“Unlike us though, horses unfortunately cannot collect air miles”, informs Martin Atock, the Managing Director of Peden Bloodstock, one of the most experienced international equine shipping agents in the world that regularly flies Longines Global Champions Tour contenders and the world’s best racehorses or endurance horses to major sporting events around the globe.
For Atock, a former Junior International Event rider for Ireland, collecting air miles is the least of his worries when it comes to shipping multimillion dollar stallions, racehorses or show jumping champions from Europe to America, from Hong Kong to Mexico or anywhere else in the world. For him, it is much more important that his equine passengers are well looked after and handled correctly so that their flying experience is enjoyable and the horse arrives at its destination in peak condition.
He is a firm advocate of horses being treated as individuals and he explains: “Every horse, like every person, has a different personality and that is where our experienced and specifically trained squad of professional flying grooms comes into the picture. Sometimes, you only have a few seconds to assess the personality of a horse when you meet it on the tarmac before loading it onto one of the air stables. If there was an issue on a plane, which thankfully is extremely rare, you must know what to do”. And he quickly adds: “Most of the time if a horse does get upset it is because it is feeling claustrophobic and in that case, you try and give it some more space by taking out a partition. I know I am repeating myself, but again, they are just like us and some react more than others when they are in a confined space”.
Horses are looked after by a team of professionals that also includes a qualified flying vet and pilots in the cockpit used to carrying precious cargo. Gentle take-offs with no immediate sharp turns to the left or right, landings where the aircraft makes the most of the runway without applying the brakes too hard, give the horses ample time to find their balance and to relax. It helps too that air stables are designed very much like horse boxes, which gives the horse a feeling of familiarity and Atock confirms: “An air stable is 294 cm long and
234 cm wide. You can fit a maximum of three horses in an air stable, which is known as the economy class. Then you have the business class where the air stable has one partition and hence room for two horses, or you have first class travel where a horse gets the whole air stable to itself. Most warmbloods that travel for instance to the Longines Global Champions Tour events will fly business class, as they carry up to 630 kilos in weight and are up to 18 hands high. They need a bit more space and would just get claustrophobic in a single stall. However, the smaller endurance horses are actually quite happy to travel in economy class”.
Atock pauses and then says: “You know something funny? Just like us, horses usually travel facing forward in an air stable. However, if you put a horse in an air stable with no partitions, it will actually stand facing backwards, diagonally to the right. That is the position horses chose when they have the option. And we know that from moving horses in great numbers”.
Peden Bloodstock, which also manages Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s in-house equine shipping operation Janah, has transported horses around the world for more than 70 years. It made its first flight in 1947 when three horses, owned by legendary French breeder Marcel Boussac, made their journey from France across the channel to run at Royal Ascot. Since then, Peden Bloodstock has broken record after record with flying hundreds of horses to the world’s leading equestrian events. In fact, in September 2018, Peden Bloodstock is looking at flying the biggest number of horses yet, when the FEI World Equestrian GamesTM, where Longines is the Offical Timekeeper, take place at the Tryon International Equestrian Center in North Carolina.
“In 2010, for the World Equestrian Games in Lexington we flew in 441 horses”, confirms Atock who spends more time in the air than in Germany, where Peden Bloodstock is based. “And this year, after we finish the Longines Global Champions Tour, we will be flying 560 horses to the Games, for which we have already chartered twenty aircraft”.
These aircraft are all either Boeing 777s or Boeing 747s and Atock says: “We try to use the most modern aircraft available because it might surprise you, but the crucial element on a flight is airflow. If you think of two horses flying business, that is up to 1,300 kilograms of animal standing there. Their bodies are breathing, they are generating body heat and so the paramount thing is to keep good airflow in there. We have multiple conversations with the cockpit and crew on getting the airflow right. And then it is extremely important that they remain hydrated. Again, forgive me for repeating myself, but the trick with horses is to remember that just like human beings they are mammals. They have brains, they have lifestyles, they have a body clock, they have everything we have. And just like we have to drink several litres of water on the flight, so must the horses. Correct airflow and hydration make a huge difference to the state of the horse and its recovery time”.
From three horses in 1947 to over five hundred in 2018, equine air travel has evolved into a thriving business. The world’s show jumpers are arguably the most frequent flyers, but some of the top racehorses can also clock up a fair amount of miles. With several grooms as attendants, pilots who aim for smooth landings, a passport control that is done while the horse is already getting comfortable in its stable, equine air travel sounds like the way forward. Just a shame about those air miles… [Liz Price]