Air transport of competition horses to WEG in Jerez
By Michaela Bowles
Contractors operating for DHL is the airline carrying the competition
horses to the World Equestrian Games, currently underway in Jerez,
horses are amazing in their confidence and fortitude. It is a
given that all the horses that travel are seasoned travellers,
not least in air travel. Many have been to Australia for the Olympic
games. Still, it seems incredible that they are prepared to walk
up a noisy ramp 12 feet (3m) into the sky. Although the ramp is
high-sided, and a 15-16hh horse would not be able to see over
the sides, these giants of the international equestrian world:
Dressage, Show jumpers and Eventers, some standing at 17.5hh could
see exactly where they are going!
Once inside the aircraft, they stand un-perturbed as the grooms
built stalls around them in order to contain them. Many are so
tall that those most sensitive of antennae, the tips of their
ears are in constant contact with the interior shell of the fuselage.
interior of the aircraft has all the usual padding that we human
travellers are familiar with removed. This makes for a much noisier
journey, and those ear tips are subjected in addition to the noise,
to vibration and temperatures of between 5-10 C. The external
air temperature is about -30 C, although the cabin itself is generally
maintained at a temperature 21 C which is altered on demand.
Additionally the floor of the pallet on which the horse stands
has wooden treads at intervals to reduce the risk of slipping,
and again as a consequence of their size, their feet are positioned
uncomfortably on these treads for the duration of the journey.
of the horses had already undertaken extremely long road and air
journeys before embarking on the final phase to Jerez. The Dutch,
French and Swedish team's horses all travelling by road to Munster
airport in Germany. The American dressage horse Brentina, on his
return to the States having flown 3 hours back to Munster, will
undertake a 2.5hour journey by road to Amsterdam, an 11hour flight
from Amsterdam to Los Angeles and a further 14 hour journey by
road to Idaho.
Efficiency in the transportation of the horses is essential to
reduce the stress and fatigue associated with air travel and the
consequent effect that it can have on the performance of the horse
at competition. To this end, delays are avoided and loading and
unloading taking place quickly and quietly. The maximum flight
level is 25000 feet in order to reduce the time required for the
ascent and descent. Slow and steady descents are ensured to minimise
slipping and sliding and the discomfort or injury that may occur
from being pitched forward or backward (the horses stand facing
fore or aft, 3 stalls within the width of the aircraft with an
approx. 40cm wide passage for access to the front and rear of
the aircraft. Banks or turns, are manoeuvres that are also gently
carried out, again, to avoid discomfort to the Cargo.
exception all the horses travelled well, with individual nets
of hay or haylage provided which encourages the horse to chew,
thereby reducing stress and the swallowing that results, also
helps to equalise pressure in the ears during the ascent and descent.
addition to the professional grooms designated by DHL, the horses
are accompanied by their personal grooms, and in some instances,
by their riders.
The British team, riders and grooms are considered to be the most
difficult team to transport. They are described as 'demanding
and arrogant prima donnas'.
In contrast, the French, Swedish and especially the Germans are
communicative, friendly and competent, appreciative of the respective
roles and limitations of the professional grooms and aircrew.
the British team set off with no media coverage to encourage morale.
This together with zero exposure of the Games on television perhaps
contributed to their disappointing overall performance in the
dressage, eventing and show jumping and thereby the sour attitude
of the chef d'equip who declined the opportunity of chatting to
the Captain. This does not help to raise the profile of the British
team at the Games or equestrianism in general.
In Munster in Germany, where most of the European horses embark,
the media hype was enthusiastic and substantial, despite an initial
departure at 2am!
visit the author's website at: www.equilibrate.co.uk