The largest commercial airlift of horses ever undertaken for a single event takes off from Belgium this week heading for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™, which is taking place in the United States for the first time in its 20-year history.
Almost 450 horses are departing from Europe between 16-29 September. Ten specially fitted out charter flights leave from Belgium’s Liege airport over the next 14 days and one flight will depart from Amsterdam.
The European charter forms part of an even larger worldwide airlift of horses which will compete in eight different disciplines at Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Lexington, Kentucky between 25 September and 10 October.
As well as the 445 horses departing from Europe, another 19 will fly from Australasia and 35 from South America. The airlift is the largest ever undertaken for one event and has come about following the decision to hold the World Equestrian Games outside Europe for the first time. The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ will be the largest sporting event in the United States this year.
The horses will be flown to Cincinnati where they will spend a minimum of 42 hours in quarantine ahead of the World Equestrian Games.
During the nine-hour journey from Europe, the horses will be cared for by an in-flight crew of 24, including grooms, attendants and vets, many of them professional flying grooms who make their living tending to the needs of their equine passengers.
Flying grooms are supplied by Peden Bloodstock, the company responsible for arranging the air charters. Head Groom Tim Rolfe, who has overseen six Olympic and five World Equestrian Games airlifts, explained that the grooms must spend many months in training to undertake such journeys.
“Most of us come from racing or grooming backgrounds but we have to undertake similar training to commercial airline cabin crew, particularly as we have to look after the human passengers as well.”
Like most commercial passenger flights, the horses get to travel in a specified cabin class, with the majority travelling business class.
The class of cabin is determined by the number of horses in each “air stable”. Those travelling economy will be three to a container, two horses will share business class containers and those in first class have the air stable all to themselves. Only one horse will get that luxury on the flight from Belgium, but the high-flyer’s identity is staying firmly under wraps.
Ticket prices range from €8,500 to €13,000 depending on the class selected, but considering most of these horses are worth several million Euro, it’s money well spent.
The horses’ safety and welfare are paramount, with the pilots specially briefed to ensure that the take-off and landings are smoother than usual. The take-off will involve a more gradual climb, whilst a much slower braking system is adopted for the landing.
The horses have a constant supply of in-flight food. They can snack ad lib on their hay nets and will also be offered a diet of nuts, oats and bran. Over 1,500 litres of water will be taken on board to ensure the equine passengers are kept well hydrated whilst in the air.
In-flight entertainment is taken care of by the flying grooms, according to Peden Bloodstock Director, Henry Bullen.
“It is too loud on board to warrant anything like soft music, but there are plenty of bad jokes from the flying grooms to keep everyone entertained. The flight, once in the air, is generally smoother than on the road however, unless of course there is the odd patch of turbulence.”
Once the horses arrive in Cincinnati, they will spend up to 42 hours in a purpose-built quarantine facility near the airport, before departing on the 90-minute road-trip to the Kentucky Horse Park, venue for the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™.