Horses: On the Road and In the Air

The show season is over and the snowbirds and snowhorses are heading home.  Tomorrow morning  Biasini will set off morning on the 2,400 kilometer journey North to Toronto, Canada in a large horse transport van. He has a small box stall with some hay to eat and a bucket with water. I like to have him in a box stall so he has some freedom of movement in the 30 plus hour trip.  He will not be on his own. The van can accommodate six horses in box stalls and more if they are in standing stalls

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The van will have two drivers and apart from stopping at the border where all the horses’ identification papers and veterinary papers are examined and stopping for fuel the van will go straight through to Toronto. During the fuel stops the horses will be given hay and water. Biasini will arrive home to Belinda Trussell’s Oakcrest Farm mid-afternoon on Friday.

I started to prepare him for the trip a couple days before his departure: I gave him omeprazole for his stomach as many horses develop ulcers when under the stress of shipping and the omeprazole protects against this. The day before he shipped I gave him an electrolyte paste that will encourage him to drink and stay hydrated on the trip. For the shipping  I only put bell boots on his front feet (he is barefoot behind) as I do not want to warp his legs in bandages or boots in case they  come undone during the long trip. Biasini is also not very tolerant of bandaging on his hind legs and I do not want him kicking trying to get them off.

My husband David and I set off on the trip north the day after Biasini. The Oakcrest barn manager, Carl Callahan will let me know when he has arrived.  Carl will check his temperature and respiratory rate and Biasini will be given a hand walk before he is settled in for the night. The Oakcrest  staff is very familiar with the routines needed for horses that have been on long journeys. Biasini is, in fact, the last horse to return home as Belinda’s horses and some others have already arrived home last week.  Biasini is a good traveller. He has had a lot of experience and not only with travelling to Florida. He has flown from Germany where he was born and has been back there for a visit as well.

HORSES IN THE AIR

When I have told non horse people that horses fly around the world they are often amazed and look at me in disbelief.  But even as I write this horses are flying far and wide. Horses are loaded onto pallets measuring approximately 2.5m by 3m and the pallets are lifted by a forklift into the body of the plane. To find out more about the flying horses I spoke to Sue McTavish. Sue has accompanied horses on flights to and from Europe and also to the Paralympics in Hong Kong in 2008.When Sue is accompanying a horse that she trains on a flight she is the “shipper groom”. All flights that transport horses will also have a “horse attendant” that is certified and employed by the airline or the international horse transport company that is arranging the flights and transport for the horses. On the trip from New York to the Paralympics in Hong Kong the flight was 18 hours with a fuelling stop in Anchorage Alaska. The crew took an interest in the horse, whose name was Willy, as Sue had explained to them how important he was for his para rider. Due to being the only horse onboard Willie was quite nervous in a cargo plane full of flowers and plants so he was not drinking or eating. The crew got carrots and apples for him during the stop in Anchorage. Since Willy did not drink for the entire flight the pilot  alerted the vets in Hong Kong and arranged for a vet to meet them on arrival. Within 15 minutes of landing in the heat and humidity of Hong Kong Willy was loaded onto an air conditioned horse van and Sue travelled with him. They were escorted by motorcycle police and each intersection was blocked so the van did not stop till they reached the Olympic site. The horse van could stop close to the air conditioned stabling and Willy was quickly given intravenous fluids.

Horses have the most difficulty with the descent and landing and Sue told me that is the tensest time. She describes an “eerie silence” when the plane starts to descend. The horses know something is changing and Sue believes that their ears pop just as ours do. Some people like to plug their ears with cotton to try to alleviate this. The horses also have hay bags with them for the entire flight which helps to distract them and to get them chewing.  The landing is another critical time when problems can happen as landing a large aircraft involves a tremendous braking force. No one would ever stop that fast and hard driving a horse van.

Sue's horse is inspected by the vet before loading onto the pallet.
Sue’s horse is inspected by the vet before loading onto the pallet.

Horses also must go through inspection before boarding. While the horses are in a holding facility prior to flying they are checked by a vet to ensure they are fit to travel and also their identifying papers are in order and correct.  The holding and inspection facility can be on or very near the airport.

Once the horses are loaded onto the pallet it is taken to be weighed and if there is a shipper groom with the horses the shipper groom will also be in the pallet for weigh in.

Are we there yet?
Are we there yet?

Once the pallets are weighed they are transported to the plane.

The journey begins.
The journey begins.

Each pallet is lifted up by a forklift and slides into the body of the aircraft and then slides back into place. This is an amazing procedure to watch. Sue told me that the noise level is very high with the sound of airplane engines and the machinery. The horses are completely enclosed in the pallets so they do not see out during this process. There are vents for air flow but the flaps are lowered to restrict vision during this process. Once on board the flaps are taken up and the horses can see around them.

Most of the flights Sue has been on with horses have been what are called ‘combi’ flights. On a combi flight the front of the aircraft is filled with passengers and the horses are in the rear cargo area. Next time you are on a plane across the Atlantic and it seems to you that the interior of the plane is a bit short there may well be some equines at the back of the aircraft.  Why not ask a flight attendant and find out?

As David and I head north on Friday I will be waiting for a call to tell me Biasini has arrived safely.  Once I get that call I will relax. It’s just like having another child really!

 

 

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