HORSES ON THE ROAD
At the start of April the South Florida show season is over. The horses and riders are heading home. This means that there will be literally thousands of horses moving by road to various parts of the USA and Canada and also horses being taken to the Miami airport to fly to Europe and South America. I spend the winter in Palm City Florida which is about an hour north of the ‘horse central’ of Wellington where the Winter Equestrian Festival and the Global Dressage Festival take place during the winter season. I am a dressage rider and during the winter my horse Biasini and I train five days a week and compete at the Global Festival or at White Fences Equestrian. This year we competed at the Prix St. George level. For the trip home Biasini was picked up by a large transport and set off on the 2,400 kilometer journey to Toronto, Canada. He had a small box stall with straw bedding, 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 was not on his own as the van can accommodate six horses in box stalls.
The van has 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 are given hay and water. Biasini arrived home to Belinda Trussell’s Oakcrest Farm mid-afternoon the following day.
I start to prepare him for the trip a few 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 ships I gave him an electrolyte paste that will encourage him to drink and stay hydrated on the trip and for a day before the trip I wet his hay. 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. Also 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 barn manager at Oakcrest, Carl Callahan, calls me to let me know when he has arrived. Carl checks his temperature and respiratory rate and Biasini is 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 had already arrived home before him. 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 crew 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. 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. Horses 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 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. Once the pallets are weighed and are transported to the plane 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?
My husband David and I set off on the drive north the day after Biasini leaves. I am always relived to get the call to tell me Biasini has arrived safely. Once I get that call I can relax. It’s just like having another child really!
All photos featured in this article are the property of Leueen Willoughby.
Leueen is a “vintage” dressage rider. She began riding at the age of 6, riding in the jumpers and eventing until she was 19 when university and real life took over. She did not ride other than the occasional trail ride for 30 years. When her daughter started riding Leueen took it up again. She attributes horses and riding with helping her through a struggle with cancer. She trains in Canada with Canadian Olympian Belinda Trussell, and during the winter, in Florida with international competitor Luis Reteguiz Denizard. During the 2016 Florida season they competed at Prix St. George, qualifying for the USDF silver medal and the USDF FEI Masters Challenge award.
Leueen’s horse Biasini, an 11 year old Hanoverian gelding, was trained by Belinda Trussell from the age of 4. When he was 9 Leueen became his owner. In the two years they have been together they have formed a strong bond and Leueen looks forward every day to riding him.