-country equine travel. A decade later, the Army Air Forces  tested transporting horses in the Fairchild C-82, a 25-ton cargo transport.

KLM Royal Dutch was the first airline to transport a live animal, in 1924. Nico the bull was flown from Rotterdam, the Netherlands, to Paris and is purported to have munched on the plane’s wicker seats. Today KLM still transports thousands of horses, dogs, cats, zoo animals and ornamental fish. FedEx also transports animals, including two giant pandas from China to the National Zoo in Washington in 2000 and Olympic equestrian teams.

Besides FedEx, one of the biggest names in the United States for equine transportation is Tex Sutton, who started arranging train travel in 1954 and with Dave Clark eventually built an airline service now known as the H..E. Sutton Forwarding Company.

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Flights can carry up to 21 horses, their…

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