Almost 450 horses are departing Europe between the 16th and 29th of September. Ten specially constructed charter flights will leave from Belgium’s Liege airport and the Amsterdam airport over the next 14 days. These European charter flights form part of an even larger worldwide airlift of horses competing in the eight different disciplines of the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky between September 25th and October 10th.
In addition to the 445 horses departing from Europe, 19 horses from Australasia and 35 from South America will fly into the United States in the upcoming week. The airlift is the largest ever undertaken for one event due to the World Equestrian Games being held on American soil for the first time. The 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 before competing in the Games.
During the nine-hour journey from Europe, the horses will be cared for by a team of 24 individuals, 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 will be 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,” said Rolfe. Like most commercial passenger flights, the horses travel in a specified cabin class, with the majority traveling “business class.”
The class of cabin is determined by the number of horses in each “air stable.” Those traveling 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 a luxury 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 is money well spent.
The horses’ safety and welfare are paramount, and pilots are specially trained to ensure that the take-off and landings are smoother than usual. The take-off will involve a more gradual climb, and a much slower braking system is adopted for the landing.
The horses have a constant supply of in-flight food. They can snack on hay nets, nuts, oats and bran. Over 1,500 litres of water will be taken on board to ensure the equine passengers are kept well hydrated while 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,” said Bullen. Once the horses arrive in Cincinnati, they will spend up to 42 hours in a 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.