The Ocala/Marion County equine industry is replete with unique occupations. Ocala native Margo Hudson happens to have one of the most unusual.
When Margo Hudson makes airline reservations for her special clients, they all need extra leg room. And, actually, extra head room too. The reason for these non-negotiable necessities is because Hudson is a travel agent for horses. In fact, the lifelong horsewoman is the third generation of her family to be involved in the horse transport business.
“My grandfather Hayes Hudson founded HH Hudson & Sons in Ocala in 1975,” she explains. “My parents Henry ‘Chip’ and Martha ‘Mimi’ Hudson managed HH Hudson for years, then bought the business from my grandfather in 1997. My parents sold HH Hudson to Creech Vans in 2004. My father is now a sales agent for Creech.”
As for Hudson, she has gone from land to air transport. She is the Ocala-based Southeast sales agent for Tex Sutton Equine Air Transportation, headquartered in Lexington, Kentucky.
Equine air transportation is big business in the equine industry. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines was the first to begin flying horses post World War II and horses have been flown around the world ever since. Within the U.S., there are many companies that provide air transport for horses. Halford Ewel “Tex” Sutton had transported horses by railcar throughout America beginning in the 1930s and shipped his first horse via airplane in 1969. He is widely credited with revolutionizing the horse transportation industry. Tex Sutton is the only U.S.-based horse transportation company with a Boeing 727 cargo plane dedicated to flying horses, aka Air Horse One. The plane can often be seen at the Ocala International Airport, particularly when there is an Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company auction.
“Growing up, I remember waking up early to go with my dad to work. I was helping load and riding in the back of vans by the time I was a teenager,” recalls Hudson, a definite extrovert and the only one of four children to carry on the family horse transport business. “Everyone has always called my dad Chip. And because I was always tagging along with him at work, people called me Little Chip.” She then adds with a laugh, “They’d say, ‘Well here comes Chip and Little Chip.’”
Hudson’s parents also operated a hunter/jumper barn for many years.
“I was either at the van company or at the barn. And I showed hunters for awhile,” she offers. “My Uncle John trains roping horses, so then I got into team roping as hobby for a few years. But the busier I got with work, I just didn’t have the time to devote to team roping.”
While she did work with her father, Hudson also decided to strike out on her own to have some different experiences. She went to Texas and worked at an equine rehab facility. Then she came back to Ocala, working for Niall Brennan Stables and the Ocala Breeders’ Sales Company. All of those experiences added to a resume that would make her uniquely qualified to nab the Tex Sutton position.
“Horse and horse transport people are a tight-knit group, really like a big family,” she notes. “I was delighted that I had the opportunity to interview with Tex Sutton for the Southeast sales agent position and then thrilled when I was hired in 2018.”
For Greg Otteson, the sales manager for Tex Sutton, Hudson was one of his all-time easiest interviews.
“First of all, Margo is a great horsewoman. Understanding horses and their owners is a requirement for this job. And, as an added bonus, Margo grew up in the horse transport business,” says Otteson. “It is very unusual to find someone who has that kind of resume to fit right in with Tex Sutton. Margo is definitely an asset for our company.”
Hudson’s clientele are those who own show horses such as hunters, show jumpers, dressage and 3-day eventing horses, and those involved in thoroughbred racing.
“My show horse clients are mainly based in California and they fly their horses every year to Florida for the winter shows, like the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington,” explains Hudson. “My thoroughbred clients are primarily those who come to Ocala and Miami for the 2-year-old in training sales. The horses they buy are then flown from the sale to farms or racetrack trainers.”
Working from her phone, Hudson lines up van transportation to and from airports, as well as the boarding and unloading of the horses from the plane. She also has to arrange for the horses’ grooms and all the necessary equipment to fly on the plane. She describes the scope of her job as being a lifeline for her clients.
“My phone rings 24/7 and it is my job to know what’s going on with my clients’ horses at any given time.”
Air Horse One can accommodate 21 horses, who fly first class in customized padded modular stalls. Instead of wine and caviar, these passengers have access to hay and water during the flight. Some are accompanied by a goat or pony, aka their emotional support animal.
“Everyone involved with Tex Sutton is dedicated to flying horses safely and comfortably,” says Hudson, who often rides along on flights to meet up with clients. “Horses who are flying for the first time usually adjust very quickly with no problem. And because horses are herd animals, they’ll whinny to each other during a flight.”
As for her lifelong involvement with horse transportation, Hudson sees it as fate.
“Horse transportation is the family business and I consider myself very fortunate,” she says. “I love everything about it. Every day is different and it’s fun to make all the puzzle pieces come together, to get horses safely from one place to another and back again. And, of course, I love all of my clients, both the horses and the people.”