As I write this, I’m some 35,000ft up in the air somewhere between Dubai and Singapore. It’s precisely 3.47pm on Saturday afternoon and I have absolutely no idea what time zone I am in.
We left our safe bubble in Newmarket yesterday around 3pm so as my brilliant mathematical skills calculate, we have been travelling for about 25 hours and my cankles are tell me so too.
Unfortunately Hilly (Fernhill Present) is like his mother and is developing cankles, aka swollen legs, too. There is nothing we can do on the plane unless an airline would like to fit in a horse treadmill in their business class area, which by the way I think would be a brilliant idea!!
Loading up at Heathrow
We arrived at Heathrow yesterday around 5.30pm and unloaded the horse equipment first to be security checked and loaded on to the plane. Here is a list of Hilly’s belongings:
Water containers (filled)
Fruit juice (to add to water as this helps him drink. His favourite is Robinsons Apple and Blackcurrant, but with NO added sugar. I don’t want him like a hyper child on the plane!)
His flying bag is packed with:
Front brushing boots (only for loading and unloading)
Large syringe (if needed to syringe water down)
Spare headcollar and lead rope.
Silver tape (because this always comes in handy!)
Two main trunks containing:
Union Jack bunting (most important)
Boots and bandages
Bridle and saddle hooks
Rugs!!! I love a good rug and Hilly has varied rugs from his breathable, latest technology, make them cooler, as cool as a slice of cucumber may look in a Hendrix Gin and Tonic (Yes, I’ve been on this plane too long) to rugs that make them shine to full blown suitable for use in the arctic rugs, that make them as nice and toasty to be as warm as a silly dog panting in front of the Aga.
What else do we have in the trunks?! I’m not entirely sure as I don’t have Jenny sat next to me you see. Jenny is catching a flight tonight to arrive in Sydney on Sunday. Only the professional flying grooms that work for IRT are allowed to fly with the horses. I’m very grateful that I received special permission to fly with Hilly, but unfortunately for me I have no side kick in Jenny. But the team on board with me are truly the best people in the world you could have to fly your horses.
Duane is the main man on board and he is the head flying groom – aka the boss for this flight. Luckily I’ve known Duane for years from the hunting field so he has some idea of my pernickety character and I trust his judgment above all else. I know he would always put the horses first no matter what, or who, stood in his way.
After we unloaded the horse’s equipment, the vet Amy Kelly, flying grooms and myself were were taken through the Fast Track security at Heathrow, still wearing our quarantine overalls (this is a partially good look). Hilly and the other horses were then driven around onto the runway in the lorry with Jenny and the other IRT grooms. I, as per usual, received the delightful frisk search much to Amy’s amusement and after I redressed myself with belt shoes and coat, we were back on our way to join the others.
Walking out onto the runway forecourt area was fairly surreal – seeing the horsebox parked up with jumbo jets taking off and landing next to it. Hilly traveled next to his flying companion in the horsebox on the way to the Heathrow. Normally you have three horses to one crate that boards the plane. This is economy class for horses. Hilly is flying with a space and a half and so is his flying buddy. This is called equine business class. Then first class is when a horse has a whole crate to itself. Normally stallions travel this way. I thought about having this for Hilly, but there are pros and cons to this. The pros are more room, therefore slightly better ventilation. The cons are they are by themselves for a long period of time and I personally thought for his mind set, it would be better for him to have a friend.
The horse Hilly is travelling with is a lovely very kind natured horse with adorable big eyes. Hilly made friends with him in quarantine. For legal reasons I am unable to tell you the horse’s name or who his owner is, but I can say he and Hilly are friends and they are getting along well.
The flight was due to depart at 10.30pm and we loaded the horses around 9pm onto their crates. The lorry was driven up close to the grate to act like a loading bay for the horses. This was to help ensure the horses were safe and did not become loose around Heathrow!
It was dark and most of the light came from the flashing lights going off all around from other vehicles and security. You could hear men shouting over the noise of the engines. The planes were taking off a stone’s throw away from you and the roar of the engines was spectacular. The ramp opened and Hilly looked out onto this strange landscape. He looked at me, then looked down the ramp of the crate. With one careful step off the lorry, he followed IRT groom John McGregor down the bay into his crate like a true professional. Jenny and I hung up his haynet straight away and offered him water, which he did not care for. All the crates have a good layer of shavings on the floor so the horses are happy to stale and the shavings help soak up the urea.
After all six horses were loaded into their crates, the crates were towed to the belly of the plane where they are lifted into the aircraft by a crane (pictured top). Jenny and Duane were inside the crate with Hilly to keep him calm while this was in process. I was waiting inside the aeroplane with Amy to check they loaded well from our end.
Once Hilly was safely secured, Jenny said her goodbyes to him and I and she was escorted off the runway and back to the terminal. I felt a little on my own without her, but I know we are safe hands.
The cargo area is kept as cool as possible for the horses. Their crates do get fairly warm and it is better to keep them cool rather than have them over heating and sweating adding to dehydration.
Hilly and the other horses travel naked. No travel boots. No bandages. No tail guard. Nothing apart from a headcollar. Travel boots or bandages heat the legs up over a long period of time causing discomfort and may cause sores through rubbing. The same with a tail guard. In my opinion you run more risk of injury and discomfort with travel boots/bandages, than you do travelling them without. I have never travelled any of my horses in travel boots or bandages for any period of time and I have never had a problem. Everyone is different and has different opinions, but this is how I do it.
On board Hilly is fed haylage, wet Readigrass and carrots. No hard feed. He has no way of moving about to help him to digest hard feed and therefore runs more risk of colicking. If you think about it it’s a bit like how we would feel if we ate a big meal on a long flight – it would sit a bit heavy in our stomachs. Saying that I just stopped eating the yummy chocolate biscuits Sue, the head of IRT quaratine, kindly gave to Amy and I as part of a delicious goodie bag full of treats!
The whole belly of the plane is cargo. We picked up more horses in Amsterdam and the other cargo area is filled with a very bright red shiny sports car and other big packages that are all very well wrapped up so you can’t really tell what they are.
Upstairs there are six seats. There are three IRT grooms, one vet, one groom we picked up in Amsterdam and me!
There are two pilots who change over at each stop. Each pilot we’ve had so far has been so friendly and polite and introduced themselves giving us a forecast for the flight ahead. They genuinely seem interested in the horses and what we are doing. This makes up our happy little family until Sydney.
We are about to land in Singapore to refuel and board more cargo, so I will keep you posted!!