Moving Little Horses to Hawaii

3. Toyland Comanche and Toyland Java became part of our family in early September 2015 when I made the final payment. But getting them to our farm in Hawaii from their birth barn near Chicago, Illinois was not easy. I started looking into transportation options during the summer. I was hoping it would be as simple as flying to Chicago, putting them in a giant dog crate and flying back with them using United Airlines’ Petsafe program, as we did when we moved our dog, Blue, from Colorado. After all, at 26 and 28 inches tall, they weren’t much bigger than Blue. The representative at United assured me they would not allow horses to fly no matter how small they might be. I asked around the horse owners I knew on the island and they all recommended Young Brothers. I called Young Brothers, but the person I talked to said the horses would have to be shipped to Honolulu, Oahu first then brought by barge to their port in Kawaihae, a five-day trip over what can be rough water. They would only handle the portion of the trip from Oahu to the Big Island, leaving me to figure out all the details of getting them to Oahu, where they would be checked in by a state-approved veterinarian. That led me to further investigation of the quarantine rules but I couldn’t get a straight answer from the Department of Agriculture or other horse owners about what was actually required. Over the years, I had transported many horses to many places, but never to an island and never having to use more than a single truck with a trailer. With what appeared to be some combination of planes, trains, automobiles, and barges getting involved, it was getting more and more complicated, so I called Island Pet Movers, the company that helped take care of transporting my parrot when we moved to Hawaii, since they were so good at handling all the complex details of importing birds to this island. Their advice was to contact Pacific Airlift, a company that specializes in moving livestock on and off the islands.

I immediately called the good folks at Pacific Airlift and left a message. While I was waiting for them to call back, I studied their website and the Department of Agriculture’s rules on importing livestock. It seemed that, contrary to what I was being told by horse owners, horses can be brought into the state at any port on any island, as long as a state-approved veterinarian will be on hand to check them in. Pacific Airlift’s website suggested that they make occasional flights directly to Kona from Los Angeles. I felt like we were finally getting somewhere. When Andee Patterson from Pacific Airlift called me back, she assured me that they would take care of all the transportation and paperwork details from door to door, or at least from the barn in Illinois to the Kona International Airport, including making sure the state veterinarian would be on hand. At this point, I no longer cared about the cost – I had someone who would help me navigate the complexities of the move.

It looked like mid-October was going to be the earliest the horses could be transported. Since they were still very young (both born in April), the delay was probably to their advantage.

The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.
The paddock, ready for its new inhabitants.

In the meantime, we fenced approximately 2000 square feet of our land into a miniature horse paddock, complete with a five foot tall 8’x12’ loafing shed with a covered feed and tack room at one end. Except for having to lean over to avoid hitting my head on the roof supports, it’s the perfect setup for two or three minis.

Andee contacted Laureen at Toyland Farms and sent all the information related to the required paperwork for health certificates, Coggins testing, and import restrictions (use of fly sprays, etc.). She also arranged with a local van company in Illinois to pick up the minis and transport them to Riverside, California. That portion of the trip cost $1475 with the minis sharing a stall in the van. The van company deposited them at a ranch in Riverside where they rested for a few days while waiting for their plane ride to the Big Island. Then the big day arrived and they were transported to the airport where they were loaded into a shared stall on a cargo plane transporting a number of cattle, horses, and sheep to and from Kona. Pacific Airlift’s service was a whopping $3000 (the same amount they charge for one full-sized horse), but that covered transporting both horses overseas and coordinating the continental travel as well. Add in insurance and miscellaneous fees associated with the week of boarding and getting them to the airport and the total bill for transporting the two horses from the Chicago area to Kona ended up being right around $5000, almost as much as the price tag for the two horses. But it was worth every penny, knowing that they were being handled with care and experience every step of the way.

But getting the horses to Kona was only part of the journey. They still had to go from the airport to our place about 30 miles south. During the weeks we waited for them to arrive, we tossed around various ideas for transporting them.

Java's sweet face.
Java’s sweet face. 

Since they were still so small, and around 120-150 pounds each, we thought we probably had several options. We entertained the idea of large dog crates that we could load into the back of our pickup with some assistance from hefty helpers. We thought about putting up a canine fence between the front seats and cargo area of our Subaru Forester and simply carrying them that way. With a rubber mat lining in the cargo area, how bad could that be?

We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.
We renamed Comanche to keep with the coffee theme. Meet Mr. Bean.

