Interviewed by Melanie Huggett

Today’s horses are no strangers to air and long distance travel. Travel across Canada and over borders and oceans is necessary for many horses used in competition and breeding, as well as sale horses.

Overseas Horse Services (OHS) of Calgary, Alberta specializes in international and equine air transport. We talked with owner Kenneth Serrien to find out more about this high flying horse business and how it helps horses travel around the world.

HJ: How did Overseas Horse Services get started?
KS: Overseas Horse Services started in April 2008 by acquiring an existing Canadian company, “Overseas Horse Transport” in Cochrane, Alberta. Former owner, Bob Thomson, was retiring and we had the opportunity to buy the company from him. The company is owned by me and my Belgian counterpart; OHS is a sister company to European Horse Services (EHS) in Belgium. EHS has been in the horse shipping business for over 20 years and is one of the largest companies in the world for horse transport by air.

HJ: Where do the majority of your customers come from? What countries has OHS transported horses to and from?
KS: Our majority of customers are situated in Alberta, Saskatchewan, BC, Manitoba, Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming. We can only offer the flights between Canada and Europe, but once they arrive in Europe the horse can travel all over the world. We have already shipped horses from Canada to South Africa, Dubai, Japan, and Egypt.

We also offer clients flights within Canada. For example, race horses and jumping horses will travel from the east to the west coast.

HJ: Could you briefly explain the steps involved in transporting horses long distances and overseas, and the options available for horse owners?
KS: To ship a horse from Canada to Europe involves several steps. First, we arrange pick up. The horse comes to our quarantine farm near Cochrane by commercial truck or the clients can bring the horse themselves. Once the horse arrives we vaccinate it for Eastern and Western Equine Encephalitis, then the horse starts its 30 day quarantine period. Horses are tested before they can leave; after testing, the CFIA will make up health papers. We bring the horse to the airport where we load it in a special horse container with two other horses and then they fly to Europe. The flight takes about nine hours and we send a professional groom on the plane with the horses to feed, water, and take care of them.

HJ: What steps does OHS take to ensure that horses arrive safely?
KS: All transport is done at the owners’ risk. The horses are insured during the quarantine period and road transport to the airport, but for the flight the owners need their own insurance. During the flight the groom will take care of the horses and in case of emergency he can intervene and react accordingly. Horse owners should understand that we are dealing with animals and that they can act in surprising ways.

HJ: How does OHS help customers with customs, quarantine, and other cross-border travel requirements when transporting horses to and from Canada?
KS: We help our clients with everything. We will set up customs clearance at the border or airport, arrange for testing and isolation at our stables, and help our clients with health papers and all the requirements for transportation overseas.

HJ: Is OHS transporting horses to any top events this year?
KS: During the summer we transport a lot of European and American horses from Europe to Spruce Meadows for the summer series. After the shows they will go back to Europe. Most of these horses travel in a double stall (only two horses in one container instead of three) and with their own grooms.

HJ: What sets your business apart from other horse transport services?
KS: We only do exclusive flights. We give our clients a door-to-door service including pick up, quarantine testing, health papers, export documents, and flight and customs clearance.

HJ: Can you tell me about the members of the OHS team?
KS: Our team consists of Ron Boisvert, my stable manager. He runs the quarantine stables and goes with me to the airport to load the horses. Celestine Corty does the administration work and is responsible for the accountancy of our company. We also have several independent professional grooms who fly for us.

HJ: What do you enjoy most about your job?
KS: What I really like is that I have lots of contact with my clients. We try to help them in every way possible. Usually clients are very excited that their horse is coming. It’s nice to see their expressions when they come to the airport and see the plane and the horse coming out of the container.
Horses have been very important to me my whole life. It’s nice when you can combine your passion with your business.

HJ: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about your business?
KS: Shipping horses is not just our business, it’s our passion!