Precious Cargo: The European Horses On The Way To Las Vegas For The FEI World Cup Finals

Apr 11, 2015 - 4:34 PM

Talk about precious cargo—on Saturday, April 11, 40 of the world’s top dressage and show jumping horses caught the same flight over the ocean to Las Vegas, Nev., for the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final and the Longines FEI World Cup Show Jumping Final. 

Ever wonder what it looks like to fly horses? Here’s a sneak peek into the process. All photos by FEI/Dirk Caremans/Pool Pic Livepic


Two champions chat: Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping title holder Cornet D’Amour and his dressage counterpart and world record breaker Valegro exchange winning tips before boarding their flight to Las Vegas. 


Grey mare Silvana HDC, who is renowned for her great results in partnership with French rider Kevin Staut, and groom Laurence Gazel make their way to the flying stalls before boarding their flight to Las Vegas.

“We estimate there’s about €150 million worth of horses on the flight,” said Tim Dutta, the man in charge of transporting many of the world’s elite equine athletes from Europe all to the way to Las Vegas, USA for the FEI World Cup™ 2015 Finals on April 15-19.

“Horses are just like you and me,” says the man whose company banner reads We give horses wings. “Some fall asleep before departure and snooze most of the way, and others start praying from the minute they take off and don’t stop until they’ve landed! But the majority of them are like seasoned CEOs, they’ve flown so many times that they just take it all in their stride.”


The world-record breaking horse Valegro (left), who has claimed every possible accolade in the sport of dressage, greets his travelling companion, Spain’s Painted Black  before departing to Las Vegas. 


Preparations were ongoing at the Schiphol Animal Centre in Amsterdam ahead of Qatar Airways flight QR 8197 taking the world’s best 40 sports horses to the FEI World Cup™ Finals in Las Vegas.

There were a total of 40 horses on the flight departing from Schiphol, and they were looked after by a team of 10 grooms, under the supervision of world-famous Dutch veterinarian Jan-Hein Swagemakers who works with the German Jumping team. “Jan-Hein is very experienced. He’s been to Hong Kong, Kentucky and many of the Global Champions Tour events and he supervises the health and well-being of all the equine passengers with the help of grooms from Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, France, Ireland and Russia. These are grooms who work for riders who will compete in Las Vegas, and there is also one further groom who works for me and whose job is to be Jan-Hein’s assistant,” Dutta says.  

Each horse is allocated “a stall and a half”, which is a generous amount of space in the cargo hold, “and we like to keep them together by country. There are two horses per box and it’s a business-class service. We pay attention to each horse’s little idiosyncrasies and requirements—do they like wet hay, or not? Do we use sea salt to encourage them to drink? 

“I like them all to have a haynet so they can at least pick at it during the flight and have something in their belly,” said Dutta. “Some grooms like to feed them a bran mash mid-flight, but others don’t eat much at all. I like to give them carrots. Horses see them as a treat and associate them with feeling good and being rewarded so it helps them to settle. The grooms are there to help them with their comfort and safety, but I like the horses to have some quiet time too, they need that. So when the aircraft is at cruise then they are left alone for a while, to have a snooze and relax, without being bothered by anyone. If the weather disimproves, the grooms go back to them right away.”


German Dressage all-time great Isabell Werth’s horse El Santo arrives at the Schiphol Animal Centre in Amsterdam ahead of Qatar Airways flight QR 8197 to Las Vegas.


The Las Vegas bound Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft, containing about €150 million worth of top sports horses, got ready for take-off from Schiphol Airport in the Netherlands on Saturday, April 11.


Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage title holder entered his flying stall ahead of his departure aboard Qatar Airways flight QR 8197 to Las Vegas.

It’s a long day for the equine passengers, but many of them will be getting to Las Vegas much quicker than their riders, despite having to be at the airport several hours before take-off. In all, they will spend 11 hours and 20 minutes in the air.

“Their equipment has to be scanned for security and then clear customs, and with around 25,000lbs of gear—tack, blankets, boots, etc.—a total of 11 pallets were loaded on the flight as well,” Tim Dutta explains.