We considered a friend’s offer of an enormous two-horse trailer built for very tall Warmbloods, but that didn’t seem much safer than just putting in some plywood panels to raise the sides of our pickup bed and riding with them to keep them from jumping out on the way home.

But in the way things seem to fall into place here on the island, we happened into the local feed store at exactly the right moment to meet one of the few owners of miniature horses in Kona. Mike, the husband of the owner of a therapeutic horsemanship program, talked story with us a while, made some good suggestions on care and feeding of the minis in this climate, and offered the use of his miniature horse trailer to transport the horses from the airport. A miniature horse trailer – the only one on the island – and we just happened to meet the owner of it in the feed store on a day when we were about out of time to explore options. I chatted with Nancy Bloomfield, the director of Therapeutic Horsemanship Hawaii in Kona, when we got home and she not only gave great advice based on experience with her two minis here that are part of her outreach program, but she also confirmed Mike’s offer of the trailer and hauling at no cost. We agreed to meet at the airport at 2:30 on the appointed day. Everything seemed ready – all we had to do was wait for October 17.

4 Replies to “Moving Little Horses to Hawaii”

  1. Started reading your story, Lisa, and couldn’t stop. Wow. I don’t know why I thought that moving two little horses wouldn’t be such a complicated deal…but, as I continued reading it became so clear that–yes–this is not a task for an unorganized and undetailed individual. Great story…and great story telling. I enjoyed it immensely!


  2. I plan on moving to Kona within a year to be near family in Palasades area. (Hopefully) I have a bonded pair of minis one of which is certified in therapy visits here in CA. My other mini is a gelding that I rescued at at one month old and is partially blind. I am just starting to research properties and I am unsure about how much land and zoning I would need to bring my minis with me. I would love any information that you may have as I’ve contacted the Agriculture Dept and have rec’d different answers regarding my questions to as exactly how much land I will need for my two small minis
    Thank you in advance for any information You can share or any other resources that You may have that I can contact


    1. Aloha Loreen! I don’t know how the land is zoned in Kona Palisades, but there are several subdivisions in North Kona where it may be possible to have minis on your property. You’ll need a lot that is zoned for agriculture, not strictly residential, and you’ll need to make sure that the CCRs (covenants) and HOA (homeowners association) rules, if there are any, do not restrict you from having horses. You may want to look for a property that is not in a subdivision so that there are no CCRs or HOA requirements. I would recommend at least an acre lot so that your minis have plenty of room (and you can deal with manure removal easily – it composts pretty readily here). At the very minimum, each horse needs about 1000 square feet to run in, so for two you should plan on a well fenced area of at least 2000 square feet with some sort of shelter area that provides relief from heavy rain and hard sun. It would be rare that you would want to shut them in entirely so a run-in shed with good drainage is fine. And I say well fenced because wild pigs and big, mean dogs are common here and you will need to protect your minis from both. Ideally, your minis would have the complete run of the place, but you’ll have to figure that out once you see what you end up with as the topography of some places is not safe for horses. I highly recommend buying fee simple property rather than leasehold, so that you actually own your land. Be aware that it is not cheap to bring them here – I just shipped two more over from the mainland. Pacific Airlift can help you get that figured out, but the flight (from LAX to KOA) for two minis is $3300 and that doesn’t include the vet checks, layover barn in LA, ground transport to the layover barn and to the airport, and insurance. The total price tag for me to bring two from Washington (state) to Kona was roughly $6000 when all was said and done (not including the cost of the horses). There is a 2-month quarantine once you get them here where they need to be kept away from other horses (at least 200 yards) until cleared by another Coggins check, so make sure wherever you land can accommodate that as well. Feeding is expensive as all hay (and pelleted food) has to be shipped in. Orchard grass hay (which the minis thrive on here) runs about $40-$45 per 80-lb bale. There is a good feed store in North Kona (LHL) but sometimes shipments are irregular, so you’ll want the ability to store more than one bale of hay and bags of pellets without storing so much that it goes bad on you due to climate. It’s a tricky business, balancing everything here, but you’ll get the hang of it. We do have a Therapeutic Horsemanship program here that I hope you’ll get involved with. The program has two minis for community outreach that live in Kaloko area (just above Costco) and a riding program with full size horses that takes place in Honalo. Let me know if you have other specific questions about bringing your minis. And if you haven’t already done so, become a follower of Hawaii Island Miniature Horses Facebook page. It’s a great place to get more information from others who live here as well.


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