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Air transport of competition horses to WEG in Jerez 2002
By Michaela Bowles

Air Contractors operating for DHL is the airline carrying the competition horses to the World Equestrian Games, currently underway in Jerez, Spain.

The 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.

The 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.

Many 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.

Without 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.

In 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.

Sadly 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!

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