Grey gelding Cornet D’Amour, who won last year’s Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Final in partnership with Germany’s Daniel Deusser, is looking forward to his flight to Las Vegas, where he will defend his title.


Longines FEI World Cup™ champion Cornet D’Amour is comfortable and relaxed in his flying stall aboard Las Vegas bound Qatar Airways flight QR 8197.

The horses get a health check and, just like their human counterparts, are identified by their passport before boarding. If a horse shows any indication of distress, colic or signs of fever, it is not allowed on board. “Animal welfare comes first, and if there is anything wrong with a horse, the ultimate decision about whether it will be permitted to travel lies with Dr Swagemakers,” Dutta said.

Each section of stalls is weighed to get the balance right for the flight. “Most of the time two horses weigh much the same, but sometimes the dressage horses can be up to 100 kilos heavier than the jumpers,” Dutta noted.


A view from the inside of the Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft before the hugely valuable top sports horses were loaded and transported to Las Vegas for the FEI World Cup™ Finals.


The flying stalls containing the elite FEI World Cup horses are being driven to Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft at Schiphol Airport prior to departure for Las Vegas.


The flying stalls containing the elite FEI World Cup horses are being loaded onto the Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft at Schiphol Airport prior to departure for Las Vegas.


The flying stalls containing the elite FEI World Cup horses being driven to Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft at Schiphol Airport prior to departure for Las Vegas.


The flying stalls containing the elite FEI World Cup horses being loaded onto the Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft at Schiphol Airport prior to departure for Las Vegas.


The flying stalls containing the elite FEI World Cup horses being loaded onto the Qatar Airways B777 chartered freighter aircraft at Schiphol Airport prior to departure for Las Vegas.


Swiss rider Martin Fuchs’ horse PSG Future gets a treat from groom Emma Uusi Simola while preparing to fly to Las Vegas.

On landing there will be another ID check, passports will be examined and bloods taken and sent off to a laboratory in Iowa for testing for diseases, including Glanders and Equine Infectious Anaemia (EIA). Once that’s completed the horses de-plane and will be transported to the stabling area at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas where they will go into quarantine until the test results come back from the lab 42 hours later. 


Jumping sensation Bertram Allen’s grey mare Molly Malone (right) is comfortable with groom Marlen Scharnwell in her flying stall aboard Las Vegas bound Qatar Airways flight QR 8197.


Vanessa Ruiter, groom to Dutch Dressage star Edward Gal’s gelding Glock Undercover, updated her protégé’s Facebook page prior to their departure to Las Vegas.


Double Olympic champion and Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage title holder Valegro, who competes for Great Britain in partnership with Charlotte Dujardin, and his groom Alan Davies smile before departing to Las Vegas.

Flight details

Qatar Airways Flight QR 8197 ex Schiphol Airport, The Netherlands

Aircraft type: Boeing 777 freighter 

Business Class

Departure – 05:55 CEST (local time in The Netherlands), Saturday, April 11

Arrival – 08:15 PDT (local time in Nevada), Saturday, April 11

Length of flight – 11 hours 20 minutes

Temperature inside the aircraft during flight: 62.6°F 

Passenger List

40 horses representing 17 countries – Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, France, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Netherlands, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland.

Includes defending Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion, Daniel Deusser’s Cornet d’Amour (GER) and defending Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage champion, Charlotte Dujardin’s Valegro (GBR).

24 geldings, 9 stallions, 7 mares.

26 jumping horses, 14 dressage horses

Estimated value of equine cargo – €150 million. 

Passport

Full ID, places travelled to and up to date with all required vaccinations etc.  

Check-in Baggage

11 pallets of equipment including tack, blankets, boots, etc.

Weight – approx 25,000 lbs 

Sun shades (optional)

Carry On 

Headcollars and ropes

Blankets

Boots or bandages (equivalent of flight socks)

Toys (occasionally)

Earplugs

Onboard dining

120 pre-packed haynets

Water ad lib – sea salt optional

Oat bran for mash

Mixed feed

Carrots

Apples

Flight attendants

10 professional grooms 

1 world-class veterinarian

All photos by FEI/Dirk Caremans/Pool Pic Livepic

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