From Groom to Equine Flight Attendant – No Problem!

In my day-to-day life I get a lot of blank stares from non-equestrians when I describe my job. And as of late it's gotten worse. The mention of flying five horses and a whole lot of equipment and accessories to Europe for the Young Rider’s European Tour as a groom for the Canadian Team has turned up exponentially more blank looks often followed by a “pardon!?”

A lot of confusion seems to stem from the general public’s lack of knowledge when it comes to flying in airplanes with horses. If I had a dollar for every time I was asked whether or not we’re taking our horses with us, or if we'll be getting new horses in Europe, I’d be pretty rich!

Well folks, this isn’t tennis and getting a new 1.50m horse isn’t as simple as walking into a store and ordering another racquet!

We brought our horses with us to Europe, all the way from Los Angeles to Amsterdam, and this is how it went down. Or shall I say up and then smoothly down?

Wednesday, May 9th – 2:00 am

Still up doing laundry and trying to fit an exorbitant amount of clothing and other seemingly important paraphernalia into one stretched out and weathered looking suitcase. When will I learn?

Wednesday, May 9th – 5:15 am

Bing-bong! This is the sound my alarm makes. It’s a terrible sound, but it’s better than the words I thought to myself as I looked at it. Time to head to the barn and get the show on the road!

Wednesday, May 9th – 12:00 pm

The horses have been on the walker and lightly ridden. All of the tack and equipment that is going to Europe has been packed and is at the end of the driveway waiting for the truck to take us to the Los Angeles airport, where the horses will go into quarantine before their flight tomorrow.

Three weeks, five horses. Think we'll make it?

Wednesday, May 9th – 12:40 pm

Where is the truck? It has a flat tire. Well, at least the horses aren’t stuck on a freeway somewhere (there’s always a bright side!)

Wednesday, May 9th – 3:00 pm

Arrived at Jet Pets at the LA Airport. Jet Pets is an animal shipping company and they help to organize the flights of animals around the world. Upon arrival, there was a vet present to check the horses. The vet was from the United States Department of Agriculture and was there to ensure the horses all had four legs, a head and a tail, that their health papers were in order, etc..

Wednesday, May 9th – 4:00 pm

The horses had a quick walk and now it’s time to leave them for the night. Due to regulations, protocol, and quarantine issues we won’t be allowed to see them until 9:00 am the next day. They have staff to feed the horses, but this is weird.

Wednesday, May 9th – 10:00 pm

This feels like a holiday. The alarm is set for 7:30am tomorrow! I do miss those horses though!

Thursday, May 10 – 6:15 am

Awake and wired, let’s go already! Guess I’ll get some breakfast and kill some time.

Thursday, May 10 – 10:00 am

Back at the airport quarantine; the horses have been walked and all are looking good. Guess other people are more than capable of looking after them! Off to check our bags and return the rental car.

Thursday, May 10 – 10:30 am

My bag is seriously overweight. Story of my life. The really funny man from Jet Pets yells at the airline attendant “THEY JUST SPENT (insert very large dollar amount) ON FREIGHT AND NOW YOU WANT TO CHARGE THEM FOR ONE OVERWEIGHT BAG!?” I love this man. If only it were New Year’s, I’d make a resolution about only taking what I can actually carry…

Thursday, May 10 – 12:00 pm

The vet once again inspected the horses as they loaded onto the pallets that they will be flying in on the plane. Luckily, everybody still has four legs, a head, and a tail. The pallets have small tie stalls, and can fit up to three horses each, but our horses were lucky, they are able to fly two to a pallet to give them extra “leg room” during the flight.

That's right buddy, you're headed in there.

Each horse walks up a slight ramp into the pallet. They are tied at the front of the pallet, where they have hay nets and water, but the water is in a jerry can and won’t be offered to them until after takeoff. The horses are also separated with a divider in the pallet, but they can see each other’s faces.

Thursday, May 10 – 2:00 pm

Aak, currently living that awkward moment where you thought you were flying cargo with the horses, but ends up you’re actually flying on a passenger plane with people. No sir, I don’t smell farm animals…

Thursday, May 10 – 4:00 pm

We have lift off!

Thursday, May 10 – 8:00 pm

The horses are in the back of the plane. There is a locked door between their section and the passenger section, and we are able to pass back and forth as we please to check them and make sure everything is in order. One horse was kicking a little bit and one of the flight attendants looked a little alarmed as she could hear it. I assured her that I had asked the horse to stop.

Cutest little "are we there yet" face I've ever seen!

Friday, May 11- 1:00 am

Finally landed in Amsterdam. Walking off the plane I saw that the pallets with the horses were already on the ground. This impressed me at the time and continues to impress me, the horses off the plane before the passengers!

The horses were so brave. We were lucky enough to travel with enough grooms so there was a groom in each pallet to calm, reassure the horses, and be there in case something literally went sideways. Thankfully there weren’t any problems.

The pallet with our horses inside, touching down in Amsterdam!

Friday, May 11 – 2:30 am

Grabbed the suitcases, caught a bus at the airport and headed to the area where the horses will be brought into for yet another inspection by a vet. The horses are still on the same pallets that they were on while in the plane. Special employees are in each pallet to calm the horses and keep an eye on them. While waiting for the vet, us grooms are told we can wait in the “Groom Room” – none of us are overly excited about this news.

Friday, May 11 – 6:00 am

All the horses passed the vet inspection and the lorry and its hilarious driver met us at the airport to load us up and take all horses, equipment, and us to the village of Kessel, where we will be staying before heading to the first horse show in Belgium. We are really lucky because we were told by the driver that it can sometimes take six or eight hours to have the agent come and clear all of the equipment through customs. Thank goodness that didn’t happen! Three and a half hours suddenly seems like no time at all!

Friday, May 11 – 11 am (8 pm Holland Time!)

After a quick nap in the lorry, we have all the horses comfortable and resting in their stalls. Now how about a shower and bed for us? Good night!