24 February 2015, Doha ~ It’s a funny old world! For hundreds of years horses have been regarded as a means of transportation for mankind. However, nowadays horses are being transported in the poshest possible vehicles and some are even ready for an Equestrian Frequent Flyer Club. There are no statistics, but some international sport horses should be ready for a Platinum or at least a Gold Card if you look at their travel itinerary, jetting around the world, from the Olympic Games to world championships, and the various competition series the equestrian sport is holding anywhere in the world. For the CHI AL SHAQAB 2015 from 2 to 7 March three planes full of horses are flying into Doha. Qatar Airways freighters are bringing in 135 valuable four-legged athletes and their entourage.
Horses flying – whether for business or pleasure like going on vacation with their owners – involves a lot more than your regular booking a ticket, putting a suitcase on the conveyor belt, hopping on and there you go. Some countries ask for extensive paperwork that have to be collected in cooperation with the customs or the stable veterinarian and pre-export blood testing on the horses is standard. Sometimes complicated quarantine arrangements have to be considered.
Business or Economy class? The design of a freight carrier for horses is never different but the amount of space is quite changed for horses. For air travel horses stand in containers of standard dimensions: 294 cm long, 234 cm wide and 232 cm high. In general, basically what people would call economy class, three horses are travelling per pallet, giving each 75 cm to stay, not legroom but width. If owners want their horses to travel in extra space they reserve (and pay for) the container for two horses instead of three, giving both 1.25 m to stand on. Having only one horse per container is never advisable, because horses are herd animals and hate to be on their own. After the horses being “parked” in the container, it gets heaved up via a powerful fork lift onto the plane. Therefore horses have to arrive at the airport at least four to five hours before take-off.
Professional grooms are taking care of the horses during the flight. The planes to CHI AL SHAQAB 2015 will have nine federations’ grooms, plus the carrier’s own professional and a veterinary doctor on each flight. The contractor’s representative might well be senior flying groom Tim Rolfe who has been involved at every Olympic Games since 1988. Or it could be Brian Taylor Jr. who is praised as “one of the most experienced flying grooms in the world”. The son of derby winning jockey Brian Taylor has been the nanny for some of the most prominent racehorses. Some trainers especially ask for him to accompany their galloping money makers.
No notable carrier could exist in the business without staff that is familiar with horses. James Luck has been a renowned jockey. Martin Atock and Henry Bullen who run another company, based in Germany, have been international event riders. German Guido Klatte has roots in breeding and jumping, just like the company that road transports all championship horses for the German National Federation.
Just like any stewardess – minus the nice uniform – the grooms pay attention to the four-legged travelers’ needs, but in the steadily 17-degree-cooled cabin they will serve only water and hay. Just like for human passengers: light meals are recommended. A serving of very healthy horse porridge called “mash” is the only extra treat allowed on board.
But “travelling light” is not an option. A competition horse has definitely more than one or two suitcases. For coming to CHI AL SHAQAB 2015, in addition to the horses, the carriers for CHI AL SHAQAB 2015 will handle over 25,000 kilos of equipment both ways, inbound and outbound. Preparations that go into a logistical move on this scale are immense with the company arranging all customs and complicated export and re import veterinary formalities and to maintain the highest levels of bio security in conjunction with the Qatar Foundation.
Be it a Shetland pony or even a mule or the priceless Breeders Cup winner, horses in the air receive the utmost attention. A lot of planning goes into each of their trips. Just imagine the 800 horse operation that is run for World Equestrian Games where eight different world championships are held at one event. Or think of flying all the horses to the 2006 Asian Games in Doha or to shows of the Global Champions Tour. Looking at the calendars for international competition, show and racing there must be horses in the air around the world every day of the year.
Equestrian Frequent Flyer Club? There is no such thing yet.