Globetrotting: The world's most traveled horse

Story highlights

  • The world's top horses fly in the region of 80,000 kilometers a year in relative luxury
  • Surprisingly, show jumpers rather than racing horses clock up the most equine miles
  • There are always those that misbehave, "like drunks on a plane" says one expert
  • Jakkalberry arguably the most traveled race horse before his retirement last month

The air miles don't accrue, there's no free holiday to aspire to at the end of it, and the flights are seemingly never ending.

It is the world of equine travel and, with its ever-expanding global appeal, be it equestrianism or horse racing, events are increasingly dotted over all pockets of the world, meaning more and more miles for the most accomplished and sought-after steeds.

Is it possible to ascertain the world's most traveled horse? To pinpoint it to one specific creature may be something of a mission impossible but in equine transport, it is the show-jumping horses that would be the holders of the gold card, the three-day events the silver, and somewhat surprisingly horse racing horses, relatively under-traveled in comparison, the bronze.

American showjumper Beezie Madden is a two-time Olympic gold medalist, and today generally regarded as one of the world's best riders. Her leading mounts are Simon and Cortes C and, as such, there are few if any horses on the planet that are currently better traveled.

"Sadly there's no air miles for horses," she says with a rueful laugh. "Although I'd like that. It would help. But seriously, I think you'd struggle to find better traveled horses than those two."

Their current remit is such that they are relatively sedentary at the moment, Madden having flown them to Florida for a few months for both training and competition.

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But from there, the journeys begin in earnest -- they will fly to Calgary, Canada, for a $1m grand prix before returning to Florida for a $1.5m GP before jetting off to Europe to compete in the second week of April for the World Cup final in Lyon, France.

    From there it's back to New York before a flight to Calgary in May and then a second seasonal sojourn in Europe for the World Equestrian Games in Normandy. After that, it's back to Calgary once more for a $1.5 million GP before a return to Europe for the Nations Cup final in Barcelona, Spain.

    "And that's not all of it," explains Madden. "That's just the flying. They'll probably travel by road across the country at least three times this year. As for how many miles that would equate to, I really have no idea but it's running into thousands."

    Even at a relatively conservative estimate, it is comfortably 80,000 kilometers for each horse. Luckily, the cost of the travel is met by a wealthy benefactor Abigail Wexner, who owns Madden's horses, particularly considering the manner in which her horses travel, and the fact a top-notch flight from America to Europe can cost as much as $25,000 a horse.

    Like human air travel, there is very much a hierarchy of luxury. Each 'stable' on a plane can take up to three horses, the equivalent of which is economy class. Some of the wealthy race horses, like Australian champion Black Caviar, will travel in these stables alone (first class).

    Madden's mounts are usually in between that in business where two horses tend to share one allocated space.

    Despite the number of miles mounting up each year, Madden remains obsessed with her horses' welfare. "I always make sure I get a call whenever the horses land to know they're safe," she says. "I say 'I don't mind, I want to know even if it's the middle of the night'."

    To date, none of her horses have had major problems traveling, and the last resort of tranquilizers has not had to be resorted to. The big concern, though, is that the lungs can fill up with fluid leading to cases of bronchitis despite the stable lads on hand.

    While show jumpers may be king, the sport of kings, horse racing, has produced its own well-traveled nags. Arguably the most worldly wise was Jakkalberry, an Australian owned horse trained by Marco Botti and based in Newmarket in England.

    Stick a pin in a map and the chances are that Jakkalberry, whose last five races were in the UAE, Japan, Australia, the United States and England, has raced there.

    "He is absolutely one of the most traveled horses out there," explains Botti. "He's traveled around the world and he's done so well in so many different countries. You don't find many horses that travel that well. He's so consistent at so many different tracks.

    "He just loves to travel, I can't explain it. Some horses enjoy it more than others. He relaxes when he travels, he likes to be in different places. He's a horse that just loved it, that was very versatile and adaptable."

    Jakkalberry retired last month with an injury although nothing to do with a tough traveling schedule, Botti, but due to a freak incident of being kicked in the stalls by another horse at a race in Dubai.

    There is a sense of irony that such a glittering career, that has earned him $2 million for his owners, should end with a victory in the slightly less glamorous surroundings of Wolverhampton in the English midlands, just a mere 100 miles away from his home.

    His next step is to go to stud but, for now, Botti admits he is struggling to keep him entertained. "He gets very fresh, I think he misses the travel but he deserves his retirement," he says. "We've had some very good times with him, and he's done very well for us."

    Flying horses all over the world, whether involved in equestrianism or horse racing, is big business. Peden Bloodstock Ltd are world leaders for equestrian air transport and have been responsible for the equine freight to the Olympics and World Championships in recent years.

    Read: Transporting horses from cattle to first class

    Henry Bullen is in charge of the day-to-day shipping in the UK office and argues that the showjumpers are comfortably the lead in global traveling in the equine world.

    "I'd easily say it's the showjumpers number one, then the dressage and three-day eventing horses second, with the horse-racing ones third," he explains.

    "The thing is the majority of their racing will be in the UK where the others travel all over the world at any given time. They're traveling a hell of a lot."

    Peden sends horses off with trained grooms, equine air stewards and stewardesses if you like, to ensure the safety and smooth travel of these horses, many of whom have high price tags.

    Bullen explains they travel in luxury -- "they usually travel exceptionally well" and that most travel calmly. But he points out that even the best traveled can go awry. "You always get a rogue," he adds. "I liken it to a drunk on a plane. And it doesn't matter how much they've traveled, they can have their moments".

    The idea of a horse with air rage at 30,000 feet doesn't bear thinking about, and there are times when things have gone wrong although usually more to do with logistics, out of Peden and Bullen's hands, than a fired-up stallion.

    Bullen would not hazard a guess how many miles the most traveled nags will go in a given year. But it would put even the most ardent business traveler to shame.

    Read more: Can ballet teach the world to love dancing horses?

